Our national interests in relation to Iraq seem so clear that one needs to ask why our leaders have not been very forthright about our country’s official position on this urgent foreign policy question. We continue to treat the issue primarily in terms of our commitment to the American-led war on terrorism, forgetting that a million Filipino workers face danger once the war explodes in the Middle East. The danger may not be immediate, but the dislocation is certain. Given their astounding number, there is little we can do to protect them. We should not be appeased by assurances that this war is going to be short.
Whatever motives the United States may have for wanting to invade Iraq — and we have heard all kinds of conflicting explanations – our own are simple and straightforward. We have people working in the region, and it is our duty to look after them. We are not at war with Iraq. We continue to have diplomatic relations with its government. We are a member country of the United Nations. We must take our cues from the decisions of that body. But more than that, we are bound by our practical interests to take an active part in influencing its decisions.
The UN Security Council awaits the report of the UN weapons inspection team that, in the last six weeks, has been combing Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has denied it has any. It is unlikely that the inspection team will produce any conclusive proof by the end of January that would justify immediate punitive action. Yet the whole world expects the war to happen anytime soon because the US has made up its mind and its forces have long been poised for an early attack. American officials are visiting various countries to explain the US point of view and to secure their commitment and support for a military campaign against Iraq.
Iraq has been so crippled by the international embargo imposed upon it following its failed invasion of Kuwait in 1990 that it is in no position to mount a meaningful defense. American occupation of the country seems certain, and with it the transition to a government led by Iraqi exiles handpicked by the US. Saddam Hussein’s tyranny will be dismantled and, like the Taliban of Afghanistan, will not be missed.
But why is the US having a hard time getting the global support it has been assiduously courting? Even Britain, its closest ally in this campaign, has been expressing some hesitation about the wisdom of an early invasion. A growing number of world leaders are cautioning against launching a war without an explicit mandate from the UN.
I believe these countries know that if the US is allowed to go to war unilaterally, the concept of a community of nations bound by collective norms and subject to consensual procedures would become untenable. The UN would lose its legitimacy and its very reason for being. Henceforth every nation that imagines itself threatened would be able to claim the right to self-defense by preemptive aggression. A world like this would be more unstable and chaotic, and would be at the mercy of a lone superpower.
But I also suspect that even America’s staunchest allies have begun to doubt the purity of its intentions in the Middle East, and refuse to be its blind moral collaborators. If the idea is to retaliate against the perpetrators of September 11, they demand proof showing the links between the Saddam Hussein regime and the suicide hijackers who slammed those jets against the World Trade Center. If the objective is to eliminate the threat that Iraq poses to the world outside, they demand proof that the Iraqis indeed possess weapons of mass destruction, and if they do, that they intend to use these less responsibly than other nations like India or Pakistan. And if the goal is to remove a tyranny that has been victimizing its own people, then they demand that this be a collective endeavor of the United Nations rather than the prerogative of any single nation.
What seems clearer by the day is that in the name of democratization and counter-terrorism, America is laying the foundation for a Pax Americana in the Middle East, a region that, not coincidentally, holds the world’s largest remaining oil deposits. A war for oil may make sense from the American viewpoint, but it will have no legitimacy for the rest of the world.
But most of all, the American presence will be resolutely opposed in the region, just as it is being opposed today in the Korean peninsula. Even as they fear the terrorists their societies breed, Arab governments are even more frightened by the popular resistance that American hegemony in the Middle East will generate. They know that when the time comes to defend their own regimes, America will not always be there to save their skin.
The Philippines is a small country. We are not a big player in the world stage. But the circumstances of our own national evolution have brought large numbers of our people to distant shores as migrant workers. This has broken our isolation as an island protectorate of the United States. Today we find ourselves participating willy-nilly in the saga of other nations through the labor of millions of our overseas workers. And yet we have been unable to develop a foreign policy appropriate to this reality. We still expect America to define the world for us.
Our government has sounded the call for a strong republic. The first requirement for such, if we are serious, is that we stop thinking like a colony. Is Iraq our enemy? Let’s answer that question ourselves.
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