Friday, February 24, 2006

Lost Opportunity in the Philippines

Twenty years ago this week, I was a young naval officer visiting the Philippine capital city of Manila. I walked into a basket shop about ten miles from the port (and my ship), only to be chased out by a large street mob. The coup against dictator Ferdinand Marcos had begun.

Although Marcos was a key US ally, he was also a corrupt dictator. We did a lot of that in those days, and unfortunately still do when we find it convenient. I couldn't help but feel that his overthrow would usher in a more representative government for the Filipino people. Cory Aquino's People Power revolution unseated Marcos, but sadly, could not repair the nepotism and financial corruption embedded in Filipino culture.

This week, the Philippine government celebrated the twenty-year anniversary of the People Power revolution by stopping another coup.

I'm pretty sure the lesson is that it is easier to destroy than create (or to fix). History is clear that revolutions tend to be highjacked by alternate political interests as soon as they occur (e.g. the Russian Revolution of 1917). Even strong outside powers have failed to figure out the fine art of nation building. William Shawcross' book Deliver Us From Evil, which documents UN attempts to fix failed states, is excellent reading for anyone convinced otherwise. Too bad George Bush and Condy Rice didn't read it before destroying the governmental infrastructure of Iraq.

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