HOW would the world look like after Donald Trump gets done with the things he has set out to do as President of the United States? And what happens to our poor dear Philippines? The basic question is what the American media and political establishment are trying to discern as Trump uses the social media, especially Twitter, to define the policies of his government. “Career government officials and members of Congress alike are left to discern policy from random Twitter posts spurred by whatever happened to be on television when the President grabbed the remote control,” says a recent front-page article in The New York Times. For someone like former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, however, what could happen is not totally unpredictable. War could be on the horizon.
I had Enrile on my weekly TV show on Destiny cable yesterday evening, and he showed an undoubtable grip on the global situation. At 93, our longest living Filipino politician remains intellectually functional. Since coming out with his memoirs and leaving the Senate after a second stint in political detention under the second President Aquino—the first one was under Cory Aquino, whom he, as Marcos’s long serving defense secretary, and his comrade generals had installed as revolutionary President after they revolted in February 1986—Enrile has devoted himself to a serious rereading of history.
The first bold moves
While still struggling with some initial administrative difficulties, including Press Secretary Sean Spicer squabbling with the media on the accuracy of their count of the inaugural crowd, Trump has embarked on a number of audacious moves, which have awed, if not alarmed, the public. He has, for starters, withdrawn the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation economic grouping (without China or the Philippines) which the Obama administration had tried to put together as a trading club, under US leadership, and is now proposing bilateral trade agreements with various individual nations instead.
This seems to create a wider window for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) proposed in 2012 and which China has since championed. It will hold its 17th round of negotiations in Kobe, Japan by the end of February, and take firm decisions on how to step into the void left by TPP.
In keeping with his campaign pledge, Trump has also taken the first steps to replace Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) with something that is yet to be defined by Congress. He has also reinstated Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City policy of 1984, which bans the use of US funds to support abortion in foreign countries. This policy was suspended by Bill Clinton, who promoted abortion as a way of life within and outside the US. It was reinstated by George W. Bush, who was a pro-life President, but was suspended again by Obama, who with Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State became known as the most pro-abortion US President.
The present ban could become permanent if more conservative and pro-life justices are appointed to the US Supreme Court and the Court reverses the Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized the murder of the unborn in 1973. But it will be opposed by a large part of American society which has come to believe that the slaughter of the unborn is a fundamental human right of women who want to engage in sex—even married sex—without any biological consequences.
The famous wall
Also in keeping with a campaign pledge, Trump has started talking about his plan to build his own great wall along the US-Mexican southern border to prevent the illegal entry of people and goods from Mexico into the US. This so horrified Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto that he promptly cancelled his scheduled visit to Washington, D.C. Trump is now talking of increasing taxes on all Mexican imports to finance the building of the wall, estimated at $15 billion to $20 billion. Apparently many thought the wall idea was but a campaign hyperbole—a joke—; they were all shocked to learn it wasn’t. Now Mexico is girding for a “trade war.”
Trump has also revived the proposed construction of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline, over the opposition of environmentalists and the native American community. The proposed pipeline will cross Lake Oahe, a water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation lies less than a mile away. A spillage or rupture could devastate the area and the tribe (Wikipedia).
On global security, Trump has called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) “obsolete” and has provoked speculations that he would move to dismantle the defense alliance, which has been expanding its membership and territorial reach into Eastern Europe, to Russia’s increasing discomfort. For Enrile, this could mean rolling back the vast US naval presence around the world, which until now has provided world security for travel and trade in the high seas. This could prompt the other powers—Russia and the United Kingdom, for example–to try to fill in the resulting void in the Atlantic. It would usher in a period of great uncertainty similar to that which preceded World War II in Europe. With Britain out of the European Union, the other EU members could follow, and previous allies could find themselves in conflict with one another.
However, in his meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May—Trump’s first meeting in the White House with a foreign head of government—he allowed May to announce that he had, during their talks, expressed 100 percent support of NATO, a statement he did not dispute. Maintaining NATO, while at the same time improving relations with Russia, to include the lifting of sanctions imposed on Moscow, could be the most important development in the security architecture of Europe and the world.
This could help exorcise the demons of inter-state, regional and global conflicts, and allow Europe to work together in fighting various seaborne crimes like piracy, illegal drugs and human trafficking, and international terrorism under the aegis of ISIS. In fact, in a telephone conversation last Saturday, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly agreed to pursue a more muscular cooperation between their two governments to destroy the ISIS in Syria, resolve the “Ukraine crisis,” and rebuild US-Russia relations on a “constructive, equitable and mutually beneficial basis.”
Banning Islamic refugees
As part of his avowed effort to destroy ISIS, Trump, who has criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy as a “catastrophic mistake,” issued an executive order banning the entry of refugees from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. This was instantly met with sharp disapproval from human rights groups within the US and abroad. It negates and nullifies America’s long and distinguished tradition of opening its doors to refugees, a tradition enshrined in Emma Lazarus’s 1883 poem “The New Colossus” posted at the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, New York, part of which reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled mass yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me. I light my lamp beside the golden door!”
The order also seems to contradict Trump’s effort to bring back God and humanity into America’s conduct of political affairs. After the past administrations banned God and prayer from the public square, and Obama led the last national Thanksgiving without any mention of God in his statement, Trump shocked everyone when he brought in God in three passages in his 16-minute inaugural. This is what he said: “Have no fear. We are protected and will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement, and most importantly we will be protected by God.”
Later on, he said: “And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or in the wind-swept plain of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they will their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the same breath of life by the same almighty creator.”
And he ended his speech with “God bless you. And God bless America.” The order against refugees creates a monstrous disconnect with a God-loving America.
The Asian challenge
The more pressing challenge to Trump’s global security position appears to be in Asia, where the US President had given Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe full assurance of support for the maintenance of a robust US-Japan alliance, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had aired his first warning against China. During his confirmation hearing at the Senate foreign relations committee, Tillerson said the US would never allow China to build or use any military structures on any of the maritime features in the Spratlys, a statement which provoked a very strong reaction from the Chinese state media. Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said the US should be free to do what it wants.
This makes the South China/West Philippine Sea the most obvious potential flashpoint for the US—and for our own government, because of our direct involvement. In 2013, the Philippine government sought a ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague, after the Chinese barred Filipino fishermen from fishing at Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines claims as its own and lies within the Philippines’ 300-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but which the Chinese also claim lies within their so-called “nine-dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Court ruled in favor of the Philippines, saying China’s so-called “nine-dash line” had no legal basis. But China has rejected the ruling, and DU30 has decided not to invoke the ruling in his effort to pursue a new deal with Beijing.
This was at the time DU30 was calling Obama a “son of a whore” and threatening to “separate” economically and militarily from the United States, for expressing an active interest in the extra-judicial killings in his war on drugs. Now, DU30 wants to be on the best terms with Trump, whom he calls “gago (crazy fool) like me”, after he was reportedly assured, through Shinzo Abe, that Washington would not say anything about his extra-judicial killings, if he would stop badmouthing the US and Americans in general. With that reported modus vivendi with Trump, what happens in a clash between China and the US, on this maritime issue involving the Philippines?
Enrile believes China is no match to the US in military warfare, and that despite the warm and friendly exchanges between DU30 and President Xi Jinping, China remains, at bottom, a security threat to the Philippines. Clearly, China, the US and the Philippines can do very well without war. But can DU30 persuade Trump to avoid war, if he has come to believe that it has become necessary and unavoidable? Whose side will DU30 then choose if and when that happens?