Monday, July 14, 2003

The True Measure of a Nation

The escape of Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi from a Manila jail demonstrates the need to operationally separate diplomatic fantasy from reality in the war on terror. Philippine government officials, like America's Pashtun tribal allies or Pakistani generals, must be publicly accorded the dignity they pretend to. But no one should actually believe that they possess it. A Philippine general is to a real general what Colonel Sanders is to a real colonel. In a rational universe, Al-Ghozi should have been transported to Guantanamo Bay, where he would have had a choice of swimming 90 miles to Florida or picking his way through the several million land mines that the Cubans have so thoughtfully planted around the base. He would be there today. But in a world of diplomatic politesse, Al-Ghozi was left in the custody of the Philippine "police", an act which operationally ensured his escape. He is now free to kill again.

Al-Ghozi killed 22 Filipinos on Christmas day, 2000, many of whom were children. This counted for nothing against the bribe he paid his jailors. Even that term is too lofty for what they probably are. Trying not to laugh, Philippine military announced a "massive manhunt", saying there were "special teams" hunting Al-Ghozi. Yet he is almost certain never to be arrested -- at least not by the Philippine authorities. Al-Ghozi was initially detained upon information provided by Singaporean intelligence, after operating for years in the Philippines where the authorities were wholly unable to connect him to terror. The edifice carefully erected by thousands of Singaporean manhours is easily trumped by a wad of greasy money and a case of cheap liquor in the "Republic" of the Philippines.

It should be clear that operating in Third World countries such as the Philippines requires real countries to work through individual local contacts who can be operationally trusted. The "official" government officials should simply be told nothing unless it is absolutely necessary -- and then only at the last possible moment. It is the job of the State Department to feed Third World governments a diet of fantasy; in a word, to fete and lie to them. It is the job of the Department of Defense to know better and do the job directly. That is the way it should be in Liberia; and that is the way it should be in the Philippines.