Beware of US' influence operations, too

When I read the articles on China's charm offensive to win friends, and retired diplomat Bilahari Kausikan's words of caution about China's "influence operations", I thought the same sentiments could also be applied to the United States (Beijing spent $65b on charm offensive to win friends: US study; and S'poreans should be aware of China's influence ops: Bilahari; both published on June 28).

The US spends no less than China on military and economic aid and engages no less in influence operations, including direct intervention, like in the 1953 Iranian coup d'etat, the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, to name a few.

It is easy for a Western-educated person like me to instinctively side with the US, having been brought up on Enid Blyton books and Walt Disney shows (and later on Time magazine). Certainly, the US was on the right side of history in World War II against military aggression and in the Cold War against communism.

But that historical gratitude, combined with a linguistic and cultural affinity, can numb our critical evaluation of the US' objectives and methods in global diplomacy in today's context.

US President Donald Trump, through tweets and policies, has managed to lift the veil.

I no longer see the US as this benign big friendly giant deserving of the benefit of my doubt, but as a giant like all other giants - something to be wary of because it thinks only of its own interests and plays by its own rules.

So I agree with Mr Kausikan that we need to be wary of China's influence operations on Singapore and the nations around us.

But we should not give the US a free pass on this either.

Jacob Tan Teck Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2018, with the headline 'Beware of US' influence operations, too'. Print Edition | Subscribe