Saturday, August 23, 2003

Saving the Philippines

Robert Tagorda suggests that an American effort to reform the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) might be the only way to save that country. Before you agree with him -- and you should, because Tagorda is correct -- understand what this implies. For the reform to be fundamental and not simply cosmetic, the United States must have the authority to raze that corrupt organization to the ground and reconstitute it on an entirely new basis. The model for doing this already exists: it's called the de-Baa'thization of the Iraqi army. That model was itself derived from two historically successful enterprises, the demilitarization of Japan and the de-Nazification of Germany. It works. The catch is that it requires occupying the Philippines.

The model for failure is also clear: it's called the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), and the concept as applied to the Philippines is the Joint United States Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG). It is premised on the erroneous assumption that the AFP is a decent, professional organization that is only in want of a little money and training to become effective. But as the recent 'escapes' of Islamic terrorists and repeated attempts to overthrow civilian government show, the Philippine Armed Forces is a collection of undisciplined hoodlums in want of reform, if not incarceration, which was the starting point for the discussion in the first place. Tagorda understands that the problem has gone beyond the power of gentle cures. He says, "Education will hardly serve as a panacea. But it will at least begin to put the spotlight on stabilizing and strengthening institutions that have important counterterrorism responsibilities."

One almost gets the sense, especially in the presence of references to Kaplan's "Supremacy by Stealth", that subversion in a good cause is what America should actually be aiming at in the Philippines, if only it were politic to say so. There's a model for that too. It's called the 'Roadmap' and it describes the American effort to oust Yasser Arafat and his gang of thugs from the Palestine Liberation Authority and supplant him with a group of lesser devils. It represents the second attempt by an American administration to re-engineer a terrorist organization in the interests of peace. (The first was the US upgrade of Soviet communications links in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis to prevent an accidental launch. It included the installation of the famous "hotline" between the American and Soviet leaders.)

The JUSMAG and the 'Roadmap' represent two extremes in the spectrum of approaches to transforming a foreign military organization. The JUSMAG model has manifestly failed in the Philippines. Time to shift the dial closer to the 'Roadmap'.