George W. Bush Jr. has come to Asia not to give away but to solicit money, not to deploy more American troops but to ask the governments of the region to send their own soldiers to secure Iraq, a country it destroyed and occupied. The president of the most powerful country in the world has come not so much to display power as to seek a cover for the crude exercise of its imperial might.
The prime object of this campaign is Japan, not the Philippines, whose president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, had obediently dispatched Philippine peacekeepers to Iraq way ahead of any UN request. Japan has not fought a war since World War II. Its constitution forbids the deployment of its highly equipped Self Defense Forces outside Japan. Any attempt to flex its military muscle is quickly perceived by the rest of Asia as a revival of Japanese militarism. Bush is pushing hard to bring Japan on board. But Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is also facing an election, and despite his popularity, he is not rushing to commit Japanese troops to Iraq without a UN mandate lest he be tagged an American puppet.
The UN mandate came the other day in the form of a resolution unanimously approved by the 15-member UN Security Council. The resolution encourages member nations of the UN to lend a helping hand in the rehabilitation and restoration of order in Iraq. It also concedes to Secretary General Kofi Annan some authority to oversee Iraq’s transition to self-rule.
America regards this resolution as somewhat of a coup. By ensuring the support of at least nine members, the minimum number required to pass a resolution, the US made a veto by any of the big powers awkward. Not wanting to appear outmaneuvered, France, Russia, and China were left with no choice but to join the rest in a unanimous vote after offering a few revisions on the US draft. Still, they made it clear they were not sending troops or money to Iraq as long as it remained under American occupation.
But America has every reason to celebrate the unanimous resolution. Since March this year, when it went into Iraq without UN authority, invoking a dubious right to wage a preemptive war in self-defense, America has been an outlaw state. Its unilateral invasion of Iraq set a dangerous precedent in a volatile world of highly unequal states. But the prospect of a lone superpower playing the role of a global police, and the financial and military burden this implied, did not particularly appeal to the ordinary American. Occupying Iraq has proved more complex than invading it. More US soldiers have died in Iraq after the war than during the actual invasion. Americans are now asking: If our presence in Iraq is a just cause, how come only our soldiers are fighting and dying there for democracy?
The warrant that America has desperately sought for its war on Iraq is finally in its hands even if this has come late. It makes it easier for countries like Japan to send troops to Iraq as part of an authorized international contingent. But it comes with a price. The exchange deal is access to the American market and a cut in the lucrative business of rebuilding Iraq. The US cannot hold Iraq indefinitely, or control its resources as if it were its colony. It has to share with the rest of the world what Iraq has to offer. More importantly, it is now obliged to put a definite time frame to the writing of a new Iraqi constitution and the replacement of the US-handpicked Iraqi governing council by a new set of independently elected leaders.
Stripped down to its essence, the purpose of Bush’s visit is to ask Asians to help rebuild Iraq from the ashes of war and to relieve American soldiers of the menial job of policing a society whose social fabric has been destroyed. In this regard, his rhetoric as selfappointed champion of democracy and as leader of the global war on terrorism won’t be as persuasive as the bilateral trade agreements he dangles.
The failure of US inspectors to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has made America’s invasion of Iraq appear increasingly unjustified. In the eyes of the world, the US-led war on terrorism now seems nothing more than a warrant for imperial expansion. The genuine sympathy that people everywhere showered upon America after Sept. 11 has turned into contempt. People wonder how a great nation could allow itself to be manipulated by a thoughtless and irresponsible president and the cabal of shrewd businessmen he represents.
None of this, of course, means anything to President Macapagal, who prides herself in being among the first heads of state to enlist in the Bush-led posse against the Saddam Hussein regime. Philippine foreign policy under her presidency has been a steady reversal of whatever progress previous administrations had made toward cutting the American umbilical cord. We are back to the days when the US chose our presidents for us, when our people could not imagine a life without Uncle Sam.
Thus we are treated to the sad spectacle of a Filipino president seeking an electoral mandate by shamelessly presenting herself, in the memorable words of Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, as a “first class citizen of the United States.” Of the many faults that the Arroyo administration has committed in the last two years and a half, this barefaced subservience to the US is perhaps ultimately the most injurious to the life of our nation.
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