Friday, November 19, 2004

# Posted 2:41 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THREE COUNTERARGUMENTS ABOUT THE PHILIPPINES: It has been suggested that there were three significant flaws in yesterday's rebuttal of the NYT op-ed by Professors Press and Valentino.

First of all, the op-ed specified that its list of seven historical examples included only those instances in which a "powerful army" confronted a major insurgency. Given that American soldiers never fought against the Filipino insurgents known as Huks, this example should not be included on the list.

I agree with this point in the technical sense that the Filipino example doesn't fit the given definition. However, I think that my analysis still applies, since the reason that American soldiers never had to get directly involved in the Philippines was precisely because we defused the insurgency through an initial strategy of democracy promotion. Had we done the same in Vietnam, the result might have been very different. (For the benefit of EM, I will add that the United States may have had no choice but to cancel the 1956 elections in Vietnam, but there was no reason not to promote democracy there in the late 1950s.)

Speaking more broadly, one might say that compiling a list of instances in which "powerful armies" confronted major insurgencies is an example of what social scientists refer to as 'selection on the dependent variable'. In other words, if your criteria for inclusion is armed intervention by a great power, then you are necessarily looking at those instances in which the great power failed to mitigate the insurgency indirectly.

Had the French chosen to promote democracy in Vietnam rather than reassert their imperial privileges, they could have prevented an armed conflict. I will tentatively suggest that the same is true of Algeria, although I am not so familiar with the situation there. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan also belongs in this category because it was basically an unneccessary imperial adventure.

The Russian case is less than clear cut because Chechnya is a part of Russia. However, had Russia promoted Chechnyan autonomy rather than responding with a brutal military assault on Chechnyan civilians, there is every reason to believe that today's insurgency would not exist.

The Israeli case is even less clear cut because the Israeli occupation reflects the outcome of war undertaken in self-defense. Promoting democracy may not have been an option if Israel was supposed to return the occupied territories in exchange for peace. Democracy promotion became more viable as a strategy after Oslo, yet Israel made the not indefensible choice to tolerate an Arafat dictatorship in the hopes that Abu Ammar would destroy Hamas. In hindsight, Israel made the wrong decision.

The second alleged flaw in yesterday's rebuttal is the assertion that the Philippines reflects an example of successful democratization. After all, approximately twenty years after the defeat of the Huk rebellion, Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and transformed his elected presidency into a dictatorship.

In response, I would suggest that the passage of so much time between the end of the Huk war and the declration of martial indicates that the United States initial effort to promote democracy was not necessarily flawed. Rather, the problem was that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger (whom I do not hesitate to describe as a Kissingerian realist) demonstrated no concern about the breakdown of democracy in the Philippines. Ideologically committed to the belief that right-wing dictators are more reliable allies than center-left democracies, Nixon and Kissinger did irreparable damage to America's standing in the world.

Moreover, I would suggest that those today who consider the emergence of strongman in Iraq to be the lesser of all possible evils are Kissinger's intellectual heirs. They argue that the emergence of a strongman is the most realistic option for Iraq, but see reality through a narrow 'realist' prism. (Conversely, one might say OxBlog perceives reality in Iraq through a narrow Wilsonian prism.)

Finally, the third alleged flaw in yesterday's rebuttal is that the Huk rebellion isn't comparable to the insurgency in Iraq because the Iraqis are a much more committed and capable foe. Yes, that's true. But part of the reason that the Huks never achieved the same level of competence is that the the American and Filipinos defused popular support by relying on a strategy of democracy promotion.

So, then, why are the insurgents so strong in Iraq is we have been applying a similar strategy there? The answer is that the Iraqis have the benefits that come both with being the remnants of well-armed regime. Moreover, the Sunni insurgents can exploit ethnic differences that didn't exist in the example of the Huks, who were also Filipino Catholics.

One should note, however, that there is an Islamic separatist rebellion in the Philippines that has been going on for an extremely long time. It initially gained momentum because of crude and violent efforts to suppress it, but abated in response to a more compromising approach.

Similarly, a second Communist insurgency broke out in the Philippines under Marcos. Thanks to his brutality, a primitve force numbering in the low hundreds expanded to an armed force of more than 10,000 in just over a decade, even in the absence of outside help. Then, after the return of democracy to the Philippines in 1986 (with the help of the United States), the insurgency began to abate. Thus, one might say that the Philippines represents
not one, but two examples of how democracy promotion is the best prescription for counterinsurgency.
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