The coalition of aggressors

“The Philippines is part of the coalition of the willing.” So declared President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her speech before the graduating class of the Philippine Military Academy.  Her statement came almost at the same hour the United States began its attack on Iraq.  As President of the Republic, she speaks for the Filipino nation. It behooves us, the citizens of this hapless country, to know what exactly our president is committing the Philippines to and why.

The so-called “coalition of the willing”, now consisting of about 40 countries that have expressed open support for the invasion of Iraq, is clearly a minority in a world inhabited by more than 180 countries. Just as we do not equate non-support for the war with opposition to it, so also we cannot assume that the supposed allies of the US in this act of aggression have the same understanding of what it means to be among the “coalition of the willing.”  Iraq’s neighbor, Turkey, is being counted among the “willing” for permitting US flights over its territory, even if it staunchly refused the offer of $15 billion in American assistance in exchange for allowing US ground troops to be stationed on Turkish land.

In her Baguio speech, President Macapagal said: “We are giving political and moral support for actions to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.  We are part of a long-standing security alliance.  We are part of the global coalition against terrorism.” Let us analyze this strange formulation closely.  It is riddled with tension and equivocation.

I do not see here any explicit or active endorsement of the American invasion of Iraq.  The president speaks of “ political and moral support for actions to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.” But this is not an issue. This is the same position that the United Nations Security Council unambiguously adopted in Resolution 1441.  The president has previously said we will abide by the decisions of the United Nations.  The UN has not called for war, and yet we seem to have joined the war.  The ongoing military action against Iraq not only does not carry the approval of the UN Security Council, it is also being actively opposed by majority of its permanent members who believe in giving the UN weapons inspectors a little more time to peacefully disarm Iraq.

The president maintains that we are part of the global coalition against terrorism.  But so is the United Nations.  And so is every country in the world that is now condemning the attack on Iraq.  And why are we invoking our “long-standing security alliance” with the United States?  Are we declaring a war on Iraq in the name of our mutual defense treaty obligations with the US?  If we are, I think the president should say so and tell our people.

I am afraid President Macapagal has been drawn to a political position that she knows she cannot justify on constitutional grounds. That’s the only sense I can give to a limp statement like:  “The war in Iraq is a reality that we expected.  We expect it to be surgical, short, and swift.” The reality and duration of the war are not at issue here. The issue is whether or not we believe this war to be justified.  To say we are part of the coalition of the willing is to manifest support for an aggressive attack against a sovereign nation, in violation of the UN’s own charter.  We stand alone in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in our support for American aggression in the Middle East.

Given its immense military capability, the United States needs no allies to prevail in this war.  But, after its failure to win the consent of the UN Security Council, it became so desperate to cloak its naked adventurism with some measure of global approval that it has been quick to project any pledge of support from the smallest country as a manifestation of full endorsement for this unjust war.  Note that, apart from Britain and Australia, none of its supposed allies has been willing to commit anything beyond peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance in an occupied Iraq.  This alone should tell America of the illegitimacy of its quest.

One can imagine the intense pressure that the Bush administration applied on small needy nations to secure their consent for this war. In 1991, the US under Bush Sr. conducted a sustained diplomatic campaign to get the UN to pass a resolution to approve the use of force to expel the Iraqi invaders from Kuwait.  That campaign included the grant of concessions that later were questioned in the US Congress itself.  For instance, China’s consent prompted the unblocking of a $140 million World Bank loan.  Portions of the huge debts of Zaire and Egypt were forgiven in exchange for their votes. Syria was promised there would be no interference in its actions in

Lebanon.  Saudi Arabia was promised an arms deal amounting to $12 billion.  American legislators raised the issue of the propriety of these deals, but they could not prove they were illegal.  These tradeoffs seemed very much a part of the practical underlife of the United Nations.

That is why we can only stand in awe of those countries that today refuse to be part of the American-led coalition of aggressors, despite the fact that they have everything to lose for not supporting the US.  It is not a small thing to displease the most powerful nation in the world. We can be sure that the US will not forget their non-cooperation.  But we should remember who they are, for it is almost certain that it is they who will build a new and better United Nations from the fragments of the old one the US has just destroyed.


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