MAX V. SOLIVEN: BUSH-WHACKED EVEN BEFORE HE BEGAN

MANILA, OCTOBER 17, 2003  (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven  - The International Herald Tribune – which is now actually The New York Times in disguise, and abbreviated form – yesterday ran an editorial- page feature by Elizabeth Economy (yep, that’s her family name) and Adam Segal aptly entitled, President Bush Faces a Skeptical Asia.

The two contributors of the piece, both from the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, might as well have written, "a hostile Asia". The truth is that, alas, for the United States of America, it is an increasingly hostile world, not just the region in which we live.

Arnaud de Borchgrave, my former boss at NEWSWEEK, later Editor-in-Chief of the Washington Times, and today Editor-at-Large of United Press International (UPI), and this writer were discussing this rising tide of anti-Americanism over lunch at the Tower Club last Wednesday. Arnaud had covered 18 wars and 90 countries, zooming from one continent to the other – he’s flying off to another destination this afternoon, not bothering to wait for President Bush, whom, of course, he knows very well. De Borchgrave remarked that never in his half a century of overseas reporting had he encountered such hostility towards the United States than he’s doing today.

Perhaps the Romans and Imperial Rome, in their heyday, faced such resentment – but news and views traveled far more slowly in their time. The British Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire of the Turks, even that of the short-lived Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (whose legacy, however, lives on in the many countries whose laws contain vestiges of the Code Napoleon) might have provoked similar animosities. But surely, not on such a massive and often illogical scale.

Poor George "Dubya" Bush probably never dreamed he’d have to contend with so much on the international front, and was ready to focus on internal matters realizing that it had been the local economy and domestic problems which had downed his father George Herbert Walker during dad’s one-term presidency.

Alas, 9/11 propelled him into the unaccustomed international arena, impelled him and his advisers to craft a dubious concept of pre-emptive strike, forced him into becoming a "wartime president" – and, by requiring him to overspend on the military, Afghanistan, the Iraq War and Occupation, and homeland security rocketed the budget deficit to over $500 billion. Moreover, America’s armed "intrusion" into the Middle East reinforced (it already existed) Arab and worldwide Muslim hatred of the US – and Americans.

I believe that Dubya Bush did all he did with a patriotic heart. But you know the old American saying: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

* * *

One phenomenon of that "hostility" was the scene this writer witnessed in the session hall of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris last September 29.

The assembly hall was packed, and we were seated in the Philippine delegates’ row when America’s First Lady, Mrs. Laura Bush, delivered an eloquent address to mark the return of the US to membership in the UNESCO (bringing its number of member-states back to 190) after an absence of 19 years.

In short, 19 years ago, the USA had walked out of that international organization in a huff, declaring that it had deteriorated into a pro-Soviet forum and a Leftist sounding-board, and decrying the radical and dictatorial policies of its long-lasting former Director-General, Dr. Amadou Mahtar M’Bow (from Senegal), who had even appropriated the top-floor penthouse of the UNESCO headquarters on Avenue de Fontenoy as his personal living quarters.

Indeed, I recall that Mr. M’Bow, who ran UNESCO in the 1970s, even tried to impose a new "world information order" that he claimed would break the hold of the Western press agencies on news and information in the developing nations.

In any event, the departure of the US was a blow indeed, since Washington DC provided 22 percent of the UNESCO budget. M’Bow was subsequently toppled in a general election by Federico Mayor of Spain who became the Director-General and reset UNESCO’s priorities in the right direction.

Now, the term of the genial Director-General Kochiiro Matsuura, from Japan, has been enlivened by the return of the US to the UNESCO fold.

Did the UNESCO delegates greet this landmark event with the proper good cheer and bonhomie? My observation is that the delegates treated Mrs. Laura Bush’s address with less than great enthusiasm, some of them even grumbling that, like her husband, she had been trying to lecture them. This was not my reading, but when you’re hostile, you’re hostile.

Indeed, when the US First Lady concluded her speech, and she and her 17-member delegation moved out of center stage, the presiding President of the Conference from Nigeria didn’t announce that she and her team were going to the front yard to raise the US flag ceremonially to the mast, to join the massed flags of the other member-nations – signaling America’s return to the organization. If he had done so, I think most of the delegates would have gone to applaud the historic event, and witness the "return" of the Star Spangled Banner. Yet, inside the chamber the meeting went on to conduct "business as usual". The majority of the members missed the outside event. They didn’t even know it was taking place.

If you ask me, snubbing the flag-raising was a somewhat petty, even churlish thing to do. Common courtesy – which would obtain between nations, not just between individuals – should have at least occasioned an official announcement that every delegation, on its own volition, would be "free" to leave the hall to witness the ceremony.

That’s life on this planet today, however. America is too big, too powerful (too overbearing perhaps at times), too successful, and too baduy, to invoke our own homegrown expression, to be "loved". Laura Bush is a fine and earnest lady, a former school teacher and librarian herself (which is partly what UNESCO is about), and deserved a better reception. As it is, she carried herself with dignity and good humor.

Her delegates and friends, in true Pinoy fashion, on the other hand, were a bit too much. Everytime she uttered a bon mot or concluded an inspiring paragraph, they pre-empted everybody in the chamber with handclaps of loud applause. Just like our local pala or cheering squads. Sycophancy or sipsip isn’t confined, I guess, to our archipelago.

* * *

Before I left Paris for London the other week, our Ambassador to France, Hector Villarroel, who has been doing a very effective job, (and speaks not merely eloquent but literary French), took us to the plaza in the French capital named after our national hero.

It’s called, what else, Place Jose Rizal, and is located between the Rue Choron, Rue Mauberge and Rue Rodier in the 9th arrondissement. Our hero had lived in Paris in various addresses (the one I personally remember, with a memorial plaque to boot on its building front, is an old hotel in Montparnasse which used, a few years ago, to be one of the offices of the popular newsweekly, Le Point).

The fact that Rizal is now honored with a square being named after him, it’s a "triangle" really, is due to the efforts of Ambassador Villarroel. He befriended the mayor of the 9th district, indeed a mayor who had served in that post for 25 years. This is the Hon. Gabriel Kaspereit, in fact a former Minister in the Cabinet of the late, great President Charles de Gaulle. Mayor Kaspereit, through Hector’s influence, got very interested in Rizal and had one plaza in his arrondissement named after him. The site was officially inaugurated in March 1999 by former Foreign Affairs Secretary Domingo "Jun" Siazon.

I think we ought to organize a fund, somehow or other, to finance the erection of a statue or bust of Dr. Rizal in that place. Since Paris is not just the City of Light, but prides herself on being the City of L’Amour Toujours L’Amour, a statue of Rizal the Lover might be appropriate. In truth, he was that.

* * *

Well, B-day is upon us tomorrow. Some may even call it, "Dubya Day".

I’m informed that President GMA and President Bush will discuss several defense and security issues during their 25-minute one-on-one discussion in Malacañang.

Expect canned phrases to be dished out, like both nations planning to move forward "jointly and according to their respective capacities, toward achieving the shared goals of global peace, stability and prosperity."

GMA has been meticulously prepped by her Palace staff on what to say during that "ampat-mata" dialogue (as the Indonesians and Malaysians describe a "four-eyes" or eyeball-to-eyeball discussion).

GMA, Alikabok says, will spend the first 15 minutes updating Bush on the "peace" talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the counter-terrorism campaign against the Abu Sayyaf and the CPP/NPA. The two chief executives will talk about the RP’s commitment to a strategic roadmap which will guide the RP-US security and defense relationship, and the Philippines’ 96-man contingent for Iraq.

President Arroyo will give Mr. Bush a list of logistical items our armed forces need – such as 30,000 M-16s, a C-130 cargo plane, 30 Huey helicopters, and additional Foreign Military Funding (FMF) for an upgrade program for the aircraft, plus the acquisition of a Cyclone speedy patrol craft. GMA, of course, will also express gratitude for the designation of the Philippines as a major non-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Ally of the United States. In acronym, this is MNNA.

The Americans would really want to know whether our government really has the will and the long-term commitment to continue its "partnership" with the US. It doesn’t take rocket science expertise (à la China’s new Taikonaut Yang Liwei) to figure out the American sentiment: "We’ve helped you, and the quid pro quo for continuing this partnership is reforms. You’ve got to demonstrate that the culture of corruption in the Armed Forces has been rooted out."

My Washington sources tell me that the US government is a bit unsure about whether the partnership is working and should be continued. With limited funding in his kitty (Bush is having problems asking Congress for that additional $87-billion, for instance), Capitol Hill may have to reassess its defense spending priorities. Dubya – for all his smiles – will seek to find out whether our government is willing to "stay the course" with the US, fight effectively without frittering away aid, and if it’s seen that we won’t "shape up" you can be sure that the US will consider pulling out. That’s the word I get. The Gloria-Dubya talks are going to be "where the political rubber meets the potholes".

To take just one example of American unease over our AFP’s wasteful methods, there’s the propensity of our Southern Command to conduct what’s known as "Reconnaissance by Firing". Our artillery harasses the rebel "areas" with cannon fire at night, but our soldiers don’t follow this up with an attack. Afterwards, our troops look for bodies in the morning and end up counting only holes in the ground. That’s the way SouthCom fights. They’re not properly utilizing the Light Reaction Companies (LRCs), trained by the US, which are capable of night-fighting.

Oh, well. It’s no wonder the "war" in Mindanao simply goes on, and on, and on.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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