Why was Mrs. Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo so intent on meeting US President George W. Bush in Hanoi last Saturday prior to the 14th Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting? Mrs. Arroyo was not among the leaders Bush was scheduled to meet, and the wiser option would have been for Mrs. Arroyo to distance herself from lame duck Bush after his party’s rout in the US November 7 elections.
Between November 17 and 19 Bush was scheduled to meet only with the leaders of Australia, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia. Each of these meetings took place, or were scheduled to take place, for perfectly understandable reasons.
There was the meeting with Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, for example. Howard committed Australia to the US war on Iraq in 2003, sent troops there to help the US occupation, and has since echoed Bush’s own take on terrorism, especially in Southeast Asia, where, he said on a number of occasions, Australia was prepared to act unilaterally against terrorism.
Like a miniature Bush, Howard had gone so far as to declare that he would send Australian troops to any Southeast Asian country to preempt any attack on Australians and Australian interests, which did not endear him or his country to Malaysia and Indonesia, among others, but earned him points with Bush.
China, Russia, South Korea and Japan, on the other hand, are crucial to the resolution of the North Korean crisis, they being among the six countries involved in talks with that country’s leadership. North Korea’s nuclear test last October alarmed not only its southern neighbor but also China and Japan—although, unlike South Korea, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his conservative cohorts are using the North Korean test as the pretext to amend Japan’s peace constitution and build up its armed forces.
One can assume that Howard’s concern nowadays includes the future of Australia’s relations with the United States, given the Republican rout in the US Congressional and gubernatorial elections. Those elections were a referendum on Bush’s policy not only on Iraq but also on his entire “anti-terrorism” strategy. Bush emerged from the November 7 elections not only beaten, but also chastened, at least publicly. Since then he has backtracked on his previous hostility to the winning Democrats, as well as his “stay the course” mantra on Iraq.
He had to. The Republicans could lose the White House in 2008, when Bush’s second and final term ends. Not only is Bush a lame duck (he can’t run again in 2008). A Democratic Party victory in 2008 would dismantle the Republican Party “war on terror” strategy. It would also lead to a review and retooling of the US blueprint for remaking not only the Middle East but much of the world as well to assure US global dominance unto perpetuity.
These and future developments in the US domestic political scene have pulled the rug from under such uncritical Bush allies as Howard, which is why they need to be assured that whatever happens in the US between now and 2008, their own personal, party, national and regional ambitions won’t be too damaged.
Mrs. Arroyo’s insistence on a meeting with Bush was far less understandable. But one could dismiss it as one more attempt to convince not only Filipinos but also the multinationals with interests in the Philippines that she still has US support, despite reservations in Washington about her reliability as an ally. The subject of their ten-minute talk was apparently of no consequence.
The Palace said in a press release that Mrs. Arroyo had asked the US for “a deeper and broader involvement of the United States in the Mindanao peace process” and in counter-terrorism. Neither makes much sense, the US being already so involved in Mindanao it might as well be a US military base. And if there was anything substantially different Mrs. Arroyo meant, it could hardly have been fleshed out in ten minutes.
Lacking in the details that would make the Bush-Arroyo meeting meaningful, the Palace statement instead issued the usual rigmarole about “fostering understanding and interfaith solidarity, to build self-determination and to fight ignorance and poverty”– all words the Arroyo regime cannot and will not translate into anything resembling reality.
Nevertheless, the usually attention-challenged Bush must have winced at least once—when Mrs. Arroyo, so said the Palace, used the phrase “global crusade to defeat terror”, the use of the word “crusade” having been anathema to the Bush government since someone reminded it of what the Crusades did and means in the Muslim world.
But no matter. Mrs. Arroyo sought the meeting days after the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in the Philippines (JFC) issued a statement asking the regime to stop the political killings. Apparently among Mrs. Arroyo’s answers to that was the meeting with Bush, which she and her advisers probably thought would convince JFC to back off, because, judging from the continuing murder of political activists, the regime doesn’t intend to.
Not only is Bush a lame duck. By 2008 a Democratic Party president could be sitting in the White House. That may not mean any drastic change in the essential goals of US policy, but it would mean an approach to realizing them—for example, via a more pronounced UN and Western alliance role– different from Bush’s. If she’s lucky, Mrs. Arroyo will still be in power in 2008, and among her problems, like that of Howard and company, will be adjusting to that approach. She was bitingly critical of the UN, and absolutely supportive of the US attack on Iraq in 2003, remember? Yet there she was last weekend, cozying up to Bush post November 7.