Filipinos Out of Iraq: Shame or Celebration?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," July 20, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Yippy! Family and friends of Angel de la Cruz (search). He's the hostage released by terrorists in Iraq after the Filipino government gave in to hostage taker demands and pulled their troops out of Iraq.

Robert Hunter was U.S. Ambassador to NATO under President Clinton (search). Today's big question, Mr. Ambassador: Should the Filipinos celebrate or hide their heads in shame?

ROBERT HUNTER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, I think any time you give into terrorists like this, that's bad news, bad news for everybody. The question is how bad is the news and that we don't actually know until we have some better idea of what they're trying to achieve.

In some ways going after one of the minor players, the Filipinos, demonstrates they can't go after the major players. They can't stop the United States from being there, they can't stop Britain from being there, and, frankly, so far, the terrorists haven't been able to stop the new interim government. So, picking off the Filipinos like this is bad news, but it's not necessarily something that's going to help the terrorists in the long term.

GIBSON: Right. Now, you know, the United States has not taken the public position that, or the government hasn't anyway, that maybe a lot of people on the street would, which is: 51 Filipino troops in Iraq. They go home. Who cares?

HUNTER: Well, I think one has to care if this sets a precedent for other countries. And not just about what happens if other countries leave -- which is more symbolic than substantive if it's just the minor players - - it's what happens later on when we, the United States, are reaching out to NATO (search) allies and others and asking them to come into Iraq to help relieve some of our burden, and, frankly to help show the interim government in Iraq that there's even more support to help them with the security problems than they have today.

This is the real problem if it discourages others from coming into the country.

GIBSON: Well, but there's a flip side to that, isn't there, Mr. Ambassador? I mean, let's just say you're in the meeting with the secretary of defense and the vice president and president are talking about this. Somebody says, "OK. The Filipinos are going to come in and help us." You know, just to name them. Doesn't somebody speak up and say, "Don't let them. They're weak, they'll fall apart, they'll cave the first time a truck driver gets taken?"

I mean, don't we now look at potential allies in Iraq and measure whether they're strong enough to stand up to guys in masks?

HUNTER: Well, in the first place, we got a lot of countries like the Philippines and most of the rest of them in order it try to demonstrate to the world, to the American people, to the people in Iraq, that we had a lot of people in the coalition. The serious countries that we want, beginning with ourselves, the British, some of the Europeans, are not likely to be deterred in the same way. And, frankly, you want to pick and choose those allies you get who are going to be resolute, who are going to stay there, are going to stay the course.

GIBSON: Well, I guess so this begs the question. As we ask for allies, particularly NATO allies -- are we, the United States, in a big hurry to accept just anybody, or do we now look and say, "Do we have a Spain or a Philippines on our hands here?"

HUNTER: Well, we're not looking at anybody to come in right now. The real concern with the NATO allies is to get training done of the local Iraqis. You see, part of what the terrorists are doing is they recognize that they don't have time on their side. Every week that goes on with the Iraqi government being able to hang in there; every week that goes on with the Americans, the British, and the others not being deterred, not being driven away, means that the base of the terrorists is being eroded.

They're looking for the kind of high posture. They're looking for the international symbol for the things on television. But every week they don't drive people away, every week they aren't able to undercut the government is another week in which their position is weakened. So, we stay the course, I think these people are going to find they just don't have it. These terrorists just don't have it.

GIBSON: Robert Hunter, U.S. Ambassador to NATO in the Clinton administration. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.

HUNTER: Thank you.

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