Broader outreach to the Philippine people is necessary as well. Sending Navy ships on humanitarian missions has built goodwill elsewhere in Southeast Asia, and can provide services badly needed in the disaster-prone archipelago. Continued counterterrorism cooperation on the relatively unstable island of Mindanao should take place alongside development initiatives -- already funded through the Millennium Challenge Compact -- designed to reduce corruption, expand trade, and increase growth. To signal its understanding of Philippine priorities and interests, the United States could also support efforts to protect overseas Filipino workers from abuse and exploitation by highlighting the issue in a prominent international forum. (That's also smart domestic politics for any politician interested in electoral support from three and a half million Filipino-Americans.) The alliance will be more stable if the relationship is based on these kinds of activities, rather than just confrontation with China.
At the same time, the Obama administration must avoid the impression that it's giving the Philippine military a free hand for adventurism abroad or repression at home. Keeping military assistance tightly focused will reduce the risk that U.S. backing is perceived as a green light for provocative behavior in disputed waters. That's also why the United States should continue to support multilateral efforts to resolve the South China Sea disputes -- an approach that not only maximizes the leverage of smaller states who are each individually disadvantaged in a bilateral head-to-head with Beijing, but minimizes the chance that a country like the Philippines challenges China and drags the United States into a dispute it should have avoided. Moreover, to avoid the domestic blowback that followed the Marcos era, the United States should establish clear standards of accountability with regard to human rights, and condition any security force assistance accordingly. These efforts may temporarily rein in the alliance's scope, but a limited alliance on a fundamentally sound basis is preferable to overreaching and then either falling flat, or getting trapped in an unanticipated and unnecessary crisis.
The United States should not miss its current window of opportunity to reshape relations with the Philippines. But just as policymakers are right to think through how America can best support its Philippine ally, they need to ensure that the alliance advances American interests as well. The pivot to Asia cannot hinge on reckless allies. The past week's events demonstrate just how critical it is for the United States to get this alliance right.