POSTSCRIPT / March 23, 2003 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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The game that Bush plays is duplicity, not diplomacy

BUSH BLUE BOOK: That was sneaky — also an indication of his desperation — of George W. Bush to publish the list of the “coalition of the willing” supporters of his anti-Iraq campaign. On the list, almost like a secret mafia payroll, was the Philippines.

One ingredient in the clumsy diplomacy of Bush Jr. is his lack of sensitivity to the nuances of the local politics played by his partners. Some people call this duplicity, not diplomacy.

For weeks, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo agonized over her having promised Bush to support the illegal American invasion of Iraq. She was biding for time to break her unpopular pro-war stance when suddenly an impatient Bush himself announced it.

Poor Mrs. Arroyo was then forced to admit in her recent speech at the Philippine Military Academy graduation that, indeed, she — or the Philippines — was among the coalition of the willing.

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GAME OF DECEPTION: But note that Mrs. Arroyo merely said that the Philippines supported the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, period.

Our President did not say she was standing beside Bush in his war or that she was supporting his avowed objective to remove Saddam Hussein as president of Iraq.

In fairness to all those listed, the sort of statement of account published by Bush should be modified or clarified with footnotes to indicate the nature of the involvement or the extent of the commitment made by the supposed allies on the list.

Mrs. Arroyo’s saying that the Philippines is for the destruction of weapons of mass destruction, period, is a masterpiece of evasion. It shows that she also knows how to play Bush’s own game of deception, or duplicity.

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GMA BUYING TIME: But since most people did not notice the fine details of her statement, the Bush list left the wrong impression that she is all-out for Bush.

She is unfairly lined up in the public mind as a local version of British Prime Minister Tony Blair who got badly burned with his reckless public display of total devotion to Bush.

He may be insensitive to the local political concerns of his allies, but Bush should have appreciated that Mrs. Arroyo was just buying time to announce to her people the position she has taken.

But Bush was fast being isolated. Until almost the eve of his invasion of Iraq and his announced intention to eliminate his co-equal head of government in Baghdad, he had only the UK and Australia to fight beside the US.

Spain, who served as acolyte in the lonely Azores summit of Bush and Blair, has been unable to muster enough courage to send troops to battle in the Iraqi desert.

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IMPATIENT BUSH: Bush was thus forced to proclaim that the US actually had more than three allies. In desperation, he told on more than 40 heads of government who had whispered to him their support but were not yet ready to confess their sin to their constituents.

Ms. Arroyo already knew her position, but tried to stall by convening the National Security Council to seek counsel, kunwari, before she announced it. As expected, the council — as is likely to happen when a group of at least three Filipinos meet — was badly splintered.

The participants emerged from the tower of Babel by the Pasig speaking in different tongues. We were treated to the spectacle of a tongue-tied president evading the press and her equally tongue-tied spokesman failing to give a coherent declaration.

An impatient Bush had to disclose his secret list to force everybody on it to fall in line.

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TV BEATS PRINT MEDIA: It deflates our professional ego, but we now have to hang our heads and admit that we in print media have been shown up by cable television to be third rate reporters of world events.

The morning papers that we crank out look like a faint recollection of what the world had seen and heard on television the night before. Cable TV beats us by about six hours.

It’s not really our fault, for how can our lumbering printing presses compete with the lightning speed of electronic media that report, with sights and sound, rapidly evolving events are they happen?

Our newspapers still serve a purpose, which is to document on a printed page the events after these have been verified, organized and explained by professional reporters and analysts. Radio and television, we love to say, teem with errors of instant judgment and lack depth.

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INSTANT GRATIFICATION: While radio and TV have immediacy, the print media are more reliable, more complete (except for the audio-visual flavor), and more credible. According to us.

To achieve depth and meaning, however, print media write more and longer articles. The problem here is that the busy reader does not want to wade through wide expanses of gray text or longish pieces.

Yes, we are able to give depth and substance to a subject, but the resulting length turns off a number of readers. Television gives instant gratification to the usually lazy viewer, a service the newspaper cannot give.

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IN BED WITH SUBJECT: We have noticed, by the way, that some correspondents of the TV networks covering the American invasion have been “imbedded” in some military units with whom they live, work — and think.

Unfortunately, some of them have started to talk and report like they were organic members of the military units they cover, in effect making them reporters “in bed” with their subjects. Some of them are beginning to sound like rah-rah boys, outperforming the information and briefing officers of the military.

One plus point here is that these correspondents are able to gain access and literally get a free ride in the forbidding desert. In journalism, access is very important — for how can one report with authority something he has not witnessed or experienced?

We’re sure their editors have noticed this themselves and will do something about it.

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WMD ARE AMERICAN: Watching the relentless bombing of Baghdad on TV, we see right there on the screen proof of the devastating weapons of mass destruction that Bush insists exist.

Tracer rounds of anti-aircraft guns of Baghdad’s defenders race across the sky like wayward New Year rockets. They pale in comparison to the cauldron of death and destruction being poured by the US on the helpless city.

In the south, near the Kuwait border, puny Iraqi scud missiles land with a thud on the desert. One starts wondering who really fired them, from where and if these are the weapons of mass destruction supposedly hidden from United Nations inspectors.

Where are the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam has allegedly ranged at the invaders and aimed at selected targets on the US mainland?

Who really possesses the weapons of mass destruction that President Arroyo has denounced in her PMA speech? Was Mrs. Arroyo referring pala to the deadly US arsenal?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 23, 2003)

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