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Greg B. Macabenta

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It seems that only President Donald Trump has a clear-cut — or, at least, unfuzzy — attitude towards the slaughter and reported dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist of Washington Post,allegedly on orders of Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Kashoggi was last seen alive entering the Saudi embassy in Istanbul and, according to the CIA, was killed, cut up and disposed of on orders, or at least, with the full knowledge, of the crown prince.

Trump thinks that friendly relations with the Saudis, which translate into billions of dollars for America in arms purchases and investments, are more important to US interests than the grisly killing of a US resident who wasn’t an American citizen, anyway.

In fact, it is debatable whether US citizenship would have mattered to Trump, when weighed against the “benefits” that come with being a close ally of the Saudis, not to mention the repercussions of upsetting the cozy relationship.

American media and leaders on Capitol Hill, both Democrats and Republicans, have expressed grave concern over the killing and Trump’s nonchalant attitude, stressing that it besmirches the reputation of the US as a champion of justice and human rights.

Pragmatic observers say, Trump is simply practicing realpolitik. They also candidly add that if the Kashoggi killing were not so high profile and such fertile political and media fodder,American officialdom would have turned a blind eye to it.


The fact is that the US and other Western governments have routinely ignored Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses for decades. But the Kashoggi killing leaves them caught between maintaining their moral ascendancy and protecting their economic, political and military interests. Trump, on the other hand, has no such problem, being unprincipled and amoral.

In other words, Trump is the perfect practitioner of realpolitik, a German term which is defined as “politics or diplomacy based primarily on considerations of given circumstances and factors, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral and ethical premises.”

A less esoteric — that is, moregarapalor brazen — illustration of realpolitik was reportedly expressed by a former Philippine secretary of foreign affairs, as follows: “If rape is inevitable, just lie back and enjoy it.”

This view of realpolitik appears to be the attitude of President Rodrigo Duterte in his relations with China, specifically in connection with the South China and the issue of Philippine territorial claims over parts of the area.

The recent state visit to Manila of Chinese President Xi Jinping is said to have resulted in an agreement to jointly exploit the wealth of oil and gas resources in what is considered Philippine territory. Along with that are expectations of expanded trade, direct investments, development loans and technical assistance.

Duterte has repeatedly pointed out the futility of going to war with China or even protesting China’s intrusion into territory claimed by the Philippines. He has admitted helplessness in the face of China’s encroachment, and has decided to apply realpolitik.

Xi Jinping and Rodrigo Duterte
President Rodrigo R. Duterte with Chinese President Xi Jinping. — PHILIPPINE STAR/KRIZJOHN ROSALES

In other words, allow the virtual rape and just “lie back and enjoy it.” And benefit from it. Thus, the joint exploration of natural resources and the loans and economic deals.

Some critics have warned that China’s designs go beyond joint exploration of resources. Former national security adviser Norberto Gonzales has even warned against a Chinese invasion of the Philippines.

In a news report, Gonzales “cited the building of Chinese defense bases right inside Philippine territory” and suggested that the Philippines “should prepare to be invaded by China.”

“Within hours,” Gonzales was quoted, “the Chinese can destroy most of the country’s defense facilities and probably some of our cities.”

Urging the government to “devise a contingency plan against a Chinese attack,” Gonzales added that “China does not have a history of invading other countries, but it is not averse to using military might to settle territorial conflicts.”

In this regard, Gonzales may want to consult Wikipedia to check out China’s history of invading neighboring countries like Korea and Vietnam, or he might want to consult his friends in the CIA to be reassured that the US will not allow that to happen to protect American interests.

At any rate, Duterte’s apologists and economic managers have pointed out the harsh reality that the Philippines does not have the financial and technological capability to exploit the natural resources and build the infrastructure required for national development.

“We will still need foreign investments, anyway,” they rationalize, “whether from the US or other countries. So why not China?”

Yes, indeed. Why not China? Didn’t China just sign a 99-year lease with Sri Lanka for control of the latter’s Hambatota Port, in order to pay off a loan? That was the only way the poor Sri Lankans could settle the IOU.

Are Duterte and his economic geniuses not concerned that they could be signing an IOU with the Philippines as collateral? Oh, but then, Duterte and these geniuses may be long dead when China decides to collect.

That’s realpolitik for you.

I had my introduction to realpolitik in my first ad agency job. I had refused to give in to a “request” of our biggest client that his girlfriend be made a star of a radio show that I was writing and directing. I protested that it was a matter of principle for me. I did not think that the client’s girlfriend was in the same category as the regular stars of the show.

My boss patiently explained that, while it was ideal for me to see things as either black or white, I needed to realize that in business, there was such a color as gray.


Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.