IF YOU’RE of a certain age, you’ll recall the TV show “The Big Picture” in the 1950s and 60s, on which ramrod straight Master Sgt. Stuart Queen and the Army Signal Corps informed the post-World War II generation about that war, worldwide strategic thinking, and the American military in general.
Fast forwarding to 2012, we’re still wrestling with the fundamental questions of military strategy and policy in the Pacific that occupied us so intensely during WWII. And the changes to the Guam military buildup, which Simon Sanchez has dubbed ‘buildup light,’ are not especially surprising, if you’re tuned into the current ‘big picture,’ which is the actual deliberations in Washington and Tokyo that drive the decisions. Most of us don’t have such access, so we’re subject to a lot of speculation and misinformation while the decisions are being made.
Now, a new report from the U.S. Congressional Research Service clears the air and lets the rest of us in on this process. Contrary to what you may have heard, efforts by the Legislature to negotiate improvements in infrastructure and resolve longstanding gripes with Washington, and noisy protests by local activists don’t appear to have had anything to do with the outcome as we now understand it. These things and others that have been presented as ‘chasing away the Marines’ don’t even rate a mention by the CRS.
The real issues were always outside of Guam. As the CRS report reveals, costs of the realignment got far out of line and bumped into the election year budget debate in Washington and, as I have pointed out repeatedly, the shift of Marines from Okinawa was held hostage to Okinawan resistance to relocating the Futenma Marine base.
“Finally, on Feb. 8,” the CRS says, “after some in Congress urged a review of the realignment in realistic recognition of the persistent impasse, Japan’s officials visited Washington for meetings with Deputy Assistant Secretaries of Defense and State. The two sides agreed to ‘adjust’ the Realignment Roadmap of 2006 and separate the move of Marines from the maintenance of the plan ... in order to make progress separately.” This cleared the way for sending the Marines to Guam without a new Okinawa base agreement.
Sen. James Webb of Virginia, a former Secretary of the Navy and Guam resident in the 1970s, has made it clear that his support of a more flexible and scaled-down Guam buildup was not the result of local insistence that the buildup be a ‘win-win’ for the military AND civilian communities. In 2010, Sen. Webb visited Tokyo, Okinawa and Guam. “[Webb] urged a more open discussion about the realistic timeline for the realignment and buildup on Guam by 2014. He urged sensitivity to the stress on the people and limitations of space on Guam, including over the issue of whether the military should have more land beyond the current one-third of the island,” according to the CRS report.
The CRS report is worth reading (http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS22570.pdf) and as it shows, the true issues surrounding the Guam buildup have focused on U.S. national defense and how it can be conducted in the Pacific region without bankrupting our nation and alienating our allies.
While we on Guam view our daily actions and utterances as of earthshaking importance, this congressional report should remind us that we are a very small part of a worthy and important national mission.
That, as Master Sgt. Queen might have said, is The Big Picture.
Sen. Judith Paulette Guthertz, DPA, chairs the 31st Guam Legislature’s Committee on the Guam Military Buildup and Homeland Security. Send feedback to senatorjudiguthertz[at]gmail.com.