Beyond the Middle East, Barack Obama whom upon taking office spoke of a ‘pivot’ to Asia, finds that his Asia policy is in tatters.
China openly mocks him, Japan looks to diversify her regional and global allies and most importantly, The Philippines, a former US colony and since the end of the Second World War, a colony in all but name, is going it alone and doing so with the aid of China. To put it in terms that will someday fill American history books, Obama is the man who lost the Philippines.
Since 1591, what is now the Republic of The Philippines was a Spanish colony. Spain’s long decline as a maritime empire was deeply shaken during the Spanish-American War of 1898. The war was short and decisive in America’s favour and was America’s first taste at global rather than continental colonialism. In addition to receiving Cuba from Spain, America also took possession of the Philippines.
During the war with Spain, independence minded Filipino republicans were made promises of freedom by Washington. This of course did not pan out and a bloody war ensued between the American military and Filipino republicans.
The war lasted over three years longer than the one with Spain, a crucial reminder that large modern militaries often have easier victories over large but outmoded forces than when up against amateur forces defending their homes. This was a lesson America would have to re-learn over half a century later in Vietnam.
America eventually won the war, although insurgents continued to resist colonial rule. Formal colonial rule ended in 1946, but America continued to call the shots. The Philippines was greatly dependant on America and in return, the US steadfastly supported the brutal President Ferdinand Marcos who ruled the country from 1965-1986.
The recent election of President Rodrigo Duterte has caused a profound shift in US-Philippine relations. Duterte grabs headlines for his crackdown on narcotics and outspoken rhetoric, but he may best be remembered as the man who sifted the Philippines from a US client state to an independent nation drifting ever closer to China.
Duterte’s speeches strike a similar chord to those of Evo Morales, Fidel Castro and the late Hugo Chavez. He speaks about the end to subservience to America, speaks of colonial struggle and looks to end conflict with Beijing over the Sea China Sea.
Duterte has said of his new found ally in China:
“What kept us from China was not our own making. I will charter a new course”.
The clear implication here is that American influence drove a wedge between the two south Asian states.
Obama seems to care little about this development. Perhaps because he’s grown tired of power and looks forward to retirement or perhaps because he feels personally offended that Duterte referred to Obama as the “…son of a whore”. Needless to say, they shan’t be playing golf together in Hawaii any time soon.
The Philippines along with Cuba was the birthplace of America’s global empire. How ironic that this may well also be the place where it formally ends.