Conducting drone strikes in the Philippines, however, would be a serious mistake.
The strikes would further erode America’s moral credibility by putting American firepower in service to a thuggish regime. Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ president, has boasted about personally carrying out extrajudicial killings during his time as a mayor. The killings have grown with his political power. Amnesty International reports that Duterte has approved thousands of extrajudicial killings since he assumed the presidency.
There is also good reason to suspect that Duterte is an unreliable partner who will seek to use American support for his own ends. History provides example after example of the United States trying to work through corrupt, incompetent or simply evil regimes. The results, from the Vietnam War to the present, have almost always been problematic. Given Duterte’s track record, there is legitimate concern that he will direct U.S. Hellfire missiles and precision‐guided bombs against his political opponents or other targets of opportunity rather than terrorists. The United States would share responsibility for any deaths from those crimes.
Nor does the threat from Filipino jihadists justify these sorts of risks. A few months after 9/11, the United States sent military forces into the southern Philippines. At that time, the terrorist groups included the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiyah — organizations generally composed of Muslim separatists demanding autonomy for the Moro population. While the names have changed, terrorism remains a constant.