The lesson of Iran is that U.S. support of a dictator brings an overwhelming anti-American backlash when the dictator is finally overthrown. Yet Jimmy Carter is stubbornly clinging to the same discredited policy by propping up the repressive dictatorship of Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos.
No less an authority than Marcos' predecessor as president, Diosdado Macapagal, has warned the administration that the United States is sowing the wind by its continued military and economic support of Marcos -- and will reap a whirlwind of hatred when he is eventually deposed. "Do not treat our country as you did Iran," declared Macapagal. "Do not coddle our dictator." c
Ironically, U.S. support of Marcos as a loyal and strategically important ally against communism is driving more and more Filipinos into the communist embrace. Marcos' ouster may well result in a communist takeover, Macapagal warned.
Ferdinand Marcos first appeared on the Philippines scene as an authentic hero of World War II, a survivor of the Bataan Death March. He was a soldier in the U.S.-trained Philippine Army. After a daring escape from the infamous Fort Santiago prison, he fought the Japanese as a guerrilla leader. He wound up as the Philippines' most decorated soldier. Among his 27 medals was the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross, and only a bureaucratic snafu kept him from winning the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Marcos was a personal friend of mine in the postwar years. When he became president in 1966, he spoke to me with earnest intensity of his determination to free his countrymen of their economic bondage to the wealthy oligarchs who have dominated the Philippines since colonial times. I did not doubt his sincerity.
Marcos was immensely popular with the Filipino people, who believed in him. He was the only man ever to win reelection to the presidency. Even after he declared martial law toward the end of his second term, he was widely regarded as a benevolent dictator.
What went wrong is not clear. Maybe it was the influence of his beautiful, ambitious wife, Imelda -- or overreaction to the assassination attempt against her. Maybe it was an inflated sense of his own indispensability.
What is clear is that Marcos is now detested by growing numbers of the people he once wanted only to serve. He answers his critics with imprisonment, torture and execution. Though a recent State Department report claims there has been some improvement in human rights during the past year, opposition sources say this is simply not true.
Rightly or wrongly, the United States is associated with Marcos in the eyes of the people and, therefore, shares with him their increasing resentment. e
Filipino-American friendship was once thought to be unshakable. Thousands of Americans died in the defense of the Philippines. When we gave the Philippines independence, the young republic's government and constitution were modeled after ours.
Uncle Sam's interest in the Philippines is more than avuncular, however. Our leased naval base at Subic Bay and our air base at Clark Field are the biggest U.S. military facilities in the Western Pacific. Although some critics discount the strategic value of the Philippines bases, President Carter appears convinced that they are essential.
Carter administration officials are lobbying heavily on the Hill against a proposed cut in U.S. aid to the Philippines. Though the president has been outspoken in his championing of human rights elsewhere in the world, he has chosen to speak softly about the Marcos regime. e
Administration critics feel that we may be backing the wrong horse -- in practical as well as moral terms. Marcos' power is eroding, they warn, and the United States may be dragged down with him. Members of a recent congressional delegation to the Philippines met unofficially with dissident leaders and were impressed with the depth and breadth of the opposition to Marcos.
As in Iran, the clergy is becoming increasingly critical of the Marcos regime's police-state activities. Young people are rebelling, and -- perhaps most significant of all -- the middle class is getting restive, and has taken to arming itself against expected violence.
One member of the congressional delegation told my reporter Lucette Lagnado, "All the people we met are living in a state of fear. There is seething, across-the-board discontent with Marcos' regime."
Adding to the Filipino dissidents' fear is their suspicion that the United States might come to Marcos' aid with military force under an agreement that pledges U.S. help with "security activities" of the Philippine government.
Even though Carter would probably balk at such intervention, the dissidents' belief that it could happen is an ominous measure of how closely the United States is associated with Marcos in the eyes of the Filipino people. The lesson of Iran has yet to sink in at the White House.