Government News Analysis

Washington spikes its own guns

Not content with making a foreign-policy switch from Washington to Beijing irresistible to Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, now the US – through withholding arms sales to Philippine law enforcement – is shooting itself in the foot (pardon the irony) by playing into the hands of America’s biggest enemy, Russia, the most-likely replacement supplier.

Of course the embargo, initiated by a US Democrat senator, is being sold as a righteous human-rights effort – bogusly conflating, yet again, Duterte’s war on illegal drugs with extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. Its real purpose, then, is to keep that false narrative alive and to sow seeds of concern among the Filipino population.

Washington’s nose is seriously out of joint after the Philippine president announced last week that the old US partnership was over and the new China partnership was underway. The American leadership, it seems, is still smarting from this new normal and will use any means it can to drag an errant Philippines back into the US fold.

What’s impossible to fathom, though, is that this move could be seen as having the remotest hope of success, when it could only set diplomatic relations between Manila and Washington further back – not to mention, endorsing Duterte’s claim that the Philippines cannot depend on its former colonial landlord.

But even more abstruse is how this move was rationalised. How could it possibly unnerve Manila? This is about a contract for around 26,000 assault rifles. Assault rifles! Not exactly a rare commodity. It’s not as if the arms buyers of the Philippine National Police have to rush around and look for a new supplier of Taser Shockwaves or a few barrels of Plutonium-239. Who doesn’t make assault rifles?  As Presidential Communications Secretary, Martin Andanar, said with masterful understatement: “I am sure our government can procure somewhere else”.

And they can. America may be the biggest weapons vendor on the planet, but guess who’s No.2? Russia. Just for the record here are the figures for global market share of arm sales. US, 31%; Russia, 27%, China, Germany, France, each 5%; UK, 4%; Spain, Italy, Ukraine, each 3%; Israel, 2%; all others combined, 12%.

And the Russian Federation would be the obvious replacement supplier. First, it could fill an order that size immediately; so Philippine law enforcement wouldn’t miss a beat. It could virtually be placed over the phone. And secondly, the price would be right. For Moscow, this would be an extremely important contract – not for its dollar value or its size, but because it would glue-in closer Russo-Philippine ties, something which the Russian leadership and its foreign-policy planners in Smolenskaya Square have fairly high on their agenda right now.

The only other feasible country on that list is China; and, again, it would be able to get that order ready for shipping quite easily. Of the rest, the UK and Israel might like to get the Philippines’ arms contract but both are compromised – the UK because it’s engaged in tricky negotiations over its exit from the European Union, which ideologically will support the US embargo, and Israel because it’s dependent on the US for its own arms supplies.

Any way, the point is, finding a new suppler is not going to be difficult. As Senator Panfilo Lacson rightly assessed the situation, all that it really amounts to is that the Philippines has “one less gun store to choose from”. So while this latest diplomatic spat is being seized on by the Left-elite as something approaching the end of civilization as we know it, from the government’s side it’s just a tiny storm in a small teacup. We’ll ignore Senator (for-the-time-being) Leila de Lima’s input on this issue. That’s as predictably crass and self-serving as ever, and would provide nothing more than to give precious oxygen to her already-stifled cause.

On the other hand, the man at the centre of this, US Senator Benjamin Cardin, is worth a little closer look. Cardin is one of US President Barack Obama’s most loyal subjects and among the most liberal Democrats in the US Senate. He also sits on the Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee and that’s the hat he’s wearing here to give his call the appearance of legitimacy.

His motive, however, would seem to have little to do with morality and everything to do with politics. For though Cardin would have us believe he’s making a stand for human rights – that they are being violated by Duterte’s lawmen, though he has no proof to substantiate that – he seems to have little conscience when it comes to allowing Philippine law-enforcement officers from being outgunned by the well-armed foot soldiers of the drug gangs. But then, if you look at what’s happening in the States right now, you’ll see that there’s little soul-searching in government ranks as American policemen continue to be gunned down on a daily basis.

The US has a wretched record when it comes to is weapons-sales policies, and the following might help to illustrate how erratic its government is when it comes to gun initiatives.

Remember Fast and Furious, the “gun-walking” scheme set up by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), allowing US gun sales to shady individuals in Mexico – ostensibly to track the activities of the Mexican drug cartels? This operation, which imploded in 2011, led to hundreds of deaths on both sides of the border – we know that because those same weapons were found at the crime scenes. Naturally, we never heard a squeak out of Benny Cardin over that.

Then, fresh from that magnificent failure in its backyard, still in 2011, it took its gunrunning enterprise on the road – to Libya. But it wasn’t the ATF this time; it was the US State Department and the CIA. And what happened there made Fast and Furious look like a minor miscalculation.

Purposefully, and illegally, they assisted America’s enemies – specifically, al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood (whom they backed for government in Egypt), Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and Islamic State – in acquiring US arms. And we’re not talking about assault rifles, though they got plenty of those in the American deal; we’re talking about thousands of shoulder-launched surface-to-air-missiles, tanks, personnel carriers and a shed-load of other weaponry.

The plan was that the jihadists would be America’s boots on the ground in the fight against Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi (actually an American ally; so Duterte’s concerns are prudent) and Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad. Like Fast and Furious it turned out to be a disaster – though on a far grander scale – resulting in an unprecedented terrorist carnage that’s still going on. And guess what? Benny kept shtum on that as well. Not a whisper.

Clearly, then, this has little to do with human rights and everything to do with politics. In short, it’s another classic Obama blunder. Not only does it fail as its attempt to bring Duterte to his senses – we’re fairly sure that’s how the US State Department thinks of this – it also removes any lingering doubt over Washington’s true intent with respect to the Philippines.

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