Friday, May 09, 2014

Strategic Assessment

The letter to the editor below from Joaquin Perez is very instructive. He discusses possible theories regarding the military buildup as currently proposed, drawing attention to possible connections between elements which people may not be noticing. One suggestion he makes is that perhaps the identifying of Litekyan as the location for a new firing range safety danger zone, could possibly be a tricky ploy to get Pagat, a place once taken off the table, back on the table. Technically Pagat is still on the table and is still a site the DOD designates for their firing range, but the popular opinion feels that it is no longer an option, the movement to save it was successful.

Perez's article begs several questions that are important and need to be considered. Key amongst them in terms of resisting or countering or challenging is how should we interpret the military as an institution, in what way, through what level of consistency, efficiency or power should we see it? With Perez's theories in mind it becomes necessary to think clearly about how people like me should position the military in terms of its strategic capabilities, and in terms of its ability to play the game of hegemony and discursive domination. Para Guahu, I am always torn over the US military and how to perceive it. There are some moments where the military plans 30 years advance, and it is this long-view, long-term, patient and methodical dimension that Perez is alluding to. But then there are some moments where it seems clear that the DOD cannot seem something that is standing in front of it, and that is can also cloud its own vision to deny something that is so painful obvious, but might require a changing of course or a reevaluation of action.

If you imagine the military to be a chess champion, where the different parts of it can coalesce together to imagine the longer war of ideas and policies, and have the ability to plan for something a generation or two ahead, than what Perez is hinting at is very possible. It is important to remember although so many forget, that the discussion of US troops out of Okinawa has been going on for decades, since the 1970s. The Guam Doctrine and the signing of the CNMI Covenant are both moments from long ago, directly tied to the moving of US troops out of Okinawa into somewhere closer to home.

But at the same time, if we look at the hasty and haphazard and taihinasso way the buildup plans were thrown together just a few years ago, we can see how the DOD doesn't necessarily have the unity and the cohesiveness that we might assume. Part of the problem of the buildup, even as just as idea and nothing actually connected to the island, was that it could not survive very well from one election to the next. What started as a DOD fantasy under Bush, became very different under Obama. In just a few years even the position of so many different parts of the the Federal government became divided over Guam and the buildup. The military itself struggled with the buildup since it was originally conceived of as not a strategic solution but a political solution aimed at relieving the stress of what has been known as "The Okinawan Problem," or what to do with the bases in Okinawa.

People often focus on a type of moral judgement or estimate of something like DOD and while that can flavor the type of interventions or ideological approaches you take, it does not hold as much importance in terms of developing strategies as the simple determination of capability. This is such an important initial point that you need to start with, because it can and should affect everything that comes after. But you have to be cautious about not letting the moral judgements you make skew your perceptions towards viewing DOD through the extremes of monolithic, unassailable powerhouse or bureaucratic, mindless, hopeless maze of pointlessness. This assessment has to be as objective as you can make it, so that you do not give too much credit, too much power, or too little respect and too little apprehension to those who you are seeking to counter.


Joaquin Perez
Letter to the Editor
Guam PDN

The stealthy introduction of H.R. 4402, the rush through an expedited hearing, with only federal officials testifying, has given rise to some serious questions. The rush to append H.R. 4402 to the National Defense Authorization Act puts to shame some of the hush-and-rush riders of the Guam Legislature over the years.

So who learned from who?

There is no question that there will be some economic benefits to Guam. As to how much and for how long, I doubt that anyone has even attempted believable research beyond glossy media releases of how much Congress has appropriated and the size of Guam military construction contracts.
During the buildup, there will be a lot of activity. Construction work will require substantial funding, the bulk will go to off-island companies, with some to be portioned out to local sub-contractors.

Reminds one of Marie Antoinette's pronouncements on feeding the masses before she was rudely guillotined.

In the beginning, there will be many construction-related jobs. How long these jobs will last and will they go to people whose permanent home is Guam are other questions.

After construction, economic benefits will continue but at slower paces. If the Department of Defense can be trusted to be honest about rotational troops, Section 30 funds will be boosted. Notwithstanding all the fanfare about pennies from heaven, what are the real costs -- beyond the dollar signs -- and should the people of Guam turn their umbrellas upside down?

In 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced: the Guam relocation is feasible; and could be accomplished within the existing military footprint with no need to acquire more land. With that pronouncement, support for the buildup, despite unaddressed issues and problems, was high, possibly even exceeding the support given the military buildup after World War II.

In 2014, Guam's business community still eagerly awaits the anticipated economic growth. Projections of spending invited multinational firms to the island. GovGuam financial planners quickly allocated anticipated tax revenues, mostly to debt service.

Some speculate that if Rumsfeld's pronouncements had remained true, the buildup could have proceeded with little opposition. However, support for the buildup waned at the announcement that over 1,000 acres of additional land, devouring an ancient Chamorro village, would be condemned for a live firing range. Among many of Guam's intelligent young minds, the question quickly became should the buildup be supported at any cost. What will the ultimate price be, not only as measured in dollars?

In this vein, what are the real purposes of H.R. 4402? Was it assumed that Fish and Wildlife, the Sierra Club and other conservationists would simply play dead on the issues, giving the Secretary of the Navy the authority to shut down the Ritidian area to people but still exposing Guam's last colony of 60 fanihi to total destruction?

Or was H.R. 4402 conjured up by deviant minds, creating a firestorm over Ritidian, knowing that Fish and Wildlife, the Sierra Club and other will not roll over -- so Pågat again suddenly becomes the only suitable alternative?

Again, the question: What price the buildup? Wise men note that if we do not learn from the past, history will repeat itself. If we did not learn anything from the re-occupation of Guam and the land takings between 1945 and 1960, then it will happen again.

If you are happy and can live with that, then by all means support the buildup. But if there are any lingering questions, then they should be answered, not only by our leaders, but in our individual minds and hearts.

In this vein, I am wrestling with whether the buildup is really as good as some would have us believe.

Joaquin P. Perez is a resident of Santa Rita.

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