The lead party of the Filipino peacekeeping mission to Iraq leaves today, June 15. The rest of the contingent, consisting of 75 members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, will follow at the end of the month. They are supposed to assist American and British forces in maintaining peace and order in a country that has been plunged into chaos by the recent US invasion. They will take their orders from the US Central Command.
I believe it is the first time the Philippines is sending peacekeepers abroad on a mission that is neither authorized nor supervised by the United Nations. By past practice, the UN would have taken care of their allowance and upkeep, and guaranteed their safe passage to their destination. This time, our government has had to allocate P144 million for the monthly allowance and equipment of the contingent, and we have had to secure a status-of-forces agreement for them as they transit through Kuwait on their way to Iraq. The occupying and sponsoring power, the United States, has offered to pay only their transportation, meals, and accommodations.
It is estimated that there are still 150,000 American and British troops in Iraq at the moment. Experts believe this number is grossly inadequate for the enormous task of keeping the peace in a society in which the fabric of order, however criminal its origins, has been completely ripped apart. Looting still abounds in many places. Loose firearms are in the hands of gangs and of nearly every family that has anything to protect. If Saddam really had chemical and biological weapons, many of these would now be in the possession of some warlord or other. As in Afghanistan, local centers of power run by armed groups provide a modicum of order in the absence of a national state authority. Even while the US has declared the end of hostilities, ambushes by Ba’athist loyalists still recur. The American forces do not know whom to trust among the police of the past regime. Some say it will take at least two years before a rudimentary government run by Iraqis can be established.
This is the situation into which the 75 Filipino peacekeepers will be injected. Their participation in peace and order efforts, dangerous as it is, will be nothing but tokenism. The American and British forces are aware that rebuilding and running post-war Iraq is a job for which they themselves were not explicitly trained. But even if they were, the Iraqi situation would require, military planners say, at least three times the size of the invading forces to maintain order during the delicate period of transition. What will the 75 Pinoy soldiers and policemen do in Iraq? Stake our claim to the much-anticipated lucrative reconstruction business? Are they in fact the advance party of Pinoy contractual workers in Iraq?
It is not as if we have a surplus of soldiers and policemen we can spare to help finish America’s job in Iraq. For if we had enough professional soldiers, we would not be drafting paramilitary units like the Cafgu to fight rebels in Luzon and Mindanao. And if we had enough policemen to maintain peace and order in the country, there would be no need for the more than 150,000 private security guards hired to protect our homes, offices, and communities.
The truth seems to be that we are sending this token force to Iraq at the end of the war as a way of validating our unflinching loyalty to the justness of American unilateralism. And we are doing so at a time when this is daily put in doubt by the failure to confirm the existence of Saddam’s weapons of mass of destruction, the stated cause of the
US preventive war. This continuing effort to play the role of America’s abiding sidekick may also explain Gloria MacapagalArroyo’s recent misplaced criticism of the United Nations Security Council as “too feeble or hand-tied to be effective at peacemaking.”
Not content with praising America, we have now also mocked the UN’s refusal to legitimize America’s unprovoked attack on a membernation. I find all this puzzling in the light of our vigorous campaign to win a seat in the 15-member Security Council, unless we are doing so explicitly as the American-backed candidate.
Either we believe in multilateralism, of which the United Nations is its most advanced fruit, or we don’t. We cannot go on promoting American unilateralism, no matter how convinced we may be of its power and wisdom, while remaining an active member of a multilateral organization. The sheer hypocrisy of it is galling.
If our intention is to lend a helping hand to the Iraqi people rather than to play the cheering squad to their conquerors, I suggest we do so after a democratically-elected Iraqi government is already in place. To go into Iraq at this time when even the returning UN weapons inspection teams are not permitted to do their work independently of the occupying forces is to operate as contractual peacekeepers for the United States. That is the role of mercenaries. There is no honor in that. The Iraqis will not look upon us as friends but as the bodyguards of the Western invaders.
Some may justify this as a pragmatic approach to diplomacy and foreign policy, in contrast to an unbending commitment to national sovereignty and internationalism. But this usage is a falsification of pragmatism, which emphasizes transformation through action rather than practical acceptance of the given. Our habits of action as a nation have historically wedded us to America. It is time we asked how far these have taken us.
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