Philippines Retreats, US Reacts

Two years ago, President Bush hailed the president of the Philippines as a "close" friend and "stalwart" ally in the war on terrorism. Those adjectives, however, may not survive this week's final withdrawal from Iraq of a small Filipino peacekeeping contingent.

The US is reexamining relations with Manila after President Gloria Arroyo agreed to the early withdrawal in order to meet the demand of Iraqi insurgents threatening to kill a Filipino hostage.

Just as Spain withdrew its forces from Iraq after terrorist train bombings in Madrid forced a change of government there, the Philippines now becomes another weak link in Mr. Bush's antiterrorism coalition.

Ms. Arroyo's decision, like Spain's, sends a signal to terrorists that other US allies, or even the US itself, might buckle to their demands. That's the wrong message to send, especially before the US election in November.

Arroyo, however, faced immense domestic pressure to save the hostage. The Philippines' first priority is the safety of millions of Filipinos working abroad, many in the Middle East. In addition, Arroyo needs to shore up political support for making tough economic reforms after being recently reelected by a slim margin.

US ire at her shouldn't be too strong. The two governments are trying to capture Al Qaeda-linked militants in the southern Philippines. But then, without some US opprobrium, other antiterrorist allies, such as South Korea, might also pull out of Iraq.

Bush's warning to other nations after Sept. 11 that they are either "with us or against us" in fighting terrorists has since become fuzzy. The US has had to make certain allowances for many countries where leaders who want to support US actions also face difficult domestic opposition. The US cannot risk its overall security alliances in Asia and Europe by pushing too hard when an ally fails US expectations.

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