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Can America Be Trusted?

By David Haldane

May 20, 2024



It’s a painful question.

Especially for an American who wants, more than anything, to take pride in his homeland.

But events, both recent and historic, have brought it to the fore. And the current situation in the Philippines makes the answer imperative: Can America’s allies count on the alleged superpower to keep its promises?

Here’s a hint: the country’s history is not encouraging.

That history begins long ago, shortly after the nation’s founding. From 1778 to 1871, the United States signed 368 treaties with various indigenous tribes across North America. All were based on the fundamental idea that each tribe constituted an independent nation with its own right to self-determination and rule. And that the land those Native Americans inhabited belonged completely and solely to them.

One of the great tragedies of US history is that virtually all of those promises were ultimately discarded. And that their early disposal may have helped shape a national character that, to some extent, survives today.

America’s unfulfilled promises are not always willful. The United States, after all, spent several years and more than 58,000 of its own citizens’ lives defending South Vietnam’s independence, only to be defeated and expelled by a smaller but more effective guerilla force. Anyone alive during the 1975 evacuation of Saigon can surely remember the anguished cries of those seeking inclusion, thousands of whom ended up in the Philippines.

Which, of course, brings to mind a more recent debacle; the bungled 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving more than 1,000 Americans and Afghani visa holders at the mercy of the Taliban.

And now the same president seems to be backing away from yet another alliance once considered ironclad, namely that with Israel. After suffering a devastating surprise attack on October 7th by the radical terrorist group governing Gaza, Israel declared its intention to, finally and completely, destroy Hamas. Which wasn’t surprising, given the terrorists’ long-term goal—expressed both in actions and words—of obliterating the Jewish state and its inhabitants from the face of the earth.

President Biden’s initial reaction was welcomed and expected: a reiteration of America’s “unshakable” support for Israel, its closest and longest-standing ally in the Middle East. Ah, but then the political landscape changed. Pro-Palestinian protestors gathered on college campuses across America, expressing their opposition to Hamas’ defeat. Palestinians in certain areas considered key to Biden’s November re-election quickly joined the fray. And the President’s advisors warned of a potential replay of 1968 when protestors—then opposing the Vietnam War—wreaked havoc at that year’s Democratic National Convention.

And so the unshakable support began to shake. Biden unilaterally paused weapons shipments previously approved by Congress, leaving the Israelis to fend for themselves in their final assault on Hamas. Apparently, it seemed, Israel was allowed to fight as long as it didn’t win. “By halting the shipment,” Israeli commentator Amit Segal asserted in the Wall Street Journal, the US “is effectively sending Hamas the most potent weapon of all: hope.”

So what does all this have to do with the Philippines? Just that the country is relying heavily on American support in its growing conflict with China over the West Philippine Sea. Don’t get me wrong, I’m on the Philippines’ side. And, to his credit, President Marcos has also elicited the support of other allies, including Japan, France, and Australia.

Still, given America’s wobbly history of reliability in keeping promises to friends, one can’t help but question its commitment today. Which for me, both as a US citizen and Philippine expat, causes concern.

History’s big exception, of course—and probably the reason most Filipinos still feel some affection for America—is World War II, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur ultimately made good on his famous promise that “I shall return.”

If, God forbid, it ever becomes necessary, I pray that some version of that noble history gets replayed.





David Haldane is an award-winning American author, journalist, and broadcaster with homes in Southern California and Northern Mindanao. His latest book, A Tooth in My Popsicle, is available on Amazon. This column appears weekly in The Manila Times.








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