Like many (maybe most) Americans living outside the red, white, and blue world of Disneyland, chili burgers, and John Wayne, I am experiencing high anxiety nowadays as the Bush administration gears up for war come hell or high water. The Republican march through the midterm elections gave George Dubya an unsettling mandate to beat the jingoistic drums, put on the war paint, and go after that heathen Saddam. Not a particularly pleasing set of parameters for many of us living in farflung locales around the globe.
More than a few Americans abroad, I hear, are a bit embarrassed about their nationality. Yanks living in the Middle East have taken to mumbling something that sounds vaguely like "Canada" when asked where they're from. Given the rising resentment and hatred directed against Uncle Sam, the continuing and escalating violence in the Holy Land, and the recent assassination of a USAID official in normally peaceful Amman, one can't really blame 'em. Don't reckon I'd want to be sitting at a sidewalk café in, say, Tel Aviv the day the Americans launch their seemingly inevitable assault on Iraq.
Part of the problem is that the administration is acting unilaterally, with very little support from the international community (except, of course, for honorary Yank Tony Blair). Sure, the Security Council finally fell in line with the US with a 15-0 vote backing the current ultimatum to Saddam to allow inspections. But that resolution is a trick document, loaded with hair triggers that will make it all but impossible for the Iraqis to comply.
Conflict could erupt by December 8th if Iraq fails to disclose the locations of all its chemical and biological weapons and nuclear weapon labs, or be delayed as long as February 21 if the UN weapons inspectors come back with a bad report card. However, Condoleezza Rice says she is "very skeptical" Saddam will comply and few experts think he's willing or able to conform to the resolution's fine print.
Anyway, something tells me key figures in the administration would just as soon it fell through. They probably hope Saddam doesn't comply with one of the many complex provisions so they can launch their own splendid little war and blow the bad guy to smithereens at the earliest possible opportunity. That's what they do in the movies.
No question the Bush administration is proceeding full speed ahead, amassing perhaps 250,000 troops poised to attack by air, land, and sea. The war drums are picking up in intensity. Rumsfeld assures us that the affair will be short and sweet, a mere blip on the radar screen of the early 21st century.
However, even though things went swimmingly for George Sr. a decade ago and Afghanistan was a cakewalk, this is a fundamentally different situation. How many scud missiles with who knows what nasty payloads does Iraq have? How many alienated Muslims are there around the world just waiting to tape a few explosives around their chests and waltz into the Kingdom of Allah with heads held high? What happens if Saddam strikes the Israelis and they strike back (which they would)? My gut feeling is that there are a lot of jokers in this particular deck.
Given my own historical reference point (a little domino known as Vietnam), I also find it hard to swallow the justifications for the invasion being proffered by the administration, mostly because the official logic just doesn't hold water. The connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda has never been established, nor has there been any convincing rationale for why this is such an all-or-nothing situation. Whatever happened to the concept of containment anyway?
Given that Bush's brain trust consists of smart people - Condy Rice didn't just fall off the turnip truck - one has to scratch one's head in a twilight zone situation and ask: What's really going on here?
Global hegemony, that's what.
The foreign policy doctrine laid out in the recently released (US) National Security Strategy is downright frightening. Illustrative phrases: "the best defense is a good offense" and "the United States will require bases and stations within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia, as well as temporary access arrangements for the long-distance deployment of U.S. troops". The document outlines an aggressive foreign policy based on "American internationalism", disregard for national sovereignty, and the embrace of first strike options. A long way indeed from the deterrence and containment doctrines that ruled during the Cold War. Not to mention probably a violation of the fundamental principles of international law.
Although one might assume that the strategy sprang full-blown out of 9-11, it's intellectual (if you want to call it that) content was already outlined in a year 2000 report by the Project for the New American Century, a group of conservatives who deemed it about time for America to spread its wings on the global stage. Not coincidentally, several members of that group (including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, and several advisors to Rumsfeld) now hold key positions in the administration.
Another unanswered question: Why is there such complete disregard for something as obvious as an exit strategy? The answer is actually pretty simple. The administration doesn't plan to exit, not for a while anyway, opting instead to govern Iraq with a military government modeled on post-War Japan under MacArthur. After all, Iraq is strategically located and permanent bases there will give the US a major fortress from which to dominate the rest of the Middle East for years to come. The oil is a nice bonus. Ah, the wonders of Pax Americana Bush style.
Being situated here in the Philippines doesn't help my anxiety much. The Arroyo administration, of course, has been the main Asian cheerleader in the war on terror, with GMA practically waving pompoms and doing cartwheels in support of Uncle Sam. Bush gave her a call just yesterday to commend her for the capture of a high-profile terrorist down South; she reciprocated by congratulating him for prevailing in the Security Council. Call it a lovefest.
The VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) allows a steady stream of American troops in various training capacities to come visit for a spell. Their role is supposed to be limited to training, but then why were they trooping around the jungles of Basilan with Philippine army regulars and regularly putting themselves in the line of fire?
The whole situation is reminiscent of the anti-communist cold war agenda and the days when the CIA in the person of General Edward Lansdale played President Magsaysay ("Asia's Eisenhower") like a puppet (see Hearts and Minds, Folk Songs, and Psy-ops). Only now, of course the red menace has been supplanted by al-Queda/bin Laden and now Saddam. Oh well, High Noon wouldn't have been much of a flick without that convicted killer inexorably inbound on the noon train, Gary Cooper's dimples to the contrary notwithstanding.
Bush has often called the Philippines the "second front" in the war on terrorism. The country's strategic importance was underscored recently by the visit of Francis Taylor, the State Department's head of counter-terrorism. US intelligence, he said, has established clear links between al-Qaeda, Jamaah Islamiyah, and Abu Sayyaf. In addition to Bali, such Islamic extremists may have been responsible for the bomb attacks that killed 12 Filipinos and a GI in Mindanao last month.
Taylor also pointed out that the region lacks an anti-terrorism capability, sounding a bit like a colonial era Commissioner in his paternalistic tone of concern about - dare we use the term? - Little Brown Brothers (Taylor himself being African American makes it all the more ironic).
The Bush administration's new foreign policy was demonstrated forcefully a couple of weeks ago with the scud missile assassination in Yemen. The administration justified the "surgical strike," which killed alleged al-Qaeda higher ups, in terms of the new realities of the war against terror. The scud missile, fired from a remote-controlled Predator operated by the CIA, exterminated six al-Qaeda operatives, including one of the FBI's most wanted men, Qaed Senyan al-Harithi. Also known as Abu Ali, he is believed to have been a key player in the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole.
According to Taylor, the attack was both necessary and legal and something that one should expect in the Brave New World of the Bush administration. And he refused to soft pedal the possibility of a similar strike in this neck of the woods. The CIA has about a dozen of those Predators, with more rolling off the assembly line every month, backed up by surveillance planes known as Global Hawks. Some will no doubt be deployed hereabouts - I hear there's an old airbase called "Clark" up in Pampanga.
My own take is assassination by any other name is still assassination, and that the Yemen extermination bore more than passing resemblance to Israeli's "targeted killings" of Palestinian militants (which the Bush administration condemned). Call it a license to kill. I would have thought little things like a standing Presidential order banning assassinations (dating from the Ford administration) and respect for national sovereignty would have come into play.
Guess that's what I get for thinking.
In closing this Pearl, let's ask: Just what is the Philippines getting in return from Uncle Sam for serving the anti-terrorist agenda so faithfully? GMA made a big deal of enumerating her requests to the US administration when Colin Powell was in the neighborhood not long ago. She argued, correctly, that the Bush administration should do something to reciprocate for her no-holds barred support for the war on terrorism. But did the US give Philippine tuna the same zero tariff given to Andean tuna from Latin America? (No). What about benefits for Filipino war veterans? (Maybe, belatedly and grudgingly). What about cleaning up the deadly toxic waste that permeates the former US bases and the communities around them? (Har-de-har-har).
In other words, not much.
This country is particularly vulnerable to the disruptions that might well result from war in the Middle East should the Bush administration's rosy portraits of easy triumph crap out. Just to ask a few questions:
- What if, after the thing starts, Iraqi troops destroy the country's oil facilities? According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), crude oil could easily triple to $80 a barrel, enough to bring the global economy to its knees (the cost of crude accounts for about 44% of the cost of a gallon of gasoline). In the Philippines, the jeepneys and taxis would grind to a halt, middle class folks with those cheap Toyotas could no longer afford petrol, and there would be marching in the streets.
- What happens if millions of OCWs are suddenly evacuated back home? That would represent a major double whammy, as (a) the remittances that help keep the economy precariously afloat disappear, and (b) the core problems of unemployment and underemployment multiply. Easy recruits for extremist factions of whatever variety.
- What happens if the Seventh Fleet starts lobbing scuds into Mindanao to root out real or imagined terrorists and the CIA deploys its Predators to take out selected terrorists? My guess is there are already a frightening number of Islamic extremists lying low right her in Metro Manila. The bomb threats could suddenly move from the realm of abstraction to horrifying reality. The American embassy canned the usual Veteran's Day observances last week, the travel warnings get edgier with each update, and the Makati malls are jampacked as the holidays approach. The denser the crowd the more blood splattered for CNN.
As the world's only superpower in the early Third Millennium, it would be nice if the United States of America would recreate itself as a responsible global leader. That might include, for example, helping save Mother Earth from ecological implosion (whatever happened to Kyoto?), increasing foreign aid to some reasonable level to help feed the millions of starving people around the orb, or helping developing countries benefit from globalization instead of continuing to exploit them strategically and economically.
'Twould be a noble thing indeed. However, I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.