Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Last week President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks in Beijing. Although only in office for less than four months, Duterte's words and actions have managed to disrupt the traditional Washington and Manila subtleties and have actually added some spice to President Obama’s last few months in office not to mention his Asia strategy or pivot which was supposed to mark a shift in American foreign policy from the EU and Middle East to the Asian Pacific rim nations.

President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his first State of the Nation Address. INQUIRER PHOTO/JOAN BONDOC
President Obama began this effort somewhere around the time he had become embroiled in Syria and had failed to keep his word regarding a“Red Line” in the region.  More specifically we can point to the report from the June 2013, the Asia-Pacific Strategy Working Group at the American Enterprise Institute called Securing U.S. Interests and Values in the Asia-Pacific that was submitted jointly to congress and the Whitehouse (in my view, the brainchild of Robert Kagan (Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative) and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell).

In geopolitical terms all bull shi* aside, the pivot has mainly been implemented because the neocons in the Obama Administration and elsewhere inside the beltway know that all of the Pacific Rim and Southeast Asian nations wants a better relationship with China, and the U.S. must do all that it can to keep China second fiddle to American interest. Moreover, it is imperative that the U.S. attempts to keep a major presence (policy wise and militarily) in hand with respect to our relationship with China -- which continues to become more complex economically and in terms of national security as we progress through the future. With the recent changes in policy perspectives regarding Duterte, this all seems to show that the Obama Administration wasn’t playing with a full house or flush but was rather bluffing and it only took Duterte's recent statements to bring all of this to the surface.

So far there has been no official word from Obama's Whitehouse or Department of State on where we stand with respect to this so-called Asian pivot. Some may consider the newly elected president’s actions strange given the footing his nation and the Chinese have had over the past decade – in particular actions related to access for Filipino fishermen to Scarborough Shoal, which China seized in 2012. According to reports the meetings focused on economic aid to the Philippines and coming up with a more productive manner in which to address and deal with the South China Sea issue with respect to territorial disputes and avoiding confrontations with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

These actions make it very difficult for Obama and the US, if America wants to maintain U.S. forces at Philippine military bases. But if Duterte's statementsare accurate when he asserts that he would prefer to end all and any future military cooperation with the U.S., the so-called Asian pivot is now more like a moon walk. Duterte also publically stated his desire to have all U.S.counterterrorism troops out of his country not to mention his disdain for Obama having the gall to be critical on his war on drugs and crackdown on drug dealers and users. One could say President Obama brought all of this on his self when Duterte approached him during a dinner at a regional summit in Laos and Obama sent him to meet with another subordinate member of his White House staff.

I don’t claim to know much about President Duterte but I am somewhat knowledgeable of Filipino history; as too is Duterte like many children that recall the history of collective oppression under the thumb of imperialistic and colonial foreign rule the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley. The U.S. had always desired to take territories in the area of the South pacific and our occupation of the Philippine Islands occurred after the Spanish-American war of 1898-99 when we took the island nation from Spain after Admiral  George Dewey sailed into Manila harbor in 1898 with a fleet of American vessels and destroyed the Spanish ships anchored there. 

Obama’s failure in dealing with President Duterte can simply be reduced to Obama’s lack of knowledge about how deep the historical anti-American sentiment is for 99 percent of the Filipino people; how they will never forget the first American soldiers landing in the Philippines in 1898 and how President WilliamMcKinley wanted to seize the entirety of the archipelago for the United States saying it was his Christian duty. They never have forgotten how the American soldiers called them “niggers;”or how between 1899 and 1913 the United States of America for conquest sake, killed more than 400000 Filipino fighters and more than a million Filipino civilians died due to America’s scorched earth policy, intentional economic hardship, mass killings and vile murderous butchery (something still to this day, the U.S. Government has not apologized for).

Obama also has not paid attention to how popular the new President is and the extent to which is policies have been well received by his electorate. In about four months, Duterte's has already put in place new policies to tackle tax reform which includes cutting personal income taxes to 25% from 32% in an effort to help the middle class. The overall objective of his 10-point economic agenda is to lift 10 million Filipinos from poverty by 2022. He has also put in place policy to help indigenous people displaced bymining and logging so that they can return to their ancestral lands and has started a program of free medical checkups for the 20 million poorest Filipinos. Add to this his open commitment to provide free irrigation to subsistence farmers, it is no wonder he is so popular. Even with the condemnation from the international and western community, national data show his popularity for his policy (even his drug policy) and presidency is extremely high. Then there is the relationship I spoke of to begin with. Not only is he taking a hand away from the U.S. and extending it towards China, he is now saying he desires closer and more permanent ties with Russia.  This would be worse that Duterte calling Obama “son of a whore”, it would down right like a pimp slap.

Before the statement could be printed in the western press, Putin via the Russia’s ambassador to the country promptly said Moscow was down and ready to fully cooperate with Manila stating Formulate your wish list. What kind of assistance do you expect from Russia and we will be ready to sit down with you and discuss what can and should be done. 

Some may say that this is another example of Obama leading from behind.  With all that is going on from Yemen to Syria to the South Sudan and now the Philippines, it seems that the presidents’ Asian policy is floundering and reflective of his approach to foreign policy in general – doing something but not having a follow up plan to carry out said policy.  We have seen this in Libya, in Syria, the Ukraine, South Sudan, Russia and now again with the Philippines.   The question is what will U.S. relations with Manila be like in the future for our next president?  Clearly Obama doesn’t care seeing that all he does and has been doing is campaigning. To date, with the exception of a few nations, Obama foreign policy (which I wrote about extensively in my book Nobel Neocolonialism) is spiraling downward as well as alienating form staunch U.S. allies. Regardless of what one says about President Duterte, the vast majority of Filipinos, Mr. Duterte’s passionate outbursts, however crude and impolitic, see him as a strong and fearlessness leader willing to take the actions required to back up his words and provide for his citizenry, no matter how crude, abhorrent and inappropriate other perceive them to be.  Too bad we cannot say the same about Obama.

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