by John Glaser
Last week I wrote about the potential for the Obama administration’s Asia-Pivot strategy to inflame anti-colonialist sentiment. I lamented that Washington tries simply to get around this popular opposition to the military surge in East Asia instead of acknowledging that people don’t like to be occupied by foreign militaries.
Cynically, the U.S. has exploited the suffering of the typhoon in the Philippines in order to gain leverage in negotiations with Manila over increased U.S. military presence there. The relief operations performed by U.S. forces are seen as helping to “lubricate” the deal for basing rights, which are one piece of a broader plan to contain a rising China.
According to Robert Farley at The Diplomat, the process of “establishing forward U.S. bases in the Philippines…has moved slowly, largely because of domestic concerns in Manila about a military U.S. presence.”
“Fortunately for U.S. strategic interests (if not the victims of the storm),” Farley writes, “the U.S. Navy’s support in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan may win sufficient goodwill to overcome local opposition to a renewed U.S. military role.”
That is as plain an example of exploitation as you’re going to get. The fact that Filipinos hesitate to welcome the U.S. back onto permanent bases, after kicking us out at the end of the Cold War, should not be belittled. The 1899-1902 U.S. war and occupation of the Philippines was a vicious colonial experiment waged for cynical geopolitical interests. Inclusive estimates that account for excess deaths related to the war say there were as many as 1 million casualties. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were locked up in concentration camps, where poor conditions and disease killed thousands.
The account of U.S. Corporal Sam Gillis provides a vivid insight into what the occupation was like: “We make everyone get into his house by seven p.m., and we only tell a man once. If he refuses we shoot him. We killed over 300 natives the first night. They tried to set the town on fire. If they fire a shot from the house we burn the house down and every house near it, and shoot the natives, so they are pretty quiet in town now.”
Just as the U.S. is now trying to cloak their interventionism in the guise of humanitarian causes, the 1899 intervention was of course described in the loveliest of terms. The leader of the nationalist movement in the Philippines who declared independence from the Spanish, Emilio Aguinaldo, received a letter from U.S. General Thomas Anderson that read,” General Anderson wishes you to inform your people that we are here for their good…”
President William McKinley insisted the U.S. was just trying to liberate the Philippines: “No imperial designs lurk in the American mind,” he said, but it was “not a good time for the liberator to submit important questions concerning liberty and government to the liberated while they are engaged in shooting down their rescuers.”
The legacy of that imperial war persisted over the decades until the U.S. was finally kicked out of the Philippines in the early 1990′s. The only reason the U.S. is interested in increasing military presence in the Philippines is to threaten and thus contain China. Never mind the fact that China doesn’t actually pose a threat to Americans.
It should go without saying that it is unacceptable for the U.S. to cynically use the quick military relief operations response to “lubricate” a deal that benefits U.S. foreign policy interests.