Ross Douthat’s column today mentions that the Iraq war resembles "an amalgamation of the Korean War and America’s McKinley-era counterinsurgency in the Philippines," in the sense that it "generated long-term benefits but enormous short-term costs." Matt Yglesias plays with the Philippine analogy a bit, but I want to reject it out of hand.
Everyone should read Stanley Karnow’s In Our Image, a truly wonderful (and accessible) history of the U.S.-Philippine relationship from the McKinley era to the end of the Reagan years. To condense a century’s worth of history very shortly, the "McKinley-era counterinsurgency" wasn’t a counterinsurgency so much as a war of conquest. The U.S. was fighting for control of the islands after promising them their freedom from the Spanish. It was extremely bloody, accomplished with great and indiscriminate violence. If we’re to take counterinsurgency as a war among the people to win their allegiance through providing for their welfare and aspirations, this was the opposite. We just killed a lot of Filipinos until they quit fighting, particularly after the leader of the insurgent band, Emilio Aguinaldo, was captured
and killed. [Update: Oops, this is obviously wrong, and I could have corrected my mistaken memory by Googling. My apologies.] The U.S. turned the Philippines over to a form of "self-government" that was really a different form of domination at the hands of the military and private American corporations. It did, however, work, in the sense that the U.S. was not militarily challenged in any significant way for decades.
But the hinge point in U.S.-Philippine history — what yielded the friendship and closeness that the two nations presently enjoy — was the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. What the Japanese inflicted upon the Philippines and its people was by orders of magnitude far worse than anything the U.S. ever dared. You probably know the rest: MacArthur declares he Shall Return; he does; the battle of Leyte Gulf is one of the largest in the history of naval warfare; we drive the Japanese from the Philippines; the amount of gratitude is overwhelming; a partnership has been our inheritance ever since.
Laying a wreath on graves at Arlington or saying that a very small contingent of U.S. troops might be able to stay after 2011 isn’t the same thing. There’s cheap anti-Americanism in Philippine politics — particularly over military bases like the Subic Bay facility — but the Japanese occupation transformed the ways in which (to be extremely reductive for the sake of a blog post) Filipinos view Americans so that it’s a marginal view that the Philippines ought to jettison its relations with the U.S. In Iraq, there’s a significant and multifaceted political current saying that. Time might change all that. But these are really rather different cases. When Iran invades Iraq, starts massacring people to an overwhelming degree, and then the U.S. invades, drives out Iran and saves the day, then we can talk.