Sunday, March 07, 2010

Buildup/Breakdown #13: Webbslinger

One of the most frustrating things about being a liberal or a progressive person from Guam is that the only people in Washington D.C. who tend to know anything about Guam are "hawks." Although people on Guam may see their struggle for decolonization or demilitarization as being something liberals would see as part of their agenda, as part of their ideological struggle to make the US or the world a better place, this is rarely the case. Guam is primarily to the United States, and by this, I mean nearly all ideological pockets in the United States, defined through its strategic importance and the fact that it has two US military bases there.

What this means, is that even though you may want to reach out to the progressive side of the US Government or ideological spectrum when advocating on behalf of Guam, the only ears that tend to hear any of these cries or even have some background in order to understand them are thsoe who are lords of war or lobbyists for militarism and the military industrial complex. Within Washington D.C. there were for decades only three segments of political life there for whom Guam meant anything. First, former soldiers, most prominently those who fought in World War II in the Pacific, and to a lesser extent those who might have been stationed in Guam after World War II. According to Robert Underwood (who is the second most quoted person on this blog after Sumahi), the incredible successes that Guam's first non-voting delegate to Congress from Guam Antonio Won Pat in terms of getting legislation passed for Guam, despite his minute physical and political status, was because he served in Congress with a generation of politicians for whom Guam had a special status as one of those World War II battlegrounds.

Second, politicians who served on committees or subcommittees which were in charge of or responsible for the US territories, which in both the House and the Senate also deal with Natural Resources. In the House, a small circle of power has been made with the non-voting delegates and also the last two states admitted to the US union, Hawai'i and Alaska, who try to support each other as much as possible.

And lastly, we find those who are in the pockets of the military industrial complex or who actively work to protect its existing power over the United States government and even expand it further. They have close ties to defense contractors, and can work for them before they enter politics and once they leave as well. They promote militarism not just as a strategy or a tactic, but as a philosophy of life. Because Guam is such a key chess piece in the game through which they see the world, it is always in some way on their radar. They may not have decent knowledge or information about it, but its always in their mind. After all, in their minds the world is full of America's enemies, those who wish to see it destroyed or those who wish to see it equal with the rest of the world, and as such Guam is a crucial spear tip, just laying across the edge of Asia waiting to be used in defense of the United States.

This isn't to say that those interested in peace and justice on Guam shouldn't try to reach out to those communities in the states or in Washington D.C., in fact some small efforts have been made and are being made to increase the visibility and presence of Guam on those front. But I only say this to remind people that just because you may assume that people like Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama or Patrick Leahy may be on your side because of how you hear them talk about torture, Iraq or peace, means almost nothing in terms of how they might conceive of Guam in their ideological universe. Despite any political differences that someone on the left or the right in the US might have, they tend to be united around certain principles such as US exceptionalism and therefore while they may see Guam as unique and interesting it is still something which belongs to the United States. This is particularly true with regards to decolonization, since no politician in the US would ever be on record openly supporting a place such as Guam be given, even the slightest chance at becoming independent from the US. The lure of American exceptionalism and awesomeness is just too great and too potent to even appear to be against, and so self-determination for any of the US territories is so fragile and difficult at times since although it may be rhetorically support at time in small ways, it is never given any robust support for that precise fear of reshaping the existing imagined borders of the US.

My reason for writing this post is due to the fact that last month, one of those hawks came through for a visit to Guam on his way to Japan. Virginia Senator Jim Webb was on Guam briefly, met with local leaders and was interviewed by the press and had some very interesting things to say. Webb is not your generic Washington D.C. hawk however, as he actually lived on Guam in the 1970's and worked for Governor Bordallo during his first term. He had prepared a report on Guam land use for GovGuam in 1974, which had some serious relevance to current issues on Guam, in particular with the military proposing it acquire at the most 2300 more acres for its use.

After returning to Washington D.C. he released a statement which has given alot of people concerned about the buildup hope that it will either be stopped or slowed down. I think that the example of Webb's visit can remind us that although someone like him may not be on our side in terms of decolonization or demilitarization, but they can nonetheless be our ally in both ways they do and do not understand. While Webb is an ally of Guam in terms of making a statement such as the one below and also vowing to work to ensure that Guam benefits from the buildup and that it is a true partnership, he is also a potential ally in a way he might not perceive. His statement represents yet another potential breakdown in this buildup, another potential snag, another sign that the unity and "doneness" of this buildup might be more fiction than fact.

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U.S. Senator Webb: “Proper Reengagement in Asia Requires a Strong Alliance with Japan, a Strong Relationship with the People of Guam”

February 19, 2010

Washington, DC— U.S. Senator Jim Webb, who chairs the Senate Committee on Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee and the Committee on Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, issued the following statement upon completion of a week-long visit to Japan and Guam:

“Over the past week I visited Tokyo, Okinawa and Guam to examine the realignment of U.S. military forces in Asia and listen to the people involved in this issue. At the heart of this issue is the future of our national strategy, the health of our most important alliance in Asia, and the contributions of our U.S. military and civilians to our national interest.

“From our nation’s founding, the United States has developed strong relationships in Asia resulting in regional economic opportunity and the advancement of democratic values. Nowhere in the world do the interests of so many great powers coincide, including the direct interests of Russia, China, Japan, and the United States. Our country is the key to stability in this region. The success of our relationships is guaranteed by the stability our military forces provide, and by our continuing close alliance with Japan.

“I have heard sincere rhetoric from the Obama administration about reengaging Asia and its importance to our national interest. Reengagement is necessary, but it must include all military, economic, and political stakeholders. We cannot reengage properly in Asia without a strong alliance with Japan and without a strong relationship with the people of Guam. It was for this reason that I first began writing about the strategic importance of Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands in 1972, and that I worked as a defense planner here on Guam in 1973 and 1974, calling even at that time for a military realignment similar to what is now taking place.

“I have come away from this most recent trip with four primary observations.

“First, in recent months, there has been concern in Asia and in the United States regarding the value and the strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance. In particular, questions surrounding the change in Japan’s government and campaign rhetoric raised concerns that leaders in Japan may seek to reshape the fundamental structure of our relationship. The meetings I held in Tokyo with the Japanese government, including Foreign Minister Okada and Defense Minister Kitazawa, reaffirmed my belief that both sides recognize the benefits of our partnership and remain committed to the alliance.

“Second, at this time, we are waiting for the Japanese government to make its own determination on the relocation the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station within Okinawa—a move that appears to be a precursor for the streamlining of U.S. bases on the island and a realignment of U.S. forces in the region. The Government of Japan has stated that it will issue a decision by May 2010. Until then, we cannot move forward on the relocation of bases outside of highly populated areas in the southern part of Okinawa, as well as the relocation of 8,000 Marines to Guam.

“As we wait for a decision from the Japanese government, I am concerned that we are not realistically discussing the timeline needed to implement this relocation plan for Okinawa and Guam. The agreement to relocate forces indicates a 2014 deadline for completion of this plan—a date that has raised a lot of fears in Okinawa and Guam about how such a move can take plan when we remain at a deadlock in 2010. We need a more open discussion from civilian and military leaders on what is realistically achievable by 2014 so that the people on Okinawa and Guam can begin to make practical steps in preparation for these changes.

“Third, I strongly believe that this relocation plan is a win-win-win, for the U.S.-Japan alliance, the people of Okinawa, and the people of Guam. In particular, this plan for repositioning forces allows for a nearly 50 percent reduction of the Marine Corps forward presence on Okinawa. Done properly and with adequate time to prepare, this relocation can strengthen our position in Asia, relieve concerns of the civilian populations affected by this move, and allow the U.S. Marine Corps to retain vital assets and capabilities in the region.

“That said, I still have significant questions about the plan to implement this restructuring in Guam and would like to make clear that the U.S. government has an obligation to make sure that these changes do not place undue stress on the people of Guam. Specifically, the U.S. government should recognize the needs and sensitivities of the people and the limitations of space on the island. The U.S. military occupies or retains over one-third of the island’s territory, and I do not believe that additional lands should be acquired. If they must be acquired out of a national security interest, the U.S. government out of respect for the people of Guam should seek private arrangements for use of the land and not exercise its right of eminent domain.

“The U.S. military has been very careful to present well-reasoned plans to meet the needs of the expected 8,000 Marines, but I have great concerns about the intentions to place live-fire ranges on Guam for Marine Corps training. After visiting the islands of Saipan and Tinian in the Northern Marianas, I believe we can be doing more for the Marine Corps on Tinian, and we should consider expanding our plans for training there. Overall, we must make sure that the footprint of the incoming Marines fits Guam.

“Fourth, and finally, if the United States remains committed to an active forward presence in Asia, and an increased U.S. military presence on Guam, then it must demonstrate that commitment by providing the civilian infrastructure and services needed to support an increased population on the island. The priorities include port modernization, water acquisition, wastewater treatment, healthcare, and schools. The military commitment to this buildup is evident. This year, the U.S. military will spend $700 million in preparation for the buildup. In contrast, the civilian government on Guam will benefit from $51 million in federal assistance in military construction projects to prepare for the buildup.

“Just this week the government on Guam was turned down for a $50 million Department of Transportation grant to upgrade the island’s port facilities. I have already called on President Obama to fund this port project with funds from the remaining $150 billion in as-yet unobligated appropriations from last year’s stimulus package. Upon my return, I also intend to discuss the needs of Guam with Senator Inouye, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and to work with his office to find other funds to support the civilian contribution to this buildup. If we expand our military presence on Guam, we need to recognize the economic and cultural stress it will place on the island’s population and fund this buildup accordingly.

“But this is not just a Guam issue. It is an issue of national strategy. If we declare a commitment to remaining a vital partner in Asia, we must properly engage the region. Our forward military presence, coupled with the strength of our values and economy, provide a platform for this endeavor.”


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U.S. SENATOR SIDES WITH GUAM ON MILITARY BUILDUP
Opposes land grab, urges Washington to fund port upgrade

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno
HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Guam PDN, Feb. 24, 2010) – U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, fresh from his Guam visit, issued a statement from his office in Washington, D.C., that the United States government has an obligation to make sure that military-buildup-related changes "do not place undue stress on the people of Guam."

"Specifically, the U.S. government should recognize the needs and sensitivities of the people and the limitations of space on the island," according to Webb’s Feb. 19 statement. "The U.S. military occupies or retains over one-third of the island’s territory, and I do not believe that additional lands should be acquired.

"If they must be acquired out of a national security interest, the U.S. government out of respect for the people of Guam should seek private arrangements for use of the land and not exercise its right of eminent domain," according to Webb.

Webb is chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee and the Committee on Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee.

The senator said the federal government needs "to recognize the economic and cultural stress it will place on the island’s population and fund this buildup accordingly."

"But this is not just a Guam issue. It is an issue of national strategy."

This year, the U.S. military will spend US$700 million in preparation for the buildup on Guam. In contrast, the civilian government on Guam will benefit from US$51 million in federal assistance in military construction projects to prepare for the buildup, according to Webb.

He mentioned the Transportation Department turned down a Guam application for about US$50 million in economic stimulus funding to help the island’s port pay for upgrades to make room for the buildup.

"I have already called on President Obama to fund this port project," according to Webb.

Webb added until Japan decides in May how to proceed with the relocation of U.S. troops in the middle of an Okinawan city, "we cannot move forward on the relocation of bases outside of highly populated areas in the southern part of Okinawa, as well as the relocation of 8,000 Marines to Guam."

"As we wait for a decision from the Japanese government, I am concerned that we are not realistically discussing the timeline needed to implement this relocation plan for Okinawa and Guam. The agreement to relocate forces indicates a 2014 deadline for completion of this plan--a date that has raised a lot of fears in Okinawa and Guam about how such a move can take plan when we remain at a deadlock in 2010." according to Webb.

"We need a more open discussion from civilian and military leaders on what is realistically achievable by 2014 so that the people on Okinawa and Guam can begin to make practical steps in preparation for these changes."

He also suggested Tinian in the Northern Marianas might have room for a Marine firing range instead of Guam.

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