July 16, 2004

July 16, 2004 | Commentary on Middle East

Saying 'Yes' To Terror

Once dubbed the "sick man of Asia" for its anemic showing during the 1980s Asian economic boom, the Philippines has now earned the title "weak man of Asia" - by caving in to terrorist demands in exchange for the release of a Filipino truck driver in Iraq.

By being the first country to pull its troops out of Iraq over a terrorist hostage situation, the Philippines has, in one fell swoop:

  • Encouraged terrorists thugs to take more hostages in Iraq - and beyond. 
  • Emasculated itself at home in the face of a growing Muslim terrorist insurgency. 
  • Stabbed its ardent counterterrorism supporter and 50-year ally, the United States, in the back.

Manila's desire to secure the safe release of its native son is understandable. But its decision to yield to terrorists' demands - even temporarily - shows that terrorism pays dividends and will encourage its continued use as an evil tool of influence across the globe.

In fact, by bringing its troops home, the Philippines will put other foreign workers in Iraq directly in the terrorist cross hairs. Whose workers will be next?

Manila's show of weakness in Iraq will only make matters worse at home. The Philippines faces a serious terrorist insurgency in its southern Muslim-dominated islands; it has suffered 73 terrorist incidents since 9/11, including 163 deaths and 675 injuries.

Southeast Asian al Qaeda affiliates Jemaah Islamiya, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf intend to establish a theocratic Muslim state on the large southern Philippine island of Mindanao. They're working in cahoots and already have set up joint training camps there.

The Philippines may also be putting its 10 million overseas workers in harm's way as terrorist pawns. (Filipino expatriates, as many as 500,000 in the Middle East, remit $8 billion a year to the Philippines, accounting for 10 percent of the country's economic output.) How long before a terrorist group snatches overseas Filipinos and hold them hostage in exchange for concessions on independence for Mindanao?

Once one of the most outspoken supporters of President Bush and the War on Terror, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appears to have lost her nerve on fighting terrorism abroad - at a minimum.

The Arroyo decision is also particularly offensive to Washington, which has been incredibly generous in helping the Philippine government fight terrorism since 9/11:

  • Washington spent over $100 million training, assisting and equipping the armed forces of the Philippines for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home as well as peacekeeping duties abroad.
  • America also gave Manila tens of millions of dollars in social and economic aid to address the problems contributing to the southern Muslim insurgency and terrorism.

Finally, Arroyo has called into question the Philippines' reliability as an ally. By contrast, Japan and South Korea faced similar situations in Iraq, but gritted their teeth and held firm despite political turmoil at home.

The Philippine pullout is small in significance militarily - 51 troops from a multinational force numbering 150,000. But it's huge politically, because it could lead to a chipping away of international resolve in Iraq.

Negotiating with terrorists never pays and the consequences of the Philippines' actions in Iraq will reverberate far and wide. We can only hope that after Spain's abrupt decision to retreat from Iraq this spring, the Philippines will be the last nation to appease these bloodthirsty criminals in Iraq - or anywhere else.

Peter Brookes, a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, is a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs. E-mail: peterbrookes@heritage.org

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post