The United States invaded a distant country to share the blessings of democracy. But after being welcomed as liberators, U.S. troops encountered a bloody insurrection. Sound familiar? Don’t think Iraq—think the Philippines and Mexico decades ago. U.S. President George W. Bush and his advisors have embarked on a historic mission to change the world. Too bad they ignored the lessons of history.
The July/August issue of Foreign Policy features an excerpt from John Judis' new book, Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. In it, Judis examines our failed attempts at exporting democracy to the Philippines:
... “America is proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people,” said Bush [at a speech delivered in October 2003]. “Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines from colonial rule.” He drew an analogy between the United States' attempt to create democracy in the Philippines and its effort to create a democratic Middle East through the invasion and occupation of Iraq. “Democracy always has skeptics,” the president said. “Some say the culture of the Middle East will not sustain the institutions of democracy. The same doubts were once expressed about the culture of Asia. These doubts were proven wrong nearly six decades ago, when the Republic of the Philippines became the first democratic nation in Asia.”
As many Philippine commentators remarked afterward, Bush's rendition of Philippine-American history bore little relation to fact. True, the U.S. Navy ousted Spain from the Philippines in the Spanish-American War of 1898. But instead of creating a Philippine democracy, the McKinley administration, its confidence inflated by victory in that “splendid little war,” annexed the country and installed a colonial administrator. The United States then waged a brutal war against the same Philippine independence movement it encouraged to fight against Spain. The war dragged on for 14 years. Before it ended, about 120,000 U.S. troops were deployed, more than 4,000 were killed, and more than 200,000 Filipino civilians and soldiers were killed. Resentment lingered a century later during Bush's visit.
As for the Philippines' democracy, the United States can take little credit for what exists and some blame for what doesn't. The electoral machinery the United States designed in 1946 provided a democratic veneer beneath which a handful of families, allied to U.S. investors—and addicted to kickbacks—controlled the Philippine land, economy, and society. The tenuous system broke down in 1973 when Philippine politician Ferdinand Marcos had himself declared president for life. Marcos was finally overthrown in 1986, but even today Philippine democracy remains more dream than reality. Three months before Bush's visit, a group of soldiers staged a mutiny that raised fears of a military coup. With Islamic radicals and communists roaming the countryside, the Philippines is perhaps the least stable of Asian nations. If the analogy between the United States' “liberation” of the Philippines and of Iraq holds true, it will not be to the credit of the Bush administration, but to the skeptics who charged that the White House undertook the invasion of Baghdad with its eyes wide shut.
In a related post, the gals at XX gave us another example of our failure to export democracy last week (read the whole post):
If we couldn’t export democratic values and civil rights to the Russian people, a people with values much closer to our own, how in the hell are we going to ram it down the throats of Iraqis?
Good question. One wonders why our schools and universities teach history at all.
You may also find this post here