Averting war

June 26, 2019

What has been common between US President Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte lately is avoiding what could possibly turn into a full-blown war.

At the last possible moment last June 21, Trump called off military strikes against Iran in retaliation for the earlier downing of a US drone. The New York Times reported that “planes were in the air and ships were in position” to fire missiles at Iranian targets just before dawn when the order came in for US forces to stand down.

“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone,” Trump tweeted later.

The US aircraft, reportedly worth $180 million, was shot down on June 20 by Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) using a surface-to-air missile. “The US-made Global Hawk surveillance drone was brought down when it entered Iran’s airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in the south,” the IRGC said.

But the US military denied crossing into Iran’s airspace. “This was an unprovoked attack on a US surveillance asset in international airspace,” a spokesman of the US military’s Central Command said. Prior to the shooting down of the drone, tensions were high between US and Iran, resulting from Trump’s decision to abandon last year a landmark accord to stop Iran from making a nuclear bomb.

While many thought the world’s most powerful man blinked, others believed Trump did the right thing in changing his mind. After all, no lives were lost when the drone was felled.

A retaliatory strike could lead to a full-blown war which Russian President Vladimir Putin said would be a “catastrophe with unpredictable consequences.” He’s probably right because analysts say “Iran and its proxies have major presences in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen” and has “thousands of missiles with ranges of up to 1,500 miles that can hit targets around the region, including Israel, and can reach as far as southeastern Europe.”

But was Trump compelled to pull back because Iran did not cower in fear when it learned of the forthcoming military strikes? Reports have it that Iran “did not flinch” when informed an attack was imminent unless talks push through between Iranian Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei and Trump. Khamenei has refused to talk to the US “until it lifts economic sanctions, adding he does not trust Trump’s motives.”

At the local front, many find amazing how President Duterte and some of his Cabinet men would go to great lengths to protect China amid the raging furor over the ramming of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese vessel that abandoned 22 Filipino crewmen who were left to the mercy of the elements in high seas near the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.

The ability to spew exaggerations and blatant lies was indeed amazing. Many find incredible how the president even gave the impression that that our country’s reaction to the ramming – which he described as a “little maritime accident” and “maritime incident” when he finally broke his silence on the matter – might even lead to nuclear war!

And among the Cabinet members who earned the ire of many Filipinos were Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, who was seen as “lawyering” for China, and Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo who seemed to squirm with an outright lie he blurted out in a TV interview with broadcast journalist Christian Esguerra.

“Cusi’s first duty as a Filipino, let alone as one of the highest officials of the land, is to lend support and compassion to the brutalized Filipino fishermen, and, more to the point, to call for justice on their behalf. It is not his job to lawyer for the Chinese side and belittle the ordeal his countrymen had gone through,” screamed an Inquirer editorial.

As for Panelo, here’s what he told the insightful Esguerra, ANC’s Early Edition host, during an awkward interview: “We thought all the while they were anchored almost at the shoreline.” Incredible, amid reports that it took hours before the Vietnamese vessel rescued the Filipinos who could have made it easily to the shore on their own if what Panelo said was true.

For those who admire Duterte as a pillar of strength, this episode can be truly lamentable. “Somehow our perception of the President being the tough guy has been greatly diminished by the administration’s wimpy response to the maritime incident,” a People’s Journal editorial said.

Email: insights.xlr8@yahoo.com