POSTSCRIPT / July 20, 2004 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Foreign policy dictated by domestic concerns

SIMPLE EQUATION: Foreign policy is just an extension of domestic policy. Local concerns take precedence over foreign relations and in fact dictate foreign policy.

We take our place in the community of nations and seek to cultivate positive relations with other countries having in mind reaping benefits for our people from such extension work.

Stripped of its diplomatic mumbo-jumbo, the linear equation of foreign policy is that simple.

So that when foreign policy conflicts with, or proves detrimental to, the interest of our own people, the government has the duty to review, revise or revoke such foreign policy.

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SEVERE TEST: It is in this context that we look at the case of truck driver Angelo dela Cruz, whose capture by Iraqi militants put to a severe test the diplomatic skills of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her envoys.

In conducting foreign relations, when dealing with foreign governments, the sole spokesman of the country is the President, and nobody else.

The President as our top diplomat may seek counsel outside the Executive department, and sometimes shares the responsibility such as when the Chief Executive submits for Senate action all treaties signed by her.

In the final analysis, however, the President takes full control and bears full responsibility for the conduct of foreign relations. While she cannot pass the buck if any decision proves ill advised, she stands to reap approval if things turn out right.

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UNTIMELY HECKLING: In the Angelo dela Cruz case, the decision to pull out the Filipino warm bodies contributed to the multinational peacekeeping force in Iraq is all hers. President Arroyo rises or falls on her decision.

While she has gained widespread approval for her decision, even from her habitual critics in media and politics, it is too early to say how the post-pullout scenario would eventually play out. Let’s wait.

We debate all we want while policy is being formulated. But once a decision on a delicate diplomatic matter is made, it is best that we defer to the President and minimize contrary public statements. After all, we can call her to account later for the consequences of her acts.

The pullout decision has been made. The last batch has left Iraq and is on its way home. Endless debate on that decision is moot and counter-productive.

It is doubtful if the President’s critics, in concert with local American mouthpieces, can scare or convince the President into ordering the troops back to Iraq and throwing back Dela Cruz to the militants. So why all that heckling?

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STAGE IS SET: In fact, as our neighbor Chit Pedrosa has said in her column “From a Distance,” the Dela Cruz affair may even be heaven-sent. We agree with her.

The incident has grabbed the attention of not just the cabalen in barrio Buenavista in Pampanga but also a world audience glued to its favorite TV channel. The stage has been set for us to show everybody that we are capable of doing things our way, in our national interest, not as Uncle Sam tells us.

Will Ms Arroyo be able to leap onto that stage and convince the world that we are, unlike the US-sponsored “government” pretending to run Iraq, our own masters?

The final test for President Arroyo is if she would confide to her people the clashing interests of this country in relation to overbearing “allies” — and how and why she did what she did.

Following in the footsteps of her father, the late President Diosdado Macapagal, Ms Arroyo has that rare opportunity to show her own kind of enlightened nationalism — while the whole world watches.

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DEUS EX MACHINA: Only the blind will fail to see that the drift is toward disengagement from the unconscionable Bush invasion of Iraq.

Even the White House is looking for, or is trying to create, a scenario that will allow the US armada to withdraw from Iraq soonest (before the November elections) and without much loss of face.

Tayo naman, we cannot sit around waiting for our cue from the White House. We are pressed for a sovereign decision, even as a few other allies are already in the pre-departure lounge.

Imagine how we would look to the world if we left Iraq only after the US did!

As Chit pointed out, suddenly we have Angelo dela Cruz like adeus ex machina conveniently materializing to provide us an instant escape route, a graceful exit she calls it.

And here we are still locked in debate after the decision (the right decision, I think) has been made to pull out!

Those opposing the withdrawal may want to consider this: Nandiyan na yan. The decision has been made. Bantayan na lang natin. Tutal, it’s President Arroyo call and her sole responsibility.

If her decision turns out wrong, then let’s go after her. But meantime, let’s give her ample space to navigate the treacherous waters.

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BEELINE TO EXIT: For those who might have missed it, we want to recap what Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya reported about the growing number of allies leaving even before the war jitters have dissipated in Iraq.

We are not alone in withdrawing this early. Andaya said Spain, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Norway have also left. Two more countries — Thailand and New Zealand — have announced their withdrawing by September. Poland and the Netherlands said they were planning to leave next year.

“Clearly, the current international vogue is to orderly leave, not rush into, Iraq,” Andaya said.

He said several countries have significantly reduced their presence in Iraq. Moldova slashed its strength from 42 to just 19 men; and Singapore, from a high of 191 soldiers down to 33.

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NO U.N. COVER: There is repeated mention of the Philippines supposedly abandoning the “international” peacekeeping force. This is deceptive.

While Bush was able to round up a few consenting allies, calling the US-led force an international peacekeeping force is misleading.

The coalition (including the Philippines) that went to Iraq on the prodding of Bush was not engaged in a United Nations peacekeeping operation.

The Iraq campaign is unlike the expeditions of our PEPTOK (Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea), the Philcag (Philippine Civic Action Group) dispatched to Vietnam, and the peacekeeping force we sent to East Timor under the auspices of the United Nations.

As Andaya pointed out, of more than 260 nations in the world, only 23 joined the so-called coalition of the willing. Bush organized that posse to pursue terrorists in Iraq in the wake of 9/11, yet that bombing occurred one long year before he invaded Iraq.

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AUSTRALIAN BOOR: Note that New Zealand which is pulling out in September is the twin of Australia, whose Prime Minister John Howard did not have the sense, much less the class, to desist from talking ill of his neighbor the Philippines.

Howard should do at least two things before he starts frothing in the mouth again:

  1. Ponder on how hungry, sick and outnumbered Filipino soldiers in Bataan held on to the promise of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and fought to disrupt the war timetable of Japanese imperial forces on their sure way to capture Australia.
  2. Think of the big trouble Prime Minister Tony Blair, his counterpart in Mother Britain, ran into for collaborating in an illegal and immoral invasion of a UN member that was not a direct threat to the US, Britain, or Australia.

On the other issue of Filipinos being cowards for leaving Iraq at this point, there is no need to answer that. The bravery of Filipinos is written in blood on the battlefields where our soldiers, and civilians, have fallen in defense of what they believe in.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 20, 2004)

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