What Have You Done For Us Lately? - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
What Have You Done For Us Lately?

The United States is the strongest nation on earth. But it has discovered that power doesn’t buy love. Over Washington’s objections, the Philippines withdrew its minuscule military contingent from Iraq to save a captive Filipino truck driver kidnapped by Islamic terrorists. After the Madrid bombing earlier this year, the new Spanish government brought home its 1,300 troops from Iraq.

The Dominican Republic and Honduras pulled out their small detachments shortly thereafter. In early July Norway withdrew 140 of 155 troops; Moldova and Singapore also have brought home most of their few score personnel. New Zealand and Thailand plan to get out in September. Estonia says its troops will be coming home soon. The Netherlands and Poland are expected to exit by spring or summer 2005.

What has always been a coalition more in name than reality threatens to disintegrate. It will be the U.S., Britain, and a few others — Japanese who won’t fight, South Koreans sent to where they won’t have to fight, Ukrainians who retreated when they had to fight.

Even the contributions from serious nations, other than that from Great Britain, are too small to make other than a psychological difference. And the stalwarts eventually may falter. Should Australia’s Labor Party win the upcoming election, that nation’s contingent will be gone by Christmas; only a narrow parliamentary majority recently extended Italy’s deployment.

Hostage crises have generated significant popular opposition in Japan and South Korea to their participation. With more than 50 foreigners kidnapped so far and allied forces unable to provide security, there will be more macabre terrorist beheadings. Even countries with no troops on station — Egypt, India, Jordan, and Kenya — have had citizens kidnapped, with the terrorists demanding that civilian workers “transporting goods, weapons and military equipment” for the U.S. go home.

PLEADING BY THE PROVISIONAL Iraqi government and pressure from the Bush administration — on Hungarian television Secretary of State Colin Powell warned America’s allies to “not get weak in the knees” — has proved fruitless. Few friendly governments ever believed in Washington’s policy or trusted the Bush administration’s management. When involvement in Iraq proved to be more costly than expected, many of America’s friends ran for the exits.

That resulted in predictable name-calling in the U.S. capital — “appeasers” being the insult of choice. The choice of the Philippines to remove troops triggered a fit of Tourette Syndrome on the part of our hawks. The departing coalition members were called cowards, weasels, even “milksops.” Manila had “caved in” and “stabbed America in the back.” Washington recalled its ambassador for “consultations.” Secretary Powell said the Bush administration was “seriously disappointed” in the Arroyo government’s action.

In one sense, Washington has little cause for complaint. Even countries that have withdrawn their forces did contribute. It wasn’t their fault that the Iraqi occupation proved to be far bloodier than Washington predicted. Both Spain and the Philippines have tartly noted that they are entitled to make policies based on their nation’s best interests.

But then so is the U.S. There is little to be gained from juvenile insults, however the U.S. government may be able to use its words far more effectively. Washington could let countries know that if they can’t be bothered to help now, then America will be hard of hearing the next time they call for assistance.

With no more Soviet Union, there really isn’t much that the Europeans require from America. Irrespective of France’s, Germany’s, or Spain’s policies towards Iraq, the U.S. should leave Europe’s problems, such as the Balkans, to Europe. In Asia allied countries are even more insistent that the U.S. remain not just engaged, but on the military frontline. Washington should meet requests for assistance with a simple question: What have you done for us lately?

FOR INSTANCE, U.S. FORCES have been defending South Korea for 54 years. Seoul’s planned dispatch of 3,600 soldiers to Iraq in return is a bit paltry, though better than nothing. But sending them to the north in peaceful Kurdish territory — after explicitly refusing to patrol fractious Kirkuk — is not much better than nothing. The Bush administration’s plan to withdraw 12,500 soldiers from the ROK for possible redeployment to Iraq should become the start of full disengagement.

Japan’s Iraq garrison is of even less value. Tokyo, also the beneficiary of decades of American military protection, has sent in 600 troops for humanitarian duties only. They have been instructed not to aid allied forces in battle but would undoubtedly call for help from the same troops if they came under attack.

True, Japan is working under the unnatural constraints from its American-imposed pacifist constitution. But the U.S. can help Japan come to terms with history by indicating that the world’s second-ranking economic power can no longer stand by while America diverts personnel to guard Japanese sea lanes, backstop Japanese territorial disputes, and safeguard Japanese security.

Still, at least Seoul and Tokyo remained firm when confronted by terrorist kidnappers. The Philippines surrendered, pulling home its 51 soldiers. Filipino President Gloria Arroyo proclaimed that it was “a time of triumph,” a truly singular judgment. Washington should respond with the pointed message: Don’t call us.

THE PHILIPPINES TEETERS on the edge of failure: inefficient, corrupt, poor, dysfunctional, semi-democratic. Manila cheerfully deploys an air force that doesn’t fly and a navy that doesn’t float, in the words of one former defense minister. So the Philippines relies on the U.S. for aid in defeating domestic Islamic guerrillas and fending off China’s territorial claims over the Spratly Islands.

“We are with you in your leadership against terrorism, wherever it may be found,” Arroyo once claimed, but then made a lie of it by withdrawing troops. Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye tried to put the best face on this by saying that his nation still considers the U.S. “as our big brother in the security arena. Our long-standing and maturing relations with the United States will survive this hostage crisis.”

Washington is not looking “to punish the Philippines in any way,” said America’s Charge d’Affaires, Joseph Mussomeli, in Manila. Fair enough. The U.S. shouldn’t level sanctions or give Filipinos the French treatment, but the American military guardianship should end.

The issue is not that countries are either “with us or against us” in the fight against terrorism, as President George W. Bush once put it, but that sacrifice must cut both ways. The U.S. has sent thousands of troops to train Filipino forces fighting Islamic guerrillas. Several Americans have died in joint exercises. And U.S. taxpayers have contributed billions in aid to the Philippines over the years.

It is time to say, no more. Washington faces a world full of unfinished business. It must set priorities by cutting off onetime clients that are unimportant strategically and faithless under fire. America has more important things to do than subsidize and defend them.

Doug Bandow
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Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.
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