KASAMA Vol. 18 No. 3 / July-August-September 2004 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network


We feature a speech delivered by Herbert Docena on behalf of Gathering for Peace and the Iraq Solidarity Campaign at the forum "Hostaged? Philippine foreign policy after Angelo de la Cruz" in UP Diliman last August 12. Herbert Docena is a foreign policy analyst with Focus on the Global South.


ISSUE # 35 AUGUST 13, 2004

In 1948, George Kennan, then a director of planning at the US State Department, wrote what has become a classic quote among foreign policy circles. "We have about 60 per cent of the world's wealth but only 6.3 per cent of its population," he said. "Our real task in the coming period (will be) to maintain this position of disparity... We will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming... The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts... The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better."
These days, as we are forced to assess our country's foreign policy in light of the Angelo de la Cruz episode, we should listen to Kennan: Let's dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming. Now is the time for a clean break in our foreign policy and reviewing it requires nothing less than an honest and accurate assessment of the world we're living in.

Refusing to be hampered by slogans, many foreign policy analysts and commentators around the world have been left with no choice what with the invasion of Iraq but to refer to the United States using the "e"-word: "Empire." Even in the United States, where most commentators have developed an allergy to the word, many people have now taken to open talking about their country as an "Empire." In fact, one of the most-talked-about books in the US these days is Niall Ferguson's Colossus: The Price of America's Empire. A professor of history at the New York University, Ferguson looks back in history and argues "not merely that the United States is an empire, but that it has always been an empire."

The best way then for us to begin charting a new direction for our foreign policy is to come to terms with what we're dealing with and to not see the world through ideological blinders. We can argue over the semantics and the nuances of the label. We can debate about the differences among the Roman, British, and American styles of empire. In talking to the press or in diplomatic circles, we can call it by other names. We can try to be polite and talk about "unilateralism" or "dominance" or "hegemony" even if we actually mean "imperialism."

But in seriously rethinking our foreign policy, let us listen to Kennan and deal in straight power concepts: How else do we explain the actions of a superpower that, according to former State Secretary Madeleine Albright, will be "multilateral if we can but unilateral if we must;" that flouts international law and goes unpunished; that over the past century, according to the US Congressional Research Service, has engaged in over 200 military interventions abroad; that has a military presence in over 100 countries in order to, as the Pentagon itself puts it, "impose the will of the United States and its coalition partners on any adversaries."

We live in a world in which a sole superpower does not hesitate to use its being the world's sole superpower in order to remain as the world's sole superpower. The United States is the strongest, most powerful empire in history more powerful than both the Roman and British empires and it does not hesitate to use its massive economic and military might to advance and defend its interests around the world. The first step in re-examining our foreign policy is to acknowledge this; to deny it is to conduct foreign policy in another planet. Whether we like it or not, our foreign policy will have to respond to this reality.

Angelo de la Cruz has merely forced us to confront the overarching question for our foreign policy yet again: Are we on the side of Empire? Or more precisely, should we continue to be on its side? This in turn leads us to the bigger question: Do we want to live in a world with Empire? And does being on the side of Empire help us in building that world? Our answer to these questions will determine our response to day-to-day concerns: Should we still send troops to Iraq? Should we be "major non-NATO ally"? How do we deal with China and our neighbors? It depends on whether we are on the side of Empire.

On a pragmatic level alone, the cost of sidling up to the United States far outweighs the benefits. Sure, we get millions of dollars in military aid and trade concessions. But even NEDA Secretary Romulo Neri himself has admitted that the amount of aid we get from the US has been "overrated." Professor Raymund Quilop of the National Defense College of the Philippines has confirmed that the war materiel we get are hand-me-downs that the US needs to throw away anyway. Instead of making us more secure, our being a major non-NATO ally has only made us become the target of reprisals as the enemies of the United States also become our own. If for every ten bombs we get from the United States, we also make ten new enemies determined to bomb us, does that make us secure?

Part of the "assistance" we get from USAID should be banned, not welcomed. This aid usually comes in the form of grants for projects that aim to transform our laws and institutions to become more favorable to foreign investors to the detriment of our economy. Remember the USAID-funded AGILE.

Despite our much-vaunted special relationship with the US, our trading relationship with them remains unequal and unbalanced.

It is not only that the costs exceed the benefit but that the ones who get the benefits are not the same ones who bear the costs. The case of Angelo de la Cruz and our support for the invasion of Iraq is a case in point: in exchange for equipment for the military, reconstruction contracts for some Filipino businessmen, and support for Arroyo's presidency, we endangered the lives of millions of our Overseas Filipino Workers in the Middle East. It is the businessmen who get their million-dollar contracts and the generals who get their guns but it is the likes of Rodrigo Reyes, the forgotten Filipino driver killed in Iraq, who pay with their lives. The interests of the military, the interests of business, and the interests of the President should not be equated with the "national" interest.

But no matter what the benefits are, it is simply wrong to support the illegal and immoral actions of Empire. We should not get the things we get from the US by helping it illegally invade another country. The price of the military equipment we receive from the US should not be the sovereignty of other people. It is precisely by being identified with the US' aggressive and self-interested military aggressions and interventions in pursuit of empire-building that we become legitimate targets of those branded as "terrorists." By partaking in the invasion of Iraq in exchange for contracts, we lost the moral high ground, making it difficult for us to tell the "terrorists" that what they are doing is reprehensible. We cannot be an accomplice to an illegal war that has killed over 10,000 innocent civilians and preach compassion.

The foreign policy consensus is that it's better to be on the side of Empire because it's always better to be on the side of the powerful. We're just a weak, impoverished country after all and the world out there is nasty, brutish, and short. We don't like it that way and it could all be better but that's just the way it is and let's just get the most from it. We don't necessarily approve of how the U.S. runs the world and how it treats us but the alternative to not being on its side is so much worse.

The question, however, is this: If we really believe that as a country, we would really be much better off in a world without empire, then doesn't our support for Empire perpetuate precisely the kind of world that we don't want to live in? Empires don't last without loyal vassals like us. The Empire needs us more than we need it.

George Kennan said their task is to maintain the disparity; ours therefore is to dislodge it. It was time we withdrew from the coalition occupying Iraq. It is also now time we abandon the Empire. #

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