Marcos and Morality

Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy

by Raymond Bonner
Times Books, 533 pp., $19.95

Raymond Bonner, an ex–Marine Corps officer, worked for Ralph Nader, wrote an indictment of US policy in El Salvador, and annoyed his boss at The New York Times for being too sympathetic to the Sandinistas. He has been consistent and courageous in his idealism. Inside his book are photographs of some of his principal villains. There are Ronald Reagan, looking like an aging hairdresser, Richard Nixon, grinning awkwardly like a parent at a teen-age dance, Henry Kissinger, like your friendly delicatessen owner, all three in Filipino shirts dancing with the evil princess, Imelda Marcos. There are Meldy and Ferdie warbling a pop song into a microphone belonging to “Jessie’s Light and Sound System.” There is George Shultz, like a dancing bear with flowers around his neck, kissing the evil princess, and then US Ambassador Armacost (“Ourmarcos”) shaking hands with the dictator. Across a White House table from the evil princess sits Jimmy Carter’s assistant secretary of state Richard Holbrooke, with the eager beam in his eye of the best kid in class, no doubt crushing human rights policies under his shiny brogues.

For Bonner the only admirable person in this unholy gallery (if we exclude the holy Cory Aquino) is Patricia “Patt” Derian, assistant secretary of state for human rights during the Carter administration and the implacable foe of Holbrooke. Bonner describes her as “tall and bearing a slight resemblance to the actress Lily Tomlin…. She treated dictators and strongmen, even if they were heads of state, with all the respect she would have shown a redneck southern sheriff.” This is meant as a compliment. But it might lead one to think that she saw the world as if it were all part of America. Her responsibility during the Carter campaign was apparently “liberals, intellectuals, and attitudes.” Bonner’s book, though ostensibly about the Philippines, tells us a great deal about the attitudes of American liberal intellectuals.

Bonner is a moralist, which is both admirable and a problem in his book, for he is given to adopting a consistent tone of outrage, which makes his analysis of American foreign policy predictable and in many ways unsatisfactory. How much morality to inject into foreign relations is of course a subject of ceaseless debate. Bonner quotes George Kennan with implicit disapproval as the typical exponent of Realpolitik:

We should dispense with the aspiration to “be liked” or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded international altruism. We should stop putting ourselves in the position of being our brothers’ keeper and refrain from offering moral and ideological advice. We should cease to talk about vague and—for the Far East—unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

This statement, written in 1948, was a rather sweeping variation (in the Philippines, for example, democracy was not an…

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