“Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh how I wish he’d go away...”
– Old Poem by William Hughes Mearns
IT'S been quite a week at the Legislature, as we finally learned who was responsible for that strange and inaccurate account of a meeting that Guam senators, including myself, had last April with U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Jim Webb.
If you believe the previously anonymous author of the email that contained this account, the Guam senators singlehandedly doomed the Guam military buildup by being rude – ‘haranguing’ was the word used – to these sensitive political figures who immediately ran home and said Guam didn’t want the buildup. Never mind the intensive fighting in Washington over the deficit and how to pay for the buildup that was even then underway in the capital, and the disastrous earthquake/tsunami/near-nuclear meltdown that had just occurred in Japan. And then, as now, the Department of Defense hadn’t turned in the master plan for the buildup required by Congress.
It turns out our mysterious man whose words have informed newspaper columns and editorials to this day, repeating his assertions about that April meeting as fact, is none other than former Joint Guam Program Office (Forward) Executive Director Col. John Jackson. And yes, Col. Jackson is the man who wasn’t there.
It’s pretty amazing how much trouble and confusion one email, which bears all the earmarks of being knocked out in haste – like most emails – can cause when it is anonymously presented in the local media for months, over and over again.
Col. Jackson says he got his information from Sen. Levin and that he at least talked to Sen. Webb, who apparently didn’t provide him with much material. Here’s what the Congressional Research Service made of the meeting, based on a press release from Sen. Webb and reporting by the Pacific Daily News, which incidentally wasn’t in the meeting either.
“On April 25 and 26, 2011, Sens. James Webb and Carl Levin visited Guam and met with local officials, who assured them that Guam’s people support the defense buildup but with local gains and improved communication of information from the Defense Department.”
That fits with my recollection; and unlike Col. Jackson, I was at that meeting. If you prefer the colonel’s version to mine, you might want to ask any of the other nine Guam senators who were there. I know that Sen. Frank Blas Jr. was there, and he has forthrightly stated the U.S. senators were not ‘harangued,’ as the colonel claims.
Contrary to the picture he has tried to paint, we discussed buildup issues and problems in a calm fashion which in no way resembled the ‘haranguing’ that Col. Jackson imagines. And there wasn’t any question that what we were seeking was a ‘win-win’ buildup, not NO buildup.
A press release I wrote right after the meeting said: “Both Sens. Levin and Webb indicated that far greater problems face the successful completion of the buildup or whether it actually occurs, than public attitudes on Guam. There is the seemingly intractable opposition to restructuring the remaining Marine presence on Okinawa and the vast scale of the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami.”
That’s the meeting I was in.
I am interested in the propriety of the recently retired Col. Jackson entering this controversy. Is he representing the interest of frustrated investors who aren’t getting the return on their money the previously announced buildup might have provided? Or is he entering Guam politics, by singling out the Legislature and high-profile members of its majority, who were not alone in questioning our Washington visitors?
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.