Saturday, May 14, 2005

# Posted 12:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YES, I ACTUALLY DO HAVE A DAY JOB: This morning I delivered a paper at the Miller Center's annual conference on American political development.

FYI, "American political development", or APD for short, refers to the idea that history is an important part of American politics and that politics is an important part of American history. That may sound obvious, but professional scholars have a marvelous ability to ignore the obvious.

Anyhow, I gave a paper on American efforts to promote democracy in the Philippines in the 1980s. The paper is available as a PDF, but you may want to read the first couple of paragraphs before committing to something so soporific:

Reagan Entrapped: Promoting Democracy in the Philippines

“If Reagan stood for anything, it was standing up for old, anti-Communist friends.”
– S. Burton, correspondent for Time

Although loyalty is a virtue, the tenacity with which Reagan defended his old friends, such as Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, brought the president’s actions directly into conflict with his unmitigated pledge to promote democracy across the globe. In the mid-1980s, the stark contrast between Reagan’s rhetoric and Reagan’s behavior seemed to vindicate the conventional wisdom that the purpose of those idealistic pronouncements that emanate from the White House is to mask the unsavory character of so much that is done in the name of national security. Yet in 1986, the United States instructed Marcos to step down from office, which he did.

If not for the massive protests led by the democratic opposition in the Philippines, these instructions from Washington would have had only a minimal effect or perhaps none at all. Yet for the purposes of this paper, the more interesting question is why the Reagan administration, after supporting Marcos and other right-wing dictators so consistently and for so long, suddenly decided to place its weight on the opposite side of the political scales. This paper will argue that although Reagan never abandoned his sentimental attachment to either Marcos or his other anti-Communist friends, Reagan became entangled in his idealistic, pro-democracy rhetoric to the point where he felt compelled to act on its revolutionary premises...

The Philippines was a former American colony and longtime American ally. More importantly, it played host to the American naval base at Subic Bay and the American air base at Clark Field, both of which the United States considered vital to preventing the expansion of Soviet influence in Asia and the Pacific. In addition, Marcos found himself threatened by a rapidly growing Communist guerrilla force. Thus, when the Filipino dictatorship began to crumble, the United States had to confront a fundamental dilemma of Cold War politics: Should it support a pro-American dictator or should it accept the risk of Communist forces occupying a strategic position in the Third World?

There is a strong consensus among realist scholars of international relations that great powers, including the United States, will not hesitate to compromise their principles in order protect their strategic interests. There is also a consensus among historians of American foreign relations that the United States consistently compromised its democratic principles in order to advance its strategic interests during the Cold War. In certain instances, however, America’s Cold Warriors sought to bring down dictatorships and promote democracy abroad on the grounds that democracy was the best antidote to Communism. Yet according to both scholars and journalists, Reagan demonstrated little to no concern about his allies’ democratic credentials.

Such arguments are correct insofar as Reagan took office in 1981 determined to repair the United States’ alliances with those right-wing dictatorships denigrated by the Carter administration. Yet Reagan’s attitude toward pro-American dictatorships evolved dramatically over time. This paper will argue that Reagan’s decision to break with Marcos represented the turning point at which Reagan began to fulfill his rhetorical commitment to oppose not just the dictatorships of the left, but also of the right.

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