“America is proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people,” George W. Bush, October, 2003, “Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines from colonial rule.” That remark prompted these thoughts from John Judis in the July/August 2004 Foreign Policy:
As many Philippine commentators remarked afterward, Bush’s rendition of Philippine-American history bore little relation to fact. True, the U.S. Navy ousted Spain from the Philippines in the Spanish-American War of 1898. But instead of creating a Philippine democracy, the McKinley administration, its confidence inflated by victory in that splendid little war, annexed the country and installed a colonial administrator. The United States then waged a brutal war against the same Philippine independence movement it encouraged to fight against Spain. The war dragged on for 14 years. Before it ended, about 120,000 U.S. troops were deployed, more than 4,000 were killed, and more than 200,000 Filipino civilians and soldiers were killed. Resentment lingered a century later during Bush’s visit.
As for the Philippines’ democracy, the United States can take little credit for what exists and some blame for what doesn’t. The electoral machinery the United States designed in 1946 provided a democratic veneer beneath which a handful of families, allied to U.S. investors-and addicted to kickbacks-controlled the Philippine land, economy, and society. The tenuous system broke down in 1973 when Philippine politician Ferdinand Marcos had himself declared president for life. Marcos was finally overthrown in 1986, but even today Philippine democracy remains more dream than reality. Three months before Bush’s visit, a group of soldiers staged a mutiny that raised fears of a military coup. With Islamic radicals and communists roaming the countryside, the Philippines is perhaps the least stable of Asian nations. If the analogy between the United States’ liberation of the Philippines and of Iraq holds true, it will not be to the credit of the Bush administration, but to the skeptics who charged that the White House undertook the invasion of Baghdad with its eyes wide shut.
Now via Daniel Larison, we see Michael O’Hanlon and Jason Campbell once again citing the Phillipines as a model of success: “The experience of successful counterinsurgency and stabilization missions in places such as the Philippines and Malaysia, by contrast, leads us to place a premium on tracking trends in the daily lives of typical citizens.” To a remarkable extent our contemporary debates are just re-hashing the controversies over imperialism of over a century ago.