Monday, April 28, 2014

"Military Advisers" - The Third Rail of US Engagement in SE Asia

Hail the conquering hero! Barack Obama returns to the U.S. following the final leg of his Asia tour, to headlines announcing:

This probably "smells like victory" to an administration that seemed to stumble around the Pacific rim this past week, rather than enjoy a victory lap.

For alert Americans, the announcement is worrying. "As part of the deal with Manila, the U.S. is promising to step up military assistance and training with the Philippine military . . . . " The first question to ask is this: how many "military advisers" is the U.S. putting in the Philippines, and what is it leading to?

For me and for many in my generation, it is impossible to hear those words without pulling in the full specter of the Vietnam War.

February, 2010: "U.S., Philippine Troops Fight Insurgent Bomb Threat"
(American Forces Press Service)

March, 1964: "Vietnamese Colonel Cao Hao Hon with U.S. military advisor"
(Healery Library, UMass Boston)

The Philippines is engaged in a long-running effort to construct a polity built on equity and democratic participation. Until now, efforts at peacemaking and community building have been hindered by human rights abuses and crackdowns on dissent, conducted by the Philippines army. (See "Needed: Less Military Force, More Human Rights in the Philippines")

Moreover, the sea to the west of the Philippines is becoming highly-contested space. The potential for the escalation of U.S. involvement in any dispute there is extremely high.

Our first response to the "large-scale return of U.S. military forces" to the Philippines should be to get a full, public accounting of how U.S. military advisers are being used, and will be used in the future.

Related posts

Advocates for human rights in the Philippines, including the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, are asking us to speak out publicly on the need for the U.S. government to "own" its responsibility for human rights violations in the Philippines, and to take affirmative action to halt them. As President Obama begins his trip to Asia -- underlining the much-touted "pivot to Asia" -- it is an especially important time to draw attention to what is really happening in the Philippines.

(See Needed: Less Military Force, More Human Rights in the Philippines )

Strategic analysts are pointing out that the South China Sea is an area through which a vast amount of the world's trade passes.  And some of them have made the modest suggestion that it would be a good idea for the U.S. to dominate it now, in much the same it dominated the Caribbean at the turn of the 19th century.

(See SOUTH CHINA SEA: No End of American Grand Designs)

The problem: the U.S. "pivot to Asia."

The opportunity: asking ourselves, "What would we do differently if we revised our myths of Asia?"

(See U.S. Militarism in Asia: THINK DIFFERENT!)

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