Sunday, May 13, 2007

Does Singapore gain from America’s pain?

Scholarboy and Astroboy have at The Intelligent Singaporean discussed what went wrong with the US-led war in Iraq, prefacing with a recent statement from PM Lee espousing Singapore's support for US efforts in Iraq.

Many a book (and blog) has been written on the US' decision to invade Iraq and continued engagement.  One can blame CIA's intelligence failures, Bush's personal or political motives, but ultimately, it appears that any rational reasons for going to war (if they exist) probably remain hidden deep within the archives of an intelligence agency somewhere.  Supporting the continuation of the US campaign in Iraq has done is also challenging and hugely unpopular.   

Yet PM Lee did.  Why?  

Less charitable commentators attribute this to simple diplomatic bootlicking.  

Scholarboy and Astroboy claimed their piece would "explore what long and disturbing shadows the Iraqi campaign will cast against countries in South East Asia" (although I see no such discussion).  

Perhaps they are concerned that Singapore's support for US foreign policy could one day hurt Singapore.  We may be ostracised by our Muslim neighbours, or attacked by Islamic militants.  

One could also argue that the democrats, who have taken over Congress, would also soon take over the White House, and such posturing would then count for naught.

Perhaps.  But does US' continued engagement in Iraq hold any benefits for Singapore?

One. Security.  As PM Lee mentioned, Southeast Asia's security will be affected if if US were to leave Iraq.  The reason is simple.  One extra jihadist in Iraq or the Middle East means one less in Southeast Asia.  Some would argue that the Iraqi campaign *breeds* extremists but we should remember that it was *success* in driving the Russians from Afghanistan that gave rise to Osama bin Laden and his cohort of terrorists.   The Iranian revolution in the late 1970s also won new converts the Shii cause.  Basically, if the extremists *fail* in Iraq, no one would join their cause; if they succeed, we are doomed.   

Two. Oil.  US interest in the Middle East provides a geo-political check-and-balance in the region and beyond.  Peace does not come easily to the Middle East and some stability is needed to ensure that the rest of the world is able to get the black gold that is fuelling development everywhere else.  As a net importer, the Singapore economy gets screwed every time the price of oil increases.  Until feasible alternative energy sources are available, we have a vested interest in the US' continued presence in Iraq & the ME.

Three. ASEAN.  US foreign policy is currently low on the popularity stakes even amongst it traditional allies.  But this provides a window of opportunity where new friends will find easier acceptance.  I'm not just talking about Singapore, but more of ASEAN as a whole.  PM Lee's efforts in engaging US interest in the region and Southeast Asia betrays a diplomatic marketing strategy that Singapore Inc. planners know only too well.  US' continued interest – politically and economically – in this region is a prerequisite for ASEAN countries' development, and for Singapore's survival within and outside this region.

The lesson to be learnt is that everyone says (and does) what is in their own best interests, not just because something sounds morally right or clever.

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