Philippine People Power: A Cautionary Tale and Lessons for the Ages

Homage to Mad Men - MarcosImage by smallislander via FlickrLike Ambrose Bierce says “God alone knows the future, but only an historian can alter the past.” Historians or whoever is left in power. 

Today, the Philippines celebrated the 25th anniversary of its People Power revolution which toppled Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.  The son of the woman in a yellow dress who is now President of the Philippines, in news account reportedly said that it was interesting to note that the celebration of 25 years of People Power in the country “coincides with the wave of democracy now sweeping parts of the Arab world.” 

“Even by just watching on TV, the emotion in Egypt and Tunisia was so palpable that it brought back memories of our own experience in 1986. While ours was less violent, the similarities between EDSA and Tahrir Square are uncanny,” President Noynoy Aquino said.

In the aftermath of the People Power in the Philippines, Corazon Aquino faced seven coup attempts. The Philippines with a population currently estimated at 92 million continues to be mired in poverty and corruption and afflicted with brain drain.  The Marcoses – well, much reviled in the 1980’s, are now slowly coming back to power. Former First Lady Imelda Marcos won in the 2010 election and succeeded her son as a Member of the House of Representatives of the Philippine. Her son, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., now a Senator and daughter Imee were both previously elected to the same house seat. Imee Marcos is now a Governor. It is conceivable that even if Gaddafi leaves Libya, one of his sons will come back to power one day. The more things changed, the more they stay the same.  

It seems to be that the Philippine lessons for the ages are:  democracy is messy, change is slow, the voting public has a short memory, and there is always a second chance unless you die first.        

Via Al Jazeera:

State Dept Suspends US Embassy Operations in #Libya, Withdraws All Personnel

It’s 3:17 pm EST. Just saw this tweet from the State Department spokesman:

PJ Crowley |

A U.S. charter aircraft departed #Libya at 1:49 p.m. EDT with additional American and international citizens on board, bound for #Istanbul.   
about 1 hour ago  via web  

A short while ago, Reuters reported the suspension of embassy operation from the WH:

Fri Feb 25, 2011 2:43pm EST

The United States has suspended embassy operations in Libya and is moving forward with unilateral sanctions against the government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Friday

Here is the full text of the announcement from the State Department:

“Given current security conditions in Libya, coupled with our inability to guarantee fully the safety and security of our diplomatic personnel in the country, the Department of State has temporarily withdrawn Embassy personnel from Tripoli and suspended all embassy operations effective February 25, 2011. The safety of the American community remains paramount to the Department and we will continue to provide assistance to the greatest extent possible through other missions.”



Note that the State Department suspended operation but did not break diplomatic relations with Libya. Via Josh Rogin of The Cable:

“The flag is still flying, the embassy is not closed, but operations are suspended,” said Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy. “We did not break diplomatic relations.”

The Libyan embassy in Washington is still up and running, a State Department official said.

Interactions between State Department officials and the Libyan government continue. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns spoke twice over the last two days with Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa and Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Feltman has spoken with Kusa several times, the State Department said.

The Times of Malta reported on the arrival of the evacuees at the port in Valletta:

The passengers were visibly tired as they disembarked at the Cruise Passenger Terminal but most were in good health and only a small number were given medical attention by medical teams on the quay. Officials from the Civil Protection Department were also present.

All passengers were offered food and drink as soon as they disembarked. Special attention was also given to children.

Veterinary Officials were also present since a number of pets were brought over by some of the families.

The Maria Dolores was chartered by the State Department, which has since announced that the US embassy in Tripoli has suspended operations.

Even as we think of the evacuees disembarking to safety in Valletta, we must also keep in our thoughts the local employees left in Tripoli.  The US Embassy in Libya has about 120 locally employed staff. I don’t know if any of them/their families made it to Malta. Given that the embassy has only suspended operation, presumably some local employees will look after the USG facilities, but we have yet to confirm that. 

This post has been updated 2/25 @6:03pm EST

At a State Department briefing on suspension of operations at US Embassy Tripoli, the Under Secretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy confirms what we already presumed: “Our Libyan employees are still – were still – we did not break diplomatic relations. Our Libyan employees are still on the payroll and are still at the – working at the chancery.”

They’re on their own. 

This item above added at 2/25 @7:11pm EST



"Operation Fourth Star" — winning the hearts and minds of Senator McCain and Others?

Via the Rollings Stone by Michael Hastings
February 23, 2011 11:55 PM ET

Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators

The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as “information operations” at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.

“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”

The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.
The general’s chief of staff also asked Holmes how Caldwell could secretly manipulate the U.S. lawmakers without their knowledge. “How do we get these guys to give us more people?” he demanded. “What do I have to plant inside their heads?”
It wasn’t the first time that Caldwell had tried to tear down the wall that has historically separated public affairs and psy-ops – the distinction the military is supposed to maintain between “informing” and “influencing.” After a stint as the top U.S. spokesperson in Iraq, the general pushed aggressively to expand the military’s use of information operations. During his time as a commander at Ft. Leavenworth, Caldwell argued for exploiting new technologies like blogging and Wikipedia – a move that would widen the military’s ability to influence the public, both foreign and domestic. According to sources close to the general, he also tried to rewrite the official doctrine on information operations, though that effort ultimately failed. (In recent months, the Pentagon has quietly dropped the nefarious-sounding moniker “psy-ops” in favor of the more neutral “MISO” – short for Military Information Support Operations.)
Under duress, Holmes and his team provided Caldwell with background assessments on the visiting senators, and helped prep the general for his high-profile encounters. But according to members of his unit, Holmes did his best to resist the orders. Holmes believed that using his team to target American civilians violated the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was passed by Congress to prevent the State Department from using Soviet-style propaganda techniques on U.S. citizens. But when Holmes brought his concerns to Col. Gregory Breazile, the spokesperson for the Afghan training mission run by Caldwell, the discussion ended in a screaming match. “It’s not illegal if I say it isn’t!” Holmes recalls Breazile shouting.
On March 23rd, Holmes emailed the JAG lawyer who handled information operations, saying that the order made him “nervous.” The lawyer, Capt. John Scott, agreed with Holmes. “The short answer is that IO doesn’t do that,” Scott replied in an email. “[Public affairs] works on the hearts and minds of our own citizens and IO works on the hearts and minds of the citizens of other nations. While the twain do occasionally intersect, such intersections, like violent contact during a soccer game, should be unintentional.”

Oh dear.  Active links added above. Read the whole thing here:

I don’t think the senators would appreciate knowing that these folks “played” them. If true, another general may soon get his fourth star and filing his retirement papers at the same time.

WaPo reports that “The U.S. command in Kabul issued a statement Thursday saying Gen. David H. Petraeus “is preparing to order an investigation to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the issue.”

Holmes has now been described as somebody with an ax to grind. Responding to that accusation on FoxNews, here’s what Holmes said:

“Do I have an ax to grind? Yeah. But the ax is this. If they can do this to a lieutenant colonel, what are they doing to the sergeants out there? I have a lot of education and training. … I knew where to go and what the rules were and weren’t.”
After first broaching his concerns with higher-ups, Holmes became the subject of an investigation, which cited him for, among other things, going off base in civilian clothes and drinking alcohol. 

Sounds like retaliation, no?

FoxNews also reports that U.S. lawmakers have played down these alleged operations, suggesting “they were not influenced to do anything they didn’t already want to do.”

But really, if you’ve been “played” and swallowed the spin — what is it, hook, line, and sinker — would you jump up and down waving your arms to get attention? Probably not. But in private, you betcha some folks won’t be happy with this.


US Embassy #Libya: Ferry Left Tripoli with 300 Evacuees, Air Evacuation to Istanbul to Follow

PJ Crowley tweets his update on the evacuation of US Embassy staff and private individuals from Tripoli today:

More than 300 passengers are on board the U.S.-chartered ferry from #Libya to #Malta. Additional passengers were added before departure.   
about 2 hours ago  via web 

The ferry carrying American and international citizens from #Libya to #Malta is finally underway. The trip will take roughly eight hours.     
about 3 hours ago  via web  

Also today, the US Embassy in Tripoli announced that evacuation by air will depart the city for Istanbul no later than 5:30 p.m. local time: 

A U.S. Government chartered aircraft will depart Tripoli to Istanbul, Turkey, from the Mitiga Air Field near downtown Tripoli, on Friday, February 25. Processing of passengers will begin promptly at 12:00 p.m. local time. U.S. citizen travelers wishing to depart should proceed directly to Mitiga Air Field as the U.S. Government is unable to provide ground transportation for U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis, with priority given to persons with medical emergencies or severe medical conditions. The aircraft will depart no later than 5:30 p.m. local time.
All U.S. citizen travelers and their spouses and children, are required to have valid travel documents. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli will assist U.S. citizens with travel documents. U.S. citizens who do not hold a valid U.S. passport or visa and are interested in departing Libya via U.S. Government-chartered transportation should contact the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Embassy Tripoli by sending an email to or by calling 1-202-501-4444.

Read more here.

To get information on American citizens in Libya, please call the State Department’s Task Force in the United States at (888) 407-4747, or +1(202) 501-4444.

US Embassy Libya: Evacuees Stuck at Tripoli Port Due to Bad Weather

Via USAToday | Feb 24, 2011 | 5:31 PM

A ferry chartered to evacuate American citizens from Libya to Malta remains docked in Tripoli because of bad weather, the State Department says. The boat had been scheduled to leave Wednesday.

“It will leave as soon as the seas will allow,” spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said.
The ferry is carrying 40 U.S. Embassy employees, their 127 family members and 118 evacuees from other countries, she said. Non-essential embassy employees and their dependents had been ordered to leave the country.

A charter flight that was due to fly into Tripoli today was also hampered by bad weather. That flight is expected Friday.

Read the whole thing here.

My understanding is that the chartered boat has a capacity of 500 passengers. Not clear how many of the numbers above are private Americans.

Local weather forecast for Tripoli indicates cloudy weather but strong winds for the next three days. I hope its good enough to sail to Valletta.