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Asia's Game of Thrones
Manila to Shrink, Not Scrap, US Defense Ties

Despite repeated threats from President Duterte, the Philippines is walking back plans to scrap defense ties with the United States, even as it downsizes the relationship. Reuters reports:

President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to retain the Philippines’ security alliance with former colonial power the United States, according to the country’s defence minister, but joint military activities will be scaled back, and less combat-focused. […] 

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the security alliance with the United States would not be scrapped, including a 2014 agreement that allows prolonged deployment of American forces in the country.

“It will remain,” Lorenzana told reporters, referring to the strategic alliance with Washington. “No, it will not be abrogated. But we will reduce the number of activities.” 

Lorenzana’s comments provide the most reliable information yet about the future of U.S.-Philippine military cooperation. According to the Defense Secretary, two annual exercises—the Navy’s CARAT exercises, and the Marines’ Phiblex exercises—will be cancelled outright. War games will be retooled to focus on humanitarian relief, disaster response, and civic action, while small-unit exercises and special operations to combat terrorism and drugs will continue. In total, the Philippines plans six or seven military drills with the United States next year.

Most crucial for the United States is the retention of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which grants the U.S. military rotational access to Filipino bases. That bilateral agreement was a critical military component of Obama’s pivot to Asia, which has been criticized for lacking teeth. The Pentagon has previously downplayed Duterte’s threats to get rid of the pact, and John Kerry has reiterated his confidence in the state of the relationship.

With the surprise election of Donald Trump, however, nothing is certain. For the meantime, the relationship has been downgraded, and Manila appears to be playing Washington and Beijing off each other: making public overtures to China and promising “separation” from the United States, while holding on to beneficial elements of U.S. economic and security cooperation. But however the situation in Asia develops, it will be on starkly different terms than Obama’s pivot to Asia, which increasingly looks dead in the water.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    Trump will most likely brag on Duterte and vice versa.

    • Kevin

      It will be easier for him to walk back comments about the US and Obama with a new US President.

      Trump will be unlikely to give him a hard time over human rights and drug enforcement, and in fact may praise aspects of his policies and provide him with an important symbolic victory of having stood up to American meddling and extracted respect for the Philippine sovereignty and dignity from him.

      Obama had Carter’s weakness for criticizing allies on their moral shortcomings and coming across as an obnoxious moral busybody without accomplishing much other than burnishing his own self righteous sense of moral superiority. Egypt, Thailand, Philippines, the list could go on and on….

      • FriendlyGoat

        It’s hard to advance human rights if leaders are too disinterested in the concept to talk about it.

    • Anthony
      • FriendlyGoat

        Thanks to you as always for pointing me to thoughtful articles. But I have to say “Meh” to Thomas Frank on this one. I do not believe we are well served by blaming Hillary Clinton for being a worse candidate than a hypothetical Joe Biden or an actual Bernie Sanders.
        What we need to blame is the insight from the last article we shared at the Guardian that “a number” has been performed on too many Americans’ minds concerning the real economic and social outcomes of conservatives’ rhetorical claims. If we weren’t nationally stupid in this regard you couldn’t have a man like Mr. Trump relentlessly bashing his female opponent and getting away with it BECAUSE of its incongruity with what we wish had been their understanding of dozens of issues summed up.

        But, alas, a little “crooked Hillary” here, a little WikiLeaks there, a HUGE little bit of absolutely nothing from Comey in the last few days, poured on top of goofballs who don’t know a policy from a peanut—–and, worse, actually don’t care that they don’t—–well, we saw what happened.

        Even Frank says, “What happened on Tuesday is a disaster, both for liberalism and for the world.” I think it’s a copout to blame a person instead of a nation for that.

        • Anthony

          You’re welcome and for what it’s worth I think Hillary wins popular vote (though result remains). Thomas Frank is probably engaging in some instant melancholy justification for conclusion to his obvious dislike. And yes, Hillary like Obama makes an easy target for blame rather than examine causes of excessive vitriol – Biden and Sanders are just convenience hindsight musing who’s political history you rightly sight.

          Still to the public opinion you reference, “public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind” (George Orwell). Moreover and more to your point, people can behave foolishly, recklessly, self–destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually (and in comment sections). So as destiny will continue to knock, we’ll just have to answer and remain quite vigilant for the Nation’s health.

          Meanwhile FG, something to ponder that I went to earlier in an attempt to further understand us: “voting in general tends to rise in crisis situations, and then the otherwise quiescent… tend to vote more heavily but from authoritarian and anti-democratic points of view. In crisis, extremism and strongman tactics become de rigeur, appealing especially to the…, no doubt satisfying feelings of frustrated hostility.” (1968)

          Finally, I concur it’s not Hillary’s fault whether Frank intended idea or not.

          • FriendlyGoat

            The irony of all this is that the things people did not necessarily vote for (consciously, anyway) from the right are the ones they will get first. These will be focused mostly on shifting financial advantage upward again on a permanent basis and thereby starving the future federal budget on a permanent basis. I have predicted for years that high-end tax cuts and deregulation of corporate business practices are they only real GOP priorities and that is what you will see on the agenda FIRST.
            Frankly, I’ll be surprised if the filibuster even survives the opening of the Congress. We’ll see.

          • Anthony

            You know what you’ve heard all you life: “be careful what you wish for you just might get it.” Moreover, whether Trump’s economic plan (if there is one) can “Make America Great” and deliver for his admiring supporters (the angry and aggrieved white voter per se) as well as all Americans begs the question what can he really do (and do most Congressional Republicans actually care about those aggrieved circumstances). Protectionist Walls? Mines, Mills, Factories rejuvenated? Most importantly, those who voted for Trump because they feel left behind, discounted, and let down may not find redemption (but we’ll see).

            Something else to consider that I also utilized earlier to help understand us: “As experience has shown, the average…, his brain in a scramble, may attache vast importance to a candidate’s religion, race, or ethnic groupings, national origin, sex and generally mirrored resentments. He feels grimly punitive toward any sort of deviation from a fixed norm, a stereotype, in his mind.” (1967)

            Finally, the Senate will establish Senate Rules (so, we’ll see but don’t expect surprises).

          • FriendlyGoat

            I’m not “wishing” for a destruction of the filibuster, but I am expecting immense pressure to do exactly that. We might soon find out whether there are even three Republicans in the 52-48 Senate who would say no to just removing that “nuisance” due to these “extraordinary circumstances”.

          • Anthony

            Excuse me if you think I’m implying you’re advocating “Nuclear Option”. I’m not and yes given a right wing sense (currently) of legislative fiat (your extraordinary circumstances) the unleashing of an unbridled conservative agenda remains very real (a cost and consequence of losing elections). When you keep it close FG, as I shared before bad things can happen and they usually do. Stay engaged and inform the young as they will absorb the long-term consequences if not made aware of impending actions.

          • FriendlyGoat

            The young won’t need me to tell them what happens. It’s gonna be big news.

          • Anthony

            Agreed but you’re helping to arm potential youthful citizens to combat false narratives and delimiting actions (perhaps) impacting their social-economic lives!

          • FriendlyGoat

            Maybe in another venue. Most people here are old and most of them are impervious to left-side thinking. Meanwhile, the young had better listen to the kinder young if they can find any. Unfortunately they just set themselves back decades in a number of matters.

  • Fat_Man

    Trump and Duterte could do some awesome flame wars of Twitter.

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