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Waltzing with a dictator: the Marcoses and the making the foreign policy.

Waltzing With a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of Foreigh Policy.

These two books* are about two different countries. William Chapman is mainly concerned with economic and social problems in the Philippines; Raymond Bonner with policy-making in the United States. Both books are valuable and well worth reading--and, I should make clear, both authors are friends of mine. Chapman's book probably tells us more about the future problems we're likely to face in the Philippines. The contrast between his approach and Bonner's helps answer the question around which Bonner builds his book: Why does America so often end up embracing the Somozas, Duvaliers, and Marcoses of the world, the thugs and dictators who mistreat their people while they're in power and embarrass us for our complicity when they are finally overthrown?

* Waltzing With a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of Foreign Policy. Raymond Bonner. Times Books, $19.95.

* Inside the Philippine Rovolution. William Chapman. Norton, $18.95.

To call Bonner's book a polemic is not to insult it. Bonner has a case to make--that Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were corrupt and wicked, and that until nearly the last minute the U.S. tolerated and even encouraged them, thereby putting ourselves on the wrong side of history and making Filipinos who hated Marcos hate us. He lays out the evidence as relentlessly as a prosecutor working to bring in a guilty verdict.

Obviously he has a lot of raw material to work with. His case is summed up by the pictures in his book: they show Nixon, Kissinger, Reagan, Mondale. Bush, Weinberger, and so forth, most of them decked out and ridiculous-looking in "barong tagalog,' the Philippine national shirt, and all of them fawning over Imelda or toasting Ferdinand. (The picture section is valuable in another way. Philippine accounts of the Marcoses's rise invariably dwell on Imelda's "beauty' as a crucial ingredient. I've studied pictures of even the sleek young Imelda and have never understood what all the excitement was about. But one picture in this collection, taken in 1965 when Marcos was campaigning for his first term as president, shows Imelda smiling lewdly at on-lookers like a Manila bar-girl. The woman in this picture could have gotten Lyndon Johnson's attention--as Bonner says she did. Nothing Hartlike came of the encounter between them, but through the sixties and seventies Imelda was serenely confident that she could wrap Yankee statemen around her finger.)

The episodes Bonner describes flesh out the relationship shown in the photos. William Byroade, the U.S. ambassador when Marcos declared martial law in 1972, heard about the plans in advance, Bonner says, and raised no objection at all. Walter Mondale went ahead with a visit to the Philippines, despite clear warnings that Filipinos would see it as an endorsement of Marcos when martial law was still in force, when the human-rights record was getting worse, and when corruption under the "conjugal dictatorship' was moving into high gear. George Bush told Marcos that Americans loved and admired him for his "adherence to democratic principles and to the democratic process.' And of course Ronald Reagan made his idiotic "there's been cheating on both sides' remark while Marcos was trying to steal the election from Corizon Aquino in 1986.

Bonner alternates between document-based analysis--he has extracted a prodigious number of internal memos through the Freedom of Information Act--and Halberstamesque short biographies to amplify and dramatize his points. From each successive American administration, he selects key figures to depict. Bonner gives us Richard Holbrooke and Patricia Derian fighting for the Carter administration's soul. He gives us Michael Armacost switching from chumminess with Marcos, when Armacost was the U.S. ambassador in Manila in the early Reagan years, to a gradual effort to remove him when he came back to the number-three position in the State Department.

As a journalistic device, the use of profiles is a success--this long, heavily detailed book is vivid and fast-moving--but the biographies themselves sometimes seem polemicized. From what Bonner says about each player's appearance, personal bearing, and motivations, it's often easy to guess whether he approves or disapproves of the official's policy.

The most heartfelt writing in the book concerns the Carter administration. Derian, the assistant secretary of state for human rights, keeps pushing the administration to scold or punish Marcos as he settles deeper into despotism. Holbrooke, the assistant secretary for East Asian affairs, wants business as usual, arguing that Marcos's pro-American foreign policy and (above all) his approval of U.S. military bases in the Philippines mattered more than anything else. Bonner obviously sides with Derian, and his picture of Holbrooke is ugly enough that Holbrooke will have to deal with it somehow if he is looking for a bigger foreign-policy job in the next Democratic administration. (Bonner claims that Holbrooke fought unfairly, squashing or exiling anyone who disagreed with him, and that by pandering to Marcos he made life worse for millions in the Philippines.)

The significance of the Carter chapters, apart from their intrinsic soap-opera value, is what they say about expectations. Bonner seems more anguished by Carter's failure to rein in Marcos than about Reagan's unthinking approval of whatever Marcos wanted to do. Carter, after all, was supposed to care about human rights.

A similar belief--that groups with higher moral goals should be held to higher standards-- explains the passion of the book as a whole. Bonner, who in his pre-journalistic life had been a marine officer in Vietnam, a Nader's Raider, and a public interest lawyer, is an idealist. As such he is anguished by America's failure to live up to its idealistic claims.

This part of his argument is very compelling. How could George Bush say that we loved Marcos for his democratic beliefs? But Bonner, like many other idealists, goes on to suggest that doing the morally right thing also makes good practical sense. In life that's often true, but sometimes it isn't--Christian martyrs eventually converted the Roman empire, but for a long time they just got devoured by lions. If it had taken a different, more idealistic policy toward Marcos, the U.S. would have a cleaner conscience now. It's not so convincing that things would be any different in the Philippines. The United States is shamed when it doesn't stand up for the things it believes in: no torture, fair elections, refraining from looting the public treasury. But Bonner's practical-minded argument is harder to prove-- or, for me, to believe.

"One is left to speculate what might have happened if the United States had done something other than roll over when martial law was declared,' Bonner says in a footnote that is actually an important part of his argument. "While it might or might not have deterred Marcos from his course, many Filipinos, as well as American officials, believe that a voice of concern from Washington would have encouraged expressions of opposition in Manila . . .. Even if a U.S. protest might not have had any immediate impact, "if we had come down harder at the beginning,' a senior CIA officer who spent many years on Philippine affairs suggested in 1985, a decade later "we wouldn't have been faced with "Down with the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship.'' Moreover, he added, "We may have been able to have speeded up the restoration of democracy.''

Maybe, maybe not. As it was, democracy restored itself quite quickly after the Marcoses' departure--Filipinos have been voting practically non-stop since last spring. And the anti-Americanism in the country (offset by the very broad pro-American feelings) may be somewhat worse because of our support for the Marcoses, but it reflects scores of other factors that predate and surpass martial law or the Marcoses themselves. They arise from, among other things, the Philippines' long years as a colony, its long-standing economic dependence, and its peoples' desire to become Americans but simultaneously to be respected as Filipinos. So Bonner is probably right in saying that America's past toadying to Marcos makes trouble for America now. Whether it makes much difference, when compared to all the other factors, is not so clear.

It's even harder to be sure that a high road human rights policy would have made a major difference in the Philippines. Yes, American pressure was decisive at the very end, when shoves from Paul Laxalt and others pushed Marcos over the cliff. But Filipinos, not Americans, created the conditions that drove him out.

More important, the Philippines' gravest problem--the profound unfairness of its few-very-rich and masses-very-poor economy--is simply beyond America's ability to control. The U.S. may have aggravated the problem--for instance, by not breaking up the big estates through land reform, as we did in Japan at the end of World War II. Land reform has helped Japan; its absence is one of the many forces hobbling the Philippines. But Japan was a conquered enemy that we could order around as we wished. At just the same time, the Philippines was being set up as a proud, independent country, supposed to make its own decisions. The U.S. didn't create the Philippines land system or its poverty, and we can't at the moment solve either directly. (Our biggest contribution toward Philippine prosperity is probably to absorb immigrants.) If Corazon Aquino, an enormously popular president and a perfectly pedigreed member of the upper class, can't convince her fellow rich hacienda-owners to share their land, how is some American supposed to do the job?

This is one of several depressing implications of William Chapman's fascinating book, which covers more topics than I can do justice to here. Chapman, who was The Washington Post's bureau chief in Tokyo in the late seventies, has written a reportorial rather than argumentative book. It covers the history of Philippine communist and guerrilla movements, the doctrinal struggles within today's movement, its military strategy, and its behavior in the parts of the Philippines it already controls. Chapman emphasizes how severely the guerrillas are hindered by a shortage of weapons--he says that their expansion mainly depends on how many rifles they can steal from ambushed soldiers. He also shows, through biographies and interviews, that most of the leaders are theoretically-oriented Marxists, who look down on peasants who join the movement "just' because soldiers killed one of their relatives or plundered their village. He does not directly address the argument, made by Ross Munro, that the New People's Army would behave like the Khmer Rouge if it seized power, but he describes an NPA-controlled area where commandants mete out summary justice with guns. (But on the whole, Chapman says, peasants now perceive the NPA as being fairer and less rapacious than the regular Philippine army or the police force. This perception is the communists's greatest organizing tool.) Chapman interviewed a dissident priest who was active in the "Basic Christian Community' movement, dedicated to organizing the poor. "I asked whether he personally was troubled by the act of taking human life: "I accept it and support it. And so does almost everyone else in our movement.''

Chapman's emphasis on the old, deep grievances in the Philippines, which no government there (or here) has done much to solve, brings us back to Bonner's original question. Why have we consorted with so many unsavory governments, in the Philippines and elsewhere? Sheer bad judgment is sometimes the explanation --remember "cheating on both sides'--but the problem goes far deeper. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has assumed a role it had never played: a world-wide military power, devoted to keeping its alliances in good repair. Forget the pressures, decisions, and forces of history that put us in this role; consider instead its consequences. In the past few years we've become more and more aware of the economic costs of running our post-war empire: we spend money and talent on weapons, while the Japanese and (to a lesser degree) the Europeans take a free ride. The Philippines reminds us that there is a spiritual and political cost too.

We have to pay the cost because the world is full of governments whose practices we don't approve of but whose cooperation we think we need. American presidents didn't have to go goofy over Imelda Marcos, but they still thought a world-girdling American nevy needed its base at Subic Bay. They could have told themselves that eventually Marcos might be overthrown and that America would look better a generation from now for having opposed him all along. But in the meantime, Marcos was the leader of his country, in a position to make decisions and affect our welfare for years and years. The Swedes can afford to make prissy stands of principle about human rights, because they can offend nearly any non-Arab country they please. The U.S. could take a more Swedish approach--tilting toward Derian rather than Holbrooke, putting out a blistering human rights report every week--but it can't escape the bind created by our post-war role. I am not arguing against a more vigorous human--rights policy; far from it. It would be better for our morale, and it might, as Bonner says, make us seem somewhat less culpable when "our' dictators are overthrown. My point is that, even with a vigorous policy, dictators will remain--and unless we radically change our foreign commitments, we will have to cozy up to some of them. Does anyone imagine that Saudi Arabia is such a model of good-goverment? It isn't, but as long as we need oil we need its cooperation. We're lucky not to need oil as badly as the Japanese or Europeans, who therefore cuddle up to Libya.

Yes, some people think there are simple ways out. The unmodulated anti-communism of the fifties led us to believe that any enemy of our enemy was our friend (instead of just being the enemy of our enemy, and maybe our enemy too). Jeane Kirkpatrick revived essentially the same outlook in the early Reagan years. Another simple approach, more tempting in the Philippines' case, is to decide that the spiritual cost is not worth the strategic benefit, and to clear out. We can be powerful, or pure of heart, but not both. If we don't take either of these two approaches, we can't escape internal conflicts in our policy, and we are left with imperfect solutions like those of the Carter human-rights policy. This is one of the drawbacks of running an empire; and if we feel bad enough about waltzing with tyrants we may have to leave the dance floor.
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Author:Fallows, James
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1987
Words:2412
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