Written for The Philippine Online Chronicles
President Barack Obama’s re-election cemented the stability of the deepened military relations between the US and the Philippines. But even a Mitt Romney victory would have little impact, if at all, on the bolstered American interest in the country. From the onset, it was clear that the strategic US agenda of “pivot to Asia Pacific” transcends the tightly fought presidential race.
Malacañang knows this, noting that whatever the results of the elections will not affect the stepped up military cooperation between Manila and Washington. As noted by Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) Secretary Ricky Carandang, “(the Aquino administration) would expect that the current thrust of US-Philippines defense cooperation would remain essentially unchanged regardless of whether Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney wins the elections.”
To be sure, Democrats and Republicans both see the need for deepening traditional alliances, like the one with the Philippines, and forging new “friendships” in the region. Obama and Romney both grasp what Pentagon operators see as new strategic challenges facing the US amid the country’s harsh economic realities.
To some observers, Obama’s victory is a consolation, pointing out the argument of the incumbent president being the so-called lesser evil. Romney would have preferred a more hardline stance against China to supposedly reassure allies and friends, and to certainly advance American agenda. Concretely, that would have meant more US ships, including new ones, being deployed to the region and further stoking instability. Perhaps, it also would have meant an increased number of US nuclear ships and submarines docking more frequently in Subic and Manila Bay.
But such “consolation” is an illusion — that Obama is the lesser evil is a fallacy. For one, the concept of US pivot to Asia Pacific by itself is creating friction with China, escalating regional anxiety and reviving sovereignty issues among neocolonies like the Philippines. In other words, whether it’s boosting the US fleet to 300 ships (as planned by Obama) or to at least 350 (as proposed by Romney), rebalancing a majority of those warships to Asia Pacific in order to contain China and assert American hegemony will still have the same impact. It will still stoke tension with the Chinese, will still endanger the region, and will still undermine the sovereignty of the Philippines and other small countries that the US conveniently uses as pawns in its self-serving and risky geopolitical scheme.
Indeed, the perception peddled by most mainstream media in the US that the just concluded elections is a battle between two candidates with starkly opposing visions for the world’s most powerful country is largely a fantasy. Sure there were nuances of difference here and there, like how each candidate offered to address the stubbornly high unemployment rate (currently pegged at almost 8%); the massive federal budget deficit (above $1 trillion in each of the last four years); and ballooning debt (presently at more than $16 trillion and has already reached the 100% mark of the national GDP or gross domestic product).
But both are, for all intents and purposes, staunch defenders of big corporate interests – with Obama harping on his bailout of giant car manufacturers (estimated to cost American taxpayers some $25.1 billion) to supposedly save jobs as a campaign pitch to win over the swing state of Ohio and Romney pushing for deregulating Wall Street to supposedly stimulate economic activity.
The overall direction and vision are the same not only in terms of economic bias but, as already mentioned, more especially in terms of foreign policy orientation. For the Philippines and other countries, the candidates’ foreign policy is the more important issue that they closely monitor during the campaign because of its direct impact on them. The last presidential debate underscored the lack of a meaningful distinction in the foreign policy approaches of the contending presidential bets, with Romney mouthing Obama’s stance on Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, China and pretty much everything else on the issue of foreign policy.
Both candidates appealed to the Americans’ sense of a “great nation”, that despite the state of the US national economy and its relatively limited resources should continue to preach and enforce around the world the American brand of “democracy and freedom”. What is unsaid is the truth that US projection of its military might abroad and its undiminished readiness and willingness to use force are being driven not by democratic ideals but by imperialist desire to control the world’s resources and weaken possible competitors like China. All these in the name of keeping corporate America profitable, of which both Obama and Romney stand for. Unfortunately for us, it translates to even greater US intervention and along with it further violation of our sovereignty, increased human rights abuses and more conflict.
Obama’s victory did not put the White House in the hands of the lesser evil, if his track record in the past four years is anything to go by. His brutal campaign of targeted assassination of suspected key terrorist leaders through the use of remote-controlled airborne killing machines called drones, for instance, is something unseen even during the time of the militarist Bush regime. American citizens, meanwhile, will have to confront in the next four years Obama’s regressive social agenda of reducing social security and health services as well as his continuing failure to create jobs while bailing out giant corporations and Wall Street banks.
It is amusing how the local media in the Philippines often depict the US elections, with newsmen reporting in awe how the debates supposedly define the candidates and help American voters wisely choose their next president. That’s how democracy should work, unlike in the Philippines, some local commentators and so-called pundits exclaim. In reality, however, Americans, much like Filipino voters, were compelled to choose leaders between candidates who offer fundamentally the same policies and serve essentially the same interests. In the last elections, Americans actually had no choice. Maybe this explains why the race was so tight. ###