Filipinos Are Mostly Critical on U.S. Foreign Policy, Amount of Aid and Direction of Wars, But Still Undecided on What to Do with Biden

by Edwin Quinabo

A dust storm is sweeping across the U.S. on college campuses that have students criticizing U.S. foreign policy supporting Israel’s war on Hamas.  About the same time the strong winds of dissent coursed through eastern and western shores, President Joe Biden passed a contentious foreign aid package worth billions to go to Ukraine, Israel and allies in the Indo-Pacific.

The two events represent opposing polarities of U.S. foreign policy that’s cracking wide open a social-political gape in American society, just at the dawn of this year’s unpredictable national elections.

Could foreign policy muster a defining sway at the ballot box?

On one side, the protests represent a people’s power movement not seen since the 1960s during the Vietnam war advocating for a shift in foreign policy. On the other side, the foreign aid package is business as usual for D.C., a historical trend of U.S. foreign policy since the fall of the Soviet Union and accelerated after 9/11 when the U.S. became the sole global superpower — one that is mostly based on geopolitical dominance.

Opposing direction of U.S. foreign policy
President Joe Biden said during the signing ceremony of the foreign aid package, “It’s a good day for America, it’s a good day for Europe and it’s a good day for world peace. It’s going to make America safer; it’s going to make the world safer, and it continues America’s leadership in the world, and everyone knows it.”

But critics of the package say the complete opposite — that the aid will not make the U.S. and world safer, and it’s not about world peace. In fact, some geopolitical and retired military experts say the status quo U.S. foreign policy of aggressive intervention is dangerous, pointing out that times have vastly changed since the U.S. reigned supreme in the early 1990s. They say countries have caught up in the Middle East militarily in terms of large ground troops and non-nuclear high-tech weaponry. There is a counterbalance to the U.S. in the world’s military and economic power in BRICS countries. Further, it’s almost proven that Russia will not be defeated and is able to stand the test of attrition, making a shift in foreign policy – war and aid – imperative under these new geopolitical conditions.  

These supporters of shifting the direction of foreign policy want the country to move away from conflict to one supportive of cooperation and stability. War and aggression, a large constituency of Americans say, is not sustainable in this time.

Editorialist, military historian and editor of the Christian Science Monitor Max Boot, said in the Washington Post, “After the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan, we have lost our appetite for democracy-building abroad.”

Historian Stephen Wertheim wrote in The Journal of Genocide Research, “The global war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq also did severe damage to the humanitarian justification for military intervention.”

Foreign policy impact uncertain for 2024 election
Presidential elections traditionally hinge on domestic policy and not foreign policy. The scale of influence foreign policy could have on elections, politicos say, usually depends on whether the U.S. is at the height of or beginning of war (larger influence) or not engaged in war or engaged minimally (lesser influence).

An A.P.-NORC poll released in January showed, compared with a year ago, twice as many voters see foreign policy as a top national priority (one in four). Foreign policy has gained importance among respondents from both parties. Some 46% of Republicans named it among the top priorities, up from 23% last year. And 34% of Democrats list foreign policy as a focal point, compared with 16% a year ago. This poll only addressed importance but did not specify respondents’ inclination of their foreign policy positions.

While the A.P.-NORC poll suggests growing importance in foreign policy, two other polls hint where Americans stand on foreign policy regarding the recent aid package.

1) The Rasmussen Reports Poll, which was conducted April 16-18, found that 57% of the respondents believe the aid packages provide too much money to other countries. Only 10% believe the funding is not enough, and 23% believe the funding is the right amount. 

2) In a Monmouth University survey also taken in mid-April, it differs from the Rasmussen Poll considerably with less opposition to the passage of the foreign aid package. The Monmouth survey found that 43% of Americans support the bill, while 35% oppose it. But it also shows 20% not having an opinion, which happens to be about the same percentage difference from the Rasmussen Report that shows greater opposition to the package.

But all three polls — A.P.-NORC poll. The Rasmussen Reports, Monmouth University survey – suggest far greater division on foreign policy among the American public than their representatives in Congress who voted overwhelmingly in support of the foreign aid package.  

The question begs, are elected officials representing the will of the people on this issue?  Is their vote based on lobbyist influence versus their constituencies’ demands.

Both the U.S. House and Senate passed the foreign aid package with bipartisan majorities.

Hawaii senators Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and Reps Ed Case and Jill Tokuda supported the package. Tokuda voted against the aid to Israel but supported the complete package, which nullified her no vote on the Israel package. The House allowed individual voting on the four parts to this package.

While foreign policy’s influence on the election is still inconclusive based on mixed polls, politicos agree that there is a sizable group – perhaps enough to sway the race in battleground states. Progressives and millennial-Gen Z are entertaining non-traditional voting options, such as voting third-party. Interest in voting third-party has never been as captivating to a large electorate since independent candidate Ross Perot sought the presidency.

Politicos say the challenge for Biden at this juncture, at least for the more contentious Israel war on Hamas, is to find the right balance, of not siding too far either toward the pro-Israeli center or toward the pro-Palestinian left, and thus alienating the other. They say the bigger risk, however, is a perception that Biden is losing control of the situation.

By the numbers
The Biden approved foreign aid package includes $60.8 billion in aid for Ukraine; $26.4 billion to support Israel, along with humanitarian aid for Gaza; and $8.1 billion for allies in the Indo-Pacific.

Since this package was approved, the Pentagon has already announced a new round of military aid for Ukraine worth roughly $1 billion. Also, this week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the U.S. will provide Ukraine additional Patriot missiles for its air defense systems as part of another massive $6 billion additional aid (that’s apart from the foreign aid package signed into law).

*Total for Ukraine: to date the Kiel Institute for the World Economy says the Biden Administration directed about $75 billion in assistance to Ukraine. This figure does not include the recent aid package passed or all other war-related U.S spending such as aid to allies or NATO.

*Total for Israel: to date Israel has been the largest cumulative recipient of the U.S. foreign aid at $318 billion.

Each year U.S. foreign aid has risen from $56.3 billion in 2021 to $70.4 billion in 2022 to the current numbers stated above.

While foreign aid typically makes up about 1% of the total U.S. trillions dollar budget (as of 2022 figures), for perspective it is slightly more than the Department of Housing and Urban Development and less than the Department of Homeland Security. Still, the U.S. gives more money in foreign aid in total dollars than any other country in the world.

Economists add that Americans must consider the larger money spent to be the policemen of the world and maintaining U.S. foreign presence spread over the near 900 military bases globally. The U.S National Defense budget makes up 18% of total spending, 1.13 trillion ($828.8B defense, $298B for veterans), the second largest spending next to Social Security (22%, $1.35 trillion).

When considering both the Defense Budget and foreign aid as one annual budgetary allocation, critics of these spending say this has hurt the U.S. dramatically over time causing the nation to fall behind other countries in areas like education and infrastructure.

Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen wrote in their book, Clear and Present Safety, “Decades of fearmongering about foreign threats by Washington insiders, have obscured what truly harms Americans: substandard education and health care systems, dilapidated infrastructure, gun violence, inequality, congressional gridlock and climate change.”

Since then, world renowned intellectual and social commentator Noam Chomsky said Biden has not shifted from the support in foreign adventurism practiced by both previous Republican and Democrat administrations. He asserts that both parties largely have the same approach to U.S. foreign policy, the difference is simply a matter of degrees.

Filipino and Hawaii community sounds off on U.S. foreign policy, including aid to the Philippines
Hawaii residents Drs. Arcelita Imasa and Seiji Yamada, both members of the Hawaiʻi Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (HICHRP), told the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle, “This [foreign aid package] is a prime example of misappropriation of funds but also a not surprising move by the Biden administration. This military and foreign aid budget is outrageous and should be condemned. HICHRP is concerned about the use of our tax dollars to support wars abroad. Specifically, the legislation proposes an annual authorization of $500 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grant assistance to the Philippines for each fiscal year from 2025 to 2029, totaling $2.5 billion over five fiscal years, and we see this as part of the U.S. provocation of China and an impending sign of Filipinos about to get caught in the U.S. war against China.”

They add, “The U.S. economy is largely based on war and militarism. Biden promoted the aid package by declaring that it would lead to more jobs in many states at weapons manufacturing plants. The weapons corporations, their executives, their stockholders, and the hedge fund managers are laughing all the way to the bank. They do not worry about not having health insurance, about being one illness away from bankruptcy, about crumbling infrastructure, or inequities in education. Why? Because they are our masters, our overlords. They buy the politicians and tell them the public policies that they want. They do not want society to have any common social goods. They want to own it all. Other advanced industrialized countries, those not completely under the control of billionaires and warmongers, set public policies such as the right to universal healthcare.”

Hawaii resident Kami Yamamoto, MPH, Education Officer, National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), told the Filipino Chronicle, “Amidst ongoing economic issues such as inflation, joblessness, and unlivable wages, allocating billions of dollars towards war, foreign aid, and trade agreements with allies like NATO is a mis-prioritization of public funds. NAFCON along with other allied Filipino grassroots organizations maintain that our government should prioritize spending for social services like accessible education, healthcare, and other social services, instead of funneling taxpayer money into budgets for the military.”

NAFCON, alongside organizations like Kabataan Alliance, Malaya Movement, and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines-U.S. advocates to stop military aid from the U.S. to the Philippine government, until they say, human rights violations have been investigated.

California-based journalist Emil Guillermo said, “I wish we didn’t have to spend so much, preferring peace and diplomacy to war. The dollar amount on Defense is obscene and yet, my voice is in the minority. But this is capitalism in action. Defense spending drives the economy and employs people. When conservatives criticize big government, they always forget significant increases in defense spending. Until we have a real people’s movement to cut military spending and divert those funds to real human issues in society, it will always be an uphill battle in Congress.  It’s important to keep our military/financial obligation to our allies until people force politicians to make domestic spending a priority, politicians will continue to do as they please.”

Hawaii resident Serafin “Jun” Colmenares, Jr., PhD., said “The U.S. used to defend itself and its foreign interests by fighting wars abroad. Currently, it is providing financial and material support without putting troops on the ground. I support aiding Ukraine and to a certain extent, Israel, but perhaps it should take the form of a long-term, interest-free loan. The U.S. should spend more on certain domestic programs like health, education, etc. However, spending for global security is also important if we want democracy, freedom and the rule of law to prevail. As the most powerful country in the world, it is expected that the U.S. would shoulder a bigger burden for world security, however unfair it may look like.”

Danilo Cadiz, Kapolei, said “We are seeing a groundswell demanding that there be a shift in American foreign policy. We see the Iraq-Syria-Afghanistan wars were mistakes. We spent over a trillion dollars and here we are again back to square one with instability in the Middle East. That hawkish strategy of the past is something we should have learned from. Instead, we are on the same path — spending outrageous amounts of money on these wars and foreign policy, and the cost of lives are immoral. We can blame our politicians for this destructive path that Americans nor Middle Easterners benefit from.”

Venus Delos Santos, Ewa Beach, said “I disagree with Biden spending so much on foreign affairs when there’s so much we need to tend to in our own country. We are not obligated to provide so many of our resources for foreign conflicts. It’s too much. It’s not fair to U.S. citizens. Plus, it’s nonsensical. No one knows how long these wars are going to last, or how much more is the U.S. going to give. And for how long. It’s like throwing away money that you don’t know for sure is going to help or not. We don’t know what the future will bring. I think funneling that money into good programs that help U.S. citizens on a day-to-day basis means much more to the American people, than intervening in foreign wars. We must turn our attention to problem-solving, helping, fixing, and improving the welfare of our own U.S. citizens. That’s where the focus should be and that’s where the money should go.”

Will U.S. foreign policy influence Filipinos’ votes in 2024? Opinion on wars
Drs. Imasa and Yamada suggests there is not much of a voting option between Democrats and Republicans on foreign affairs. “The choice between Democrats and Republicans is a choice between genocidists and genocidaires. It isn’t a question of ‘foreign policy.’ The question is, do we have human empathy or do we not?”

They said of the wars, “The reason that Russia gives for its invasion of Ukraine is that NATO had vowed to incorporate Ukraine into NATO. This is not to justify Russia’s invasion. This is just Russia’s stated reason. Without the military and financial backing of the U.S. and Western European powers, Ukraine would have lost the war quickly. As it is, a generation of Ukrainian men have died or have been maimed. We are now in the final stages of the war. To prolong it means that more Ukrainians will die, that Russia will take more territory, and the remaining rump state of Ukraine will be smaller and more devastated.

“Giving more military aid to Israel is tantamount to saying, ‘We support genocide. Here’s 15 billion more dollars so you can torture more Palestinians, tie their hands behind their backs, and bury them with bulldozers.’ The Gaza Strip is widely described as an open-air concentration camp. It has been under siege since 2007. The number of calories allotted to each resident of Gaza has been set at just above starvation levels. With the assault on Gaza since October, Israeli officials vowed not to allow any food or water into Gaza. This is not war. This is genocide.”

Yamamoto said at NAFCON, “We do not endorse candidates in any electoral race, but we do support candidates and elected officials who have a progressive track record, will speak out against injustice, and hold those with decision making power accountable to the concerns of their constituents. We support the calls and demands of communities on the ground who are calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, to stop U.S. aid from funding human rights violations in the Philippines and around the world, and genuine democracy.”

Yamamoto said, “NAFCON alongside other Filipino organizations in the U.S. and Philippines stands in solidarity with the people of Palestine and Ukraine in their fight for their freedom from foreign imposition and colonial powers. We do not support war when it is for the suppression of a people’s fight for liberation and self-determination. We contend that it is a humanitarian imperative to call for an end to Israel’s siege on Gaza and to stop baiting Russia in the war in Ukraine because it comes at the expense of the Palestinian and Ukrainian people.”

As for the Indo-China region, the Philippines, China and Russia, Yamamoto asserts, “The U.S. has used the guise of ‘global security’ as a basis for intensifying its conflict with China and Russia. Foreign aid packages like the one that was passed by the House enables the U.S. and its allies like Israel to enact unbridled violence on environmental defenders, indigenous people, and activists in the name of global security.”

Guillermo said, “There is one dominant issue, and foreign policy isn’t it. More important is stopping Donald Trump from becoming president for a second time. He is not the leader the U.S. needs at this time.” He said he supports Ukraine against the Russian “invaders” and does not support the Netanyahu government and its practices. “A ceasefire is necessary now.”

Colmenares says he considers both domestic and foreign policy stances of a candidate. “In the current situation I will vote for somebody who does not threaten democracy, locally or abroad, who does not cuddle with dictators, who does not disparage our allies, etc.” he said.

Colmenares supports Ukraine’s war against Russia and supports U.S. aid. “Russia must be stopped in its irredentist designs in Europe lest we fall again to the same situation brought about by appeasement of Hitler during the Second World War.”

He said he also supports Israel. “I support Israel’s right to defend itself, particularly against those who want to eradicate it as a state, including Hamas. But I do not agree with its inhumane treatment of the Palestinians. I hope a ceasefire could be agreed upon and the hostages released soon and that everybody will agree to a two-state solution to the problem.”

Cadiz said he is against both wars for different reasons. “I supported the Ukraine war in the first year, but realize it is not a winnable war. It would be cruel to support it now because it only prolongs suffering and adds death. The Israel war is not a war. A war is between two countries. In this case, we have one country and an occupied territory. I also supported Israel’s initial response to Oct. 7. But at this point, it’s just inhumane to support their campaign. It’s genocide. I cannot in good conscious support a president who allowed this kind of cruelty in this election. I’ve voted for a Democrat president all my life. It’s a shame that this genocide happened. There must be accountability for Biden’s complicity.”

Deloss Santos stands against both wars mostly due to cost and uncertainty of where they will lead and how much more it could cost the U.S., she said. “I’m not voting for a presidential candidate who funnels money out of the U.S. for war efforts. It’s such a waste.”

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