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Uncle Sam’s policy of Fickle Friendship: Two test cases

With a friend like the United States, what freedom-loving people – from the native tribes of New England to the self-liberated people of the Philippines – needed an enemy?

I. The Filipinos: 1898-1902

“Yes, we had been so friendly to them, and had heartened them up in so many ways! We had lent them guns and ammunition; advised with them …  praised their courage, praised their gallantry …” The words, which might seem to apply equally well to the U.S.’ behavior to the Kurds of Iraq in the year 2017, were written by Mark Twain in 1901 in “To the Person Sitting in Darkness,” a scathing critique of the McKinley administration’s dealings with the Filipinos, who had been fighting to overthrow their colonial Spanish overlords since August 1896. In June 1898, as the Americans triumphed over the Spanish forces in Cuba and Puerto Rico in the early stages of the Spanish-American War, the Filipino resistance forces, under the command of Emilio Aguinaldo, declared the Philippines independent and established a revolutionary government.

Initially, Commodore George Dewey, commander of the American Asiatic Squadron, which destroyed the Spanish fleet in six hours on May 1, 1898, in the Battle of Manila Bay, had nothing but praise for Aguinaldo and reported back to Washington that “these people are … more capable of self-government than the natives of Cuba [which was granted independence] and I am familiar with both races.” Then, on June 30, 12,000 American soldiers, under the command of Gen. Thomas M. Anderson, stepped ashore on Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines and the site of the colonial capital, Manila.

Two months later, Aguinaldo convened a constitutional assembly, at which a constitution was drawn up; it was signed into law on December 23 and promulgated by Aguinaldo on January 22 in the new year 1899. The proceedings proved to be a pantomime which neither Spain nor the United States deigned to attend. Their diplomats were busy in Paris, drawing up a treaty, signed on December 10, under which the United States took possession of the country from Spain, ending the Spanish–American War and igniting another: The Philippine-American War broke out in February 1899 and ended in July 1902.

It was a holy war. In a Nov. 21, 1899, meeting with a group of Methodist ministers, McKinley recounted the history of his decision to take possession of the entire archipelago: “When … I realized that the Philippines had dropped into our laps, I confess I did not know what to do with them…. I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed to Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me … that we could not leave them to themselves — they were unfit for self-government; and there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them [the Spaniards had, of course, done this over the centuries of occupation] … And the next morning I sent for the chief engineer of the War Department, and I told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States, and there they are, and there they will stay while I am president!”

The125-year-old nation had reached a crossroads: The choice it faced was whether to expand beyond its shores and become an empire or support a young democracy whose leaders had been inspired by American ideals. The United States chose empire. Some 20,000 Filipino soldiers and 34,000 Filipino civilians were killed in the conflict, while cholera and other causes resulted in the death of an additional 200,000 civilians. More than 4,000 American soldiers died in a war during which both sides committed terrible atrocities.

II. The Kurds: 1991-2017

With a friend like the United States, what freedom-loving people – from the native tribes of New England to the self-liberated people of the Philippines – needed an enemy? And, indeed, in the 21st century, the tradition of screwing those that the United States allegedly supported continued unabated – as, for example, with President George Herbert Walker Bush’s treatment of the Kurds and the Shiite “Marsh Arabs” in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. After the allied coalition had defeated the army of Saddam Hussein but had left Hussein in power, Bush encouraged the Kurds in northern Iraq and the Shiites in the south to rise up against the defeated dictator, saying, “The Iraqi people should put Saddam aside.” But while the U.S. banned the use of fixed-wing aircraft by the Iraqi air force, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf allowed the use of helicopters, which the Iraqis converted into gunships that killed thousands of Kurds and Shia and quickly suppressed their U.S.-encouraged bid for freedom. With friends like these…

But this was not the end to American duplicity in regard to the Kurds.

In an Oct. 24, 2017, New York Times op-ed article, Sen. John McCain noted that “It’s primarily been the Kurds who have, block by block, sand hill by sand hill, taken on ISIS …won most of the victories, done most of the killing, and secured most of the territory,” and yet, now that ISIS has been routed, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force was “preparing military advances on Kurdish positions by Iranian-backed Iraqi militias …” To add to the irony, McCain noted that some Iraqi forces were reportedly using equipment that had been provided by the United States. “This is totally unacceptable,” he wrote. “The United States offered arms and training to the government of Iraq to fight the Islamic State and secure Iraq from external threats — not to attack Iraqi Kurds, who are some of America’s most trusted and capable partners in the region.”

On Dec. 4, in an interview with Fox News, Kurdish Prime Minister Nechiravan Barzani spoke to the same point: “The Kurdish people were expecting that when a threat comes in, the U.S. would stand by them. They were not expecting that American tanks given to the Iraq government would be used against them by the Popular Mobilization Units [the Iranians’ elite Quds Force].”

With friends like these…


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