When the Obama administration and the Aquino administration negotiated the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), it was a case of two governments with inchoate foreign policies groping for a deal that might lift them from the policy fog in which they found themselves. There was little effort on both sides to fully understand the foreign policy and security thinking of the other.
In Washington, DC, Barack Obama’s foreign policy is unflatteringly characterized by the media and by Democrats and Republicans alike as “Leading from behind.” The phrase embodies what is weak and vacillating about Obama’s leadership in a world that is churning fatefully in Europe and in the Middle East.
In Manila, diplomatic watchers and the media regard Aquino’s foreign policy as a reversion to Philippine dependence on the United States for its security preparedness and for economic and political assistance. When they’re not describing Manila’s position as “hiding behind Uncle Sam,” they talk of President Aquino curling up in the fetal position.
After provocatively engaging China in a word war over disputed shoals and islets in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea, as Aquino calls it), Aquino is resting his case completely on America’s treaty obligations under the 1951 Philippines-US mutual defense treaty. He looks to US financial assistance in modernizing the country’s armed forces.
Although EDCA has already been signed, a major review of the agreement is about to be undertaken in the Philippine Senate, given its constitutional role of ratifying treaties and agreements involving foreign troops and military facilities to be brought into the country. Snags are much more likely in Manila because of the Philippine Constitution and the long history of Philippine sensitivity to foreign military presence.
In the forthcoming review, uncomfortable questions are going to be asked of Philippine officials on how and why the Philippines wound up conceding everything the US wanted with respect to the use of Philippine military bases for the rotational presence of its troops and military assets, and receiving nothing in return in terms of US support in our dispute with China, and of military assistance for Philippine military modernization.
A very basic question that must be asked is why we entered the negotiations to begin with, and what we sought or hoped to gain from the talks. This has never been sufficiently or cogently explained by Philippine officials.
Was this impelled mainly by the need to provide a figleaf for incautious and immature baiting of China?
When President Obama, at his joint news conference with President Aquino, doused cold water on questions whether the US will come to the defense of the Philippines in the event of conflict in the South China Sea, by saying that US security interest is not involved in the dispute. Then he also said that the United States does not seek to counter or contain China. In both responses, he was restating key positions of his government’ foreign policy and national security strategy.
It’s been suggested that Obama’s subsequent offering of an “ironclad guarantee” for US defense of the Philippines, and his description of PH as “America’s oldest ally” would have been turned down by US negotiators had such language been requested by us in the defense cooperation agreement.
Our government could have avoided the false hopes had there been expert and thorough review of Obama’s foreign policy positions and the security strategy of his administration.
But this was apparently not provided by our Department of Foreign Affairs, our defense department, and by our embassy in Washington. Our negotiating panel was strictly an amateur’s club.
Leading from behind
US foreign policy and security thinking can be readily gleaned in Washington analysis and documents, specifically;
1. Major articles and analyses on the obama Doctrine – available in books and periodicals.
2. Obama’s National Security Strategy – a 10,000-word document, required by US law, detailing the policies, goals and objectives of US security strategy.
The influential Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer says “leading from behind” is “an accurate description of a foreign policy of hesitation, delay and indecision, marked by plaintive appeals to the (fictional) ‘international community’ to do what only America can.”
“Leading from behind,” first coined by an Obama adviser, rests on two unspoken beliefs, says Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker. First, that the relative power of the US is declining, as rivals like China rise, and second, that the US is reviled in many parts of the world.
This in a nutshell is why Obama is deliberately diminishing American presence, standing and leadership in the world.
Concluding his critique, Krauthammer wrote, “I would suggest that ‘leading from behind’ is a verdict on Obama’s fitness for leadership. Leading from behind is not leading. It is abdicating. It is also an oxymoron.”
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for her part, accused Obama of dramatically weakening the United States’ position in the world, drawing a straight line between Obama’s ever-yielding foreign policy and the increasing troubles around the world.
“Right now, there’s a vacuum,” she told a crowd of more than two thousand in Washington, DC. “There’s a vacuum because we’ve decided to lower our voice. We’ve decided to step back. We’ve decided that if we step back and lower our voice, others will lead, other things will fill that vacuum…When America steps back and there is a vacuum, trouble will fill that vacuum.”
But the most powerful part of her speech came when Rice expressed her frustration with Obama on national security. “ Peace only comes through strength,” she recalled.
“So, what are we doing? What are we doing when our defense budget is so small that our military starts to tell us that we may not be able to carry out all of the requirements put upon it? What are we doing, when a couple of weeks before Russia invades Crimea we announce that we are going to have an Army smaller than at any time since World War II. What are we doing? What are we doing? What are we signaling when we say that America is no longer ready to stand in the defense of freedom?”
The Obama doctrine and National Security Strategy
There are three main principles of the Obama doctrine that our government needs to keep steadily in mind in dealing with the US government.
1. Principle no. 1 –America will lead the world in supporting democracy and fostering human rights.
2. Principle no. 2 — America will not get involved in foreign military adventures unless its national interest is directly challenged.
3. Principle no. 3.– America will not repeat George W. Bush’s mistake of invading an Islamic country like Iraq in order to topple a brutal dictatorship.
The author Edward Klein discusses the Obama doctrine in his book, The Amateur, Barack Obama in the White House (Regnery Publishing, 2012). In one passage he writes: “In Obama’s view, American power has done more harm than good. Global interest should generally come before American interest. Washington should hesitate to act without the cooperation of the world community.”
Klein says that The Obama doctrine was given official status in the Administration’s National Security Strategy (NSS), which repudiated George Bush’s “unilateralism” and argued in favor of counting more on US allies.”
Through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, The Philippines is being counted on for more.
Philippine officials should look at two specific passages in the NSS that discusses Asia and Asian allies, as well as the US view of China. This ought to sober up President Aquino in his persistent effort to provoke China into rash action in the South China Sea.
Centrist foreign policy guru Richard Haas sees disarray in US foreign policy:
“American foreign policy is in troubling disarray. The result is unwelcome news for the world, which largely depends upon the United States to promote order in the absence of any other country able and willing to do so. And it is bad for the US, which cannot insulate itself from the world. . . . The challenge for the Obama administration is not just to ensure American strength and continued internationalism in the face of growing isolationist sentiment. It is also a case of sending the right message to others. We are witnessing an accelerated movement toward a post-American world where governments make decisions and take actions with reduced regard for US preferences. Such a world promises to be even messier, and less palatable for US interests, than it is today.”
Depth of public feeling on US military presence
If Philippine officials were superficial and amateurish in assessing Obama administration thinking on foreign policy and national security, the US side must also be faulted for insufficient grasp and understanding of the depth of public feeling and opposition to US military presence in the country. Public Opinion surveys showing continued popularity of America among Filipinos were uncritically transposed into endorsement of US policies.
Washington officials should have laughed when Philippine officials unveiled their portrayal of Philippine policy as “hiding behind Uncle Sam.”
They also overestimated President Aquino’s ability to sell the EDCA to the Senate and the Filipino public. Just as the US misjudged President Cory Aquino’s influence in the renewal of the bases pact, it could also be misjudging the current Senate, which desperately needs to repair its tattered reputation in light of the long-running pork barrel scandal.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chairman of the Senate Foreign relations committee, reflected the sentiment of majority of the Senate when she declared, ‘EDCA is an unfair surprise on the Philippine Senate which, under the Constitution, shares the treaty-making power with the President.”
She also articulated the worry of many that the agreement could damage further the country’s troubled relations with China.
Former Senator Joker Arroyo, never a US cheerleader, was more caustic in his criticism of the administration’s tack in the negotiations.
“No one, but no one was consulted about its constitutionality or participated in its preparation. It was exclusively Malacañang directed,” Arroyo said.
He added that the country gained nothing in the said agreement.
“We rushed to sign the EDCA as a gift to President Obama, signed by our Defense Secretary and the US Ambassador that would allow more American troops in the Philippines,” Arroyo said.
The fact that we agreed to the US ambassador signing the agreement with our defense secretary shows how cavalier and unprofessional our officials were in the negotiation of the defense agreement.
The statements of Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario on how beneficial EDCA is to the country, is self-serving on his part, because this was his baby from the beginning, and it was his unalloyed support for President Aquino’s anti-Chinese rhetoric that encouraged the President in his foolish statements and declarations.
At EDCA’s signing, Del Rosario solemnly declared: “the “partnership attaches great importance in enhancing our individual and collective self-defense capabilities, strengthening maritime security and maritime domain awareness, and improving humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capacities.”
It is so loose and fatuous, one almost thought that it was written by a Malacañang spokesman, instead by the nation’s top diplomat.
The Senate hearings on EDCA will demand more and better from the foreign secretary. A crash course in statecraft may be necessary.