U.S. SENATOR John McCain's outburst yesterday against military spending on Guam is the latest monkey wrench thrown into the Guam buildup plans.
McCain has long been advocating spending cuts in Congress to help the federal government manage its $14.7 trillion national debt.
His latest rant was in fact related to the U.S. Senate appropriations committee's passage of a $20 billion spending package that he claims the armed services committee never authorized.
But what's remarkable about McCain's flare-up was that he actually singled out Guam's relatively tiny $33 million appropriation passed recently for military spending on the island. What's $33 million? That's just a drop in the bucket in the military's multi-billion dollar budget. If anything, our island should be getting more given Guam's strategic importance.
What's even more infuriating is McCain's mocking tone, which shows his total contempt and lack of respect for Guam.
"The $33 million dollars is going to purchase school buses, build a mental health substance facility, and a repository for cultural artifacts. I am not making that up,” McCain said.
Not making that up? Sen. McCain, don't you think Guam is deserving of such “purchases” since your military already controls a third of the island's total land area?
McCain should know better that Guam has a vital role in America's national security since he himself was part of the military personnel who served in Vietnam and used Guam as a staging area. He probably even spent some time in Guam's bases during his tour of duty. Thus, he should know the large impact the military's stay here has on the island's fragile socio-economic systems.
And yet he was part of the troika, along with senators Carl Levin and Jim Webb, who led the move to freeze the Guam buildup funding in the Senate’s 2012 Defense Authorization bill.
But wait, McCain's disrespect towards Guam continues. "Now I know the Marines will enjoy being on Guam. I’m not sure it’s absolutely necessary for them to have a repository for cultural artifacts,” McCain said sneeringly.
It will be recalled that this “repository for cultural artifacts” was one of the “concessions” (if it can even be called that) which the Navy agreed to in order to secure the controversial Pågat firing range a few months back.
With McCain heaping ridicule on this cultural repository, perhaps it is time to re-examine the Pågat issue once more. Clearly, McCain is blind to the cultural sensitivity of the issue.
Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo is understandably miffed as she should be. In a statement released shortly after McCain's remarks on the Senate floor, Bordallo said McCain’s views are out of step with the Department of Defense, the House, and the State Department, “and they are not consistent with his previous stance on infrastructure funding for Guam.”
Bordallo also rightly pointed out that the $33 million addresses critical civilian infrastructure needs and provides funding for the Department of the Navy to fulfill certain obligations agreed to in the Programmatic Agreement.
In other words, the $33 million is not a handout but an obligation that the U.S. government must fulfill, and even add to, given the buildup's potential adverse impact on Guam infrastructure.
Perhaps McCain never got over the fact that Obama won over him overwhelmingly in the Guam straw vote conducted during the 2008 U.S. presidential election. With McCain's disdainful attitude towards Guam, Chamorros in the mainland should organize and mount a lobby against the senator from Arizona. They may not represent a big voting bloc, but they can make enough noise to let Sen. McCain know what Guam thinks of him.
Here on island, we must also continue to make noise and educate the powers-that-be in the federal government about the importance of the Guam buildup and the need for funding to mitigate its possible adverse effects.
And let us hope that Sen. McCain's scornful attitude towards Guam doesn't spread to the other powerful leaders in Washington.