IT'S DIFFICULT TO RECALL now that only one short week ago we were all sitting around wondering what the Philippine outcome would be. The place seemed at the edge of war. The potential for terrible bloodshed was still there. The extent to which the society would be restored to civil calm if the Marcoses and their entourage departed the country was not known -- in fact it was not even known for certain if the Marcoses would depart the country.
We bring up this seemingly ancient history in hopes of instilling a little sorely needed humility and caution into the debate now under way about what happened, what will happen and who should get the credit -- if credit is still being doled out, let us say, six months from now. We speak out of some combination of anxiety, prudence and pure superstition. There has been a fearful rush to political self-justification on the part of just about everybody now, much argument about who got caught out, who has been made to look good, who will live to regret it and who is entitled to go: Nyah, nyah nyah.
For the moment, those who stayed (more or less) behind Marcos are being given a lot of what-for by those who did not. As members in good standing of the Marcos-must-go school, we nonetheless think a little restraint on the part of people who concluded as we did is in order. What happened in the Philippines was momentous and in many respects thrilling and inspiring. It may remain momentous, but not be so thrilling and inspiring in the months ahead. Much is yet unsettled. The hold of the new leader is fragile. The possibility of further turmoil is very much alive.
No matter how badly things could turn out, it would still not retroactively justify the continuance of the Marcos regime in power, in our view. There was no chance of things getting better, only worse, under his rule. But this does not mean that Mrs. Aquino is guaranteed success or that her presidency is not in its own way very chancey. Her fantastic overcoming of the odds in her campaign for the presidency and the amazing display of political passion and discipline on the part of those crowds that lofted her into office seem to us to have been an appropriate cause for exultation.
But exultation is something different from gloating. It is foolhardy to take Mrs. Aquino's installation in office as proof of the soundness or unsoundness of any general policy for dealing with turmoil in Third World countries. We are thinking not just of the argument over Jeane Kirkpatrick's formulations here, but of the broader back and forth between liberals and conservatives that has taken place in the past few days over who can claim vindication in the Philippine outcome.
Our point is that, although much that is good and inspiriting has happened, there has as yet been no outcome. And what if ultimately there is a bad one? What if Mrs. Aquino's effort comes to grief? Will that, in turn, be taken as proof that those who supported her are in all similar arguments wrong? Those who insist on reading a general doctrinal victory into Mrs. Aquino's particular, pragmatic triumph are asking for trouble -- and also, we think, denying the Philippines' new president the distinctiveness of her achievement.