Manila Folders

Manila says it will withdraw from Iraq

There’s an old joke about the Chicago Cubs. It goes like this: Did ya’ hear the Cubbies are moving to the Philippines? Yep. They’re going to change their name to the Manila Folders.

No. It’s not really all that funny.

This is seriously disappointing. Responding to pressure from its populace, the Philippines will withdraw their troops from Iraq “as soon as possible”. It doesn’t appear clear whether ASAP means before August 20, which is when the troops were scheduled to leave anyway. (UPDATE: It now appears that this lack of clarity might be intentional. Manila may be trying to play both sides of the standoff, saying what the hostage-takers and worried citizens want to hear in an effort to buy time. For what? We’ll have to see. But I may have jumped the gun on this one.)

Now, Manila only had 51 troops in Iraq to begin with, so in real terms of security or mission capability, this isn’t going to affect anything at all.

But the Philippines and its inhabitants are reacting to threats by an extremist group to execute a Philippine hostage unless the pullout happens. Despite earlier statements that Manila would stay the course, public outcry has forced a change in plans. The Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin Al-Waleed Corps snatched a truck driver and demanded that the Philippines pull out by July 20th. After video of the hostage was shown in which the driver pleaded for his life, public sentiment, already running high, broke loose.

This seems a little bizarre to me. The Philippines already suffer from al Qaeda-related groups. The US has already invested quite a bit of time and money into helping Manila train and equip to fight the threat. Why they would now elect to cave in is a bit mystifying.

When Spanish trains were bombed in March just days before elections, there was more than a little doubt about what the real effect on the voters was. In any event, some attacks were planned and attempted even after the Socialist government, which won control of the country, vowed to pull all Spanish troops out of Iraq. Either the terrorists don’t quite have a grasp on how to play their hand, or they don’t quite have a grasp on all of their own bad guys. Or maybe the later attacks were other bad guys. With this loose network of terrorism we keep hearing that cannot be defeated, it’s sometimes hard to tell if they’re unrelated or just confused. (See this post’s extended entry for more on this line of thought.)

If Manila believes it’s sending a message by cooperating, they’re right. Of course, it isn’t the message that any sane government would want to send to terrorists, but it’s a message, all right. It’s sort of along the lines of this: “Very clever! You win. Whenever you need something, just grab some of our people and threaten to kill them. Works every time!”

What’s unfortunate is that, even in the extremely unlikely event that this withdrawal from Iraq a few weeks early placates the terrorists, everyone else is going to suffer. Since the Spain bombing there’s been a steady stream of kidnappings and a fair number of beheadings. It seems to me that public opinion, even in the “Arab street”, had really turned against the kidnappers and especially the beheaders. But the smart money says that all of that is about to change.

It’s been said many times in many ways that the only thing the Arab/Muslim/Mid-Easterner understands is violence. While I believe that to be a gross oversimplification and generalization, I also believe that there is more than a kernel of truth to it. And this “gentleman’s agreement” will go a long way to convincing many that maybe there’s hope for this beheading campaign after all.

If al Qaeda is smart, they will give the Philippines a free pass for some time. I’m not really sure about the relationship between AQ and Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin Al-Waleed Corps, but any gains the militant extremists get will be washed away if another group blows up something or someone in the Philippines too soon. AQ has shown themselves to be smart more often than not, but I wonder about their ability to influence other groups that might not want to avoid a nation that has shown itself to be a willing victim who’s ready to play some ball.

I had a chat conversation earlier tonight on this subject, and my comrade suggested that AQ might benefit greatly if they grabbed someone specifically from a country that they suspected would either fold easily or was open to attack. If the nation complied with demands, great. If not, a quick execution of the hostage and a near-simultaneous attack on that nation would send quite a powerful message.

Whatever the pressures on the home front, Manila has allowed the bad guys to score a point on us. This is probably worth a thousand terrorist volunteers in the next ten days, and it adds fuel to the fire of those who claim the US is acting alone in Iraq. (Never mind that there are still 33 other nations with troops there.)

I think that this is what we get for trying to pretend that we can all just carry on like normal even though we’re at war. I’ve said before that I believe this conflict to be the Fourth World War. We are in what amounts to a struggle for survival with medieval, extremist Muslim fundamentalists. We are in what amounts to an Islamic civil war between forces from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries aligned against those from the tenth and eleventh. And like the Balkan struggle that pulled the world to edge of ruin in 1914, this one is pulling in every nation on the planet through the world’s network of alliances, reliances, and interdependencies. And, unlike the early 20th century, wide oceans and a lesser place on the world stage afford America no shelter from the storm.

We’ve all been told to just go shopping. While I don’t suggest for a moment that all nations should immediately conscript every military-age man and begin rationing gasoline and food, I do think that the official mood of normalcy (also known as “make believe”) does not foster a real sense of urgency in the average citizen of the average nation.

If we had not invaded Iraq, we would still be at war. If the occupation had gone smoothly with few American casualties, we would still be at war. While not as obvious to the casual observer, except for spectacular events like that one morning in September of 2001, the battles and campaigns we’re fighting and orchestrating today are every bit as important as those of the great wars in the good old days. They’re not so noticeable, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t as crucial to our way of life. Just because so few are watching doesn’t mean that less hangs in the balance.

We are at war. The Philippines have just handed our enemy a victory.

UPDATE: As I wrote above, the Philippines may be stalling for time. This could be another example of how this war differs from the global wars of the past: rhetoric and posturing have evolved from diplomatic support tools into front-line weapons. We might not even recognize a Battle of Jutland when it happens. (And don’t forget that many of the biggest, most decisive battles will be fought in the shadows by spooks and special forces. We will never even hear of them let alone understand their significance.)

In any case, unless the ambiguous departure date for Phlippine troops is simply the result of confusion, they seem to be making an effort to stick to their commitments and to the neccessary course despite overwhelming internal pressure.

We won’t know if they’ve handed the opposition a victory until actions make it clear. I hope they stay on target. Too many have lost their nerve already.

EXTENDED ENTRY:

If only it were this easy:

DEADLY DIRK:
Campaign for Free Galilee.

FRANCIS:
Oh. Uh, People’s Front of Judea. Officials.

DEADLY DIRK:
Oh.

FRANCIS:
What’s your group doing here?

DEADLY DIRK:
We’re going to kidnap Pilate’s wife, take her back, issue demands.

FRANCIS:
So are we.

DEADLY DIRK:
What?

FRANCIS:
That’s our plan!

DEADLY DIRK:
We were here first!

FRANCIS:
What do you mean?!

DEADLY DIRK:
We thought of it first!

WARRIS:
Oh, yeah?

DEADLY DIRK:
Yes, a couple of years ago!

P.F.J.:
Ha. Heh. Ha ha.

DEADLY DIRK:
We did!

FRANCIS:
Okay, c– co– come on. You got all your demands worked out, then?

DEADLY DIRK:
‘Course we have.

FRANCIS:
What are they?

DEADLY DIRK:
Well, I’m not telling you.

P.F.J.:
Aghhh…

FRANCIS:
Oh, come on. Pull the other one.

P.F.J.:
Shh!

DEADLY DIRK:
That’s not the point! We thought of it before you!

WARRIS:
Did not.

DEADLY DIRK:
We did!

FRANCIS:
You didn’t.

C.F.G.:
We bloody did!

BRIAN:
Shhhh!

P.F.J.:
Shhhhh! Shh.

DEADLY DIRK:
You bastards! We’ve been planning this for months.

FRANCIS:
Well, tough titty for you, Fish Face. Oh! Oh.

RANDOM:
All right.

WARRIS:
Clever. You sly…

[They all begin fighting against each other]

BRIAN:
Brothers! Brothers! We should be struggling together!

FRANCIS:
We are! Ohh.

BRIAN:
We mustn’t fight each other! Surely we should be united against the common
enemy!

EVERYONE:
The Judean People’s Front?!

Comments

  1. Great Post Murdoc, I guess the Filipinos have forgotten the Bataan Death March where lots of Americans were tortured and beheaded in return for trying to defend their country. Or it could be they just don’t teach history in the schools anymore. Maybe General MacArthur shouldn’t have returned, after all!

  2. You know, for all that I wrote, I never gave American involvement in the Philippines prior to 9/11 much thought. You are totally correct about the fact that much American blood was spilled defending and then later retaking the Philippines in the 1940s, though of course it was with our national interest taken into consideration. Two of my grandfather’s brothers fought in the Philippines in 1941 and 1942. They both were captured when the Army surrendered and made the March. One of them survived it to spend the next four years in a series of brutal POW camps. He wrote a little about it his experiences, and it’s horrifying. If you missed it, I just updated my post. To be fair, the Philippine government is in a tough spot and they appear to be doing their best to please both sides, probably to gain some time. I’m going to hold off on my Benedict Arnold rhetoric pending their final decision.

  3. And what you write also underscored the fact that there aren’t too many places on this planet where US soldiers haven’t fought to preserve freedom. How many of those places are represented by stars on our flag? How many of those places are even governed by the US in any way? Sure, we haven’t always done right by everyone, but I think we’ve made a more than fair effort and I think that we’ve gone far above and beyond what should be expected. The Philippenes as an American territory started out as a dipping of our toe in the waters of empire. We were coming into our own, and everybody that was anybody had an empire. But we didn’t like the temperature, and in the end we never really signed up to play that game.