Hey America! Just checking in with another update on how a recent presidential election is going to doom us all! I'm not talking about the election that's happening in this country right now. I will at some point, but it's an election that happened thousands of miles away which deserves the bulk of our attention today. I'm speaking, of course, about the this year's presidential election in the Philippines, where a legitimately crazy person named Rodrigo Duterte took control of the highest office of in a country of more than 100 million people. He's said and done a lot of insane things since then, but if you're only keeping track of the highlights, you probably have no idea just how insane things might get. We talk about it on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comic Connor McSpadden and Cracked art bro Randall Maynard. It's also what I'm talking about right damn now.
Let's start with what you probably already know. Rodrigo Duterte campaigned for president of the Philippines on a platform of zero tolerance toward crime, promising to dump the bodies of 100,000 criminals in Manila Bay within his first six months in office.
While the numbers he's put up in that regard so far aren't quite that dramatic, they're still terrifying. Almost immediately after his inauguration, Duterte declared open season on drug dealers and drug users alike, encouraging both police and citizens to kill them on sight. In the month following his declaration, more than four hundred supposed drug criminals were killed, and an additional 100,000 people had surrendered out of fear of being killed. Both numbers have been growing at an alarming rate ever since.
Along with heartbreaking images like this one.
These are things you've already heard. It's also most likely come across your radar that Duterte expressed a desire to up his death toll by killing three million drug users. He compared himself to Hitler (like it was a good thing) in that same speech, which makes sense purely from a "next logical crazy thing to say" standpoint. He later apologized to "the Jewish" for making that comparison, but doubled down on his goal of putting half a Holocaust's worth of drug users to death.
All of this has very little to do with what the title of this column implies, which is that a war might break out soon. Don't get me wrong -- in a perfect world, this is precisely the kind of thing we'd deploy the military forces of the world to stop before it even starts. But things just very rarely work that way. We didn't even get involved in World War II until FDR did Pearl Harbor. That's not something I actually believe; it just makes for a perfectly reasonable segue into talking about what's really going to make Duterte the next world leader to commit suicide by U.S. military invasion.
When that inevitably happens, Duterte won't have his stance on drug users to blame. Rather, the culprit will be his updated feelings about the EDCA, or Enhanced Defense and Cooperation Agreement, if details are your thing.
Pictured: a political cartoon from back when the Philippines still liked us.
The Philippines have been one of our best allies in Southeast Asia for decades now, in a kind of unofficial way. Basically, the EDCA made that alliance official. It's an agreement between the United States and the Philippines that allows us to keep a permanent military presence in the area. Troops, access to bases -- all the good stuff you need to have in place for when war breaks out in a far-off land. That's especially important when you take into account that China, one of our biggest quasi-enemies, otherwise dominates the region. All you need to do to understand how vital the Philippines are to us from a strategic standpoint is to look at a map. There's nothing between the United States and the Philippines except Pearl Harbor and thousands of miles of ocean. If some s**t were to jump off which required us to get our military to Southeast Asia, it's way easier for us if we're already there. Or barring that, the Philippines at least provide a handy spot to stop and refuel and pick up more supplies and such. For all intents and purposes, the Philippines are our gateway to the (South)East.
Arrows added by me for emphasis.
However, it's not just that Duterte wants to rescind the EDCA. He's threatening to kick the United States military out of the Philippines altogether. That alone would be bad enough, but it gets worse. You see, the thing that's got Duterte so angry at us is our denouncement of his insane war on drugs. Not only does he want us to stop criticizing his decision to mass murder drug users, but he also wants us to help. Even our silence means nothing if we aren't also actively helping him rid the country of people who smoke meth. How does that make things worse? Because our enemies agree.
Well, China agrees, anyway. After rattling his saber at us, the next logical step was for Duterte to reach out to China and Russia in an attempt to forge some diplomatic ties with those countries instead. China responded immediately and positively. Not only have leaders in that country expressed support for Duterte's drug war, but they've also agreed to help, and signed on to the notion that this is a global problem that all nations should be required to address. In other words, they want what's happening in the Philippines to happen in China as well, and around the world if possible. Swish that around in your head a bit. The government of one of the most populated countries in the world thinks that maybe mass murder really is the best way to fight crime. No arrests, no trials, no proof -- just lots of extrajudicial killings.
Russia hasn't been quite as vocal in their support, but they certainly haven't denounced Duterte's policies. If given the chance to strengthen their standing in Southeast Asia at the expense of ours, there's no reason to believe they won't take it.
Like how Putin leaped at the at the chance to take Robert Kraft's Super Bowl ring, which was fine.
But wait, there's more! For the longest time, a borderline war has been raging in the Philippines between the government and Muslim insurgency groups on the island of Mindanao. It's called the Moro conflict, and it's been going on since the late '60s. It will not at all surprise you to learn that, for years now, the U.S. has helped train the Filipino forces fighting against the insurgents. We've had hundreds of operatives in the area solely for that reason, and if there's one thing Muslims hate, it's having their land occupied by Americans. As a result, Muslim leaders have refused to negotiate a peace plan with the government of the Philippines until they agree to kick the United States military out of the region. Duterte has hinted that he'll do that very thing, while also warning that any U.S. troops that remain in the region until then could be subject to terrorist attacks.
It's almost impossible to overstate how much of a clusterfuck this could turn into. Us getting kicked out of the Philippines would be disastrous if war did break out in Southeast Asia. Even if one of our other allies let us set up shop in their country to the extent the Philippines does now, it's still bad, because instead of being in an advantageous position on the periphery of the region, we'd basically be surrounded by our enemies. From the Philippines, you can block access to/from the Indian Ocean and do all sorts of other strategic things that could win you a war. Without the Philippines, we probably lose that war.
If you aren't worried yet, try to imagine a situation this volatile happening while, say, Donald Trump is our president. Do you think he'll handle Duterte's burgeoning relationship with China and willingness to negotiate with Muslims in a chill way, or do you think he'll decide war is the answer?
Choose wisely, America!
To be honest, that might be the more favorable solution if Trump is in office, because I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he decided that extrajudicial killing is a reasonable response to crime and joined the unholy alliance Duterte is trying to form.
That said, imagine this situation happening while anyone is president. I mean, you don't have to imagine, because it already is, but you get my drift. We basically have two options, and neither of them are good. Either we help Duterte kill drug users, or we resign ourselves to making a new enemy out of what used to be one of our best friends in Southeast Asia. From a moral standpoint, the right choice is obvious, but since when do we base our military and foreign policy decisions on morals?
Of course, we do have a third option, and it's one we've exercised countless times over the years when foreign governments start acting up in a way that threatens our interests. That, of course, is to preemptively intervene and cut the problem off at the head by toppling the government. We do it all the time, and it's one of the main reasons so many countries hate us.
And why Canada still doesn't ... for now.
Remember when all those hostages were taken in Iran back in the '70s? It wasn't because Muslims hate freedom; it was because they elected a government with communist leanings, and we stepped in and put a stop to that s**t. Have you heard of the Banana Wars? That refers to our policy of intervening in the affairs of Central American governments for like 40 years at the start of the 20th Century, solely because they were threatening our business interests in the region. The reason Hawaii is a state now is that American businessmen in the area launched a U.S.-supported coup. The list goes on and on.
In every single way, Rodrigo Duterte is setting the stage for the Philippines to be the next participant in that long-running drama. The only difference is that this time around, the country we're beefing with has hedged their bets by forming ties with China, one of the largest military superpowers in all the world. Taking down the Dominican Republic in the 1890s is one thing; taking down China without our key strategic point of access to Southeast Asia is something entirely different.
At this point, if Duterte doesn't soften his stance a bit, some form of intervention on our part is practically inevitable. The only unknowns are how large the conflict will be, and more importantly, if we'll win. That might have been a given in the past, but not so much these days.
As if this country doesn't have enough to worry about right now.
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