Guam and the Rising Storm

Guam wanders in and out of the news feeds with the regularity of a failing Christmas tree

Satellite image of the Guam. IKONOS Quickbird satellite image

Satellite image of the Guam. IKONOS Quickbird satellite image

light.  Because I was there and because people I still care greatly about are there, I grab any posting about Guam tossed out from the world’s media like a lifeline.  I like Guam.  From its natural beauty and its people to its place in the historic context of humans and their wars, Guam is compelling.  I doubt that the Russian jets that periodically circle the island figuratively mooning the U.S. military[1] are there for snapshots of the magnificent and imposing cliffs.  And I don’t think that the Chinese siting of ICBMs placing Guam in the crosshairs is accidental.[2]

Once again, I feel the effect of impotent anger surging through the twists and turns in my brain awakening my desire to protect my country and the rainbow of people who I love.  The anger I sense is not directed toward Russia or China; countries do what countries do.  The anger is directed to the U.S. central government whose policy decisions a decade or more ago have come to fruition, cost a bloody fortune, and weakened the U.S.’s ability to protect itself, and I was part of the process.

Hafa adai is Chamorro for ‘hello’ and the first words I heard as I stepped into the terminal at Guam International in Agana, Guam in late 1997.  As one of the forward troops for a business development team, I was on the island to explore local partnering potentials for a Base Operating Support (BOS) contract that was expected to be awarded sometime around the turn of the new century. The 1997 study submitted to Congress to consolidate base operations and transfer about 2,300 military and civilian jobs to a private contractor was the result of a commercial activities study to compare costs between government and private sector providers.

The size of the potential contract definitely had the big boys’ attention.  The retired generals, astronauts, and high-ranking former government officials who inhabit the upper echelons of defense contractors’ ivory towers were working their political contacts in Washington, D.C. We foot soldiers were exploring the local possibilities. There is a great deal of money involved in the acquisition of one of the big BOS contracts and, once everybody teams up for the kill, the doors of each contractor’s business development team are incarcerated; the doors are retrofitted with cipher locks and redecorated as war rooms. Business development at this level is fun and exciting and the foreign policy decisions driving the acquisition are not even on the radar. Continue reading

Are the Philippine Bases Back in the Inventory?

A couple of years ago the government contractor rumor fly wheel began to spin the yarn that military bases in the Philippines were being resuscitated. Fantastic as it seemed at the time, it may be so; at least for Subic Bay and Clark AFB. The Hill’s Carlos Munoz said …“The deal to reopen Subic Bay and Clark Air Force Base was struck during Dempsey’s visit to the Asia-Pacific region to

An aerial view of the station and, to the left, Naval Air Station, Cubi Point. 1 Jan 1990; PH1(NAC) DAVID R. SANNER

An aerial view of the station and, to the left, Naval Air Station, Cubi Point. 1 Jan 1990; PH1(NAC) DAVID R. SANNER

attend the Shangri-La defense talks held in Singapore last Saturday…” (06/06/12).[1] More recently, The New York Times Asia Desk ran a Floyd Whaley piece confirming that “…A subsidiary of a major U.S. defense company is bidding on ship repair and logistical support contracts, and the Philippine Department of National Defense has reserved large portions of the former base for future use by the Philippine military and its allies, principally the United States.” (April 26, 2013).[2] If it is true that the U.S. and the Philippines kissed and made up, it is good news for U.S. Pacific forces stuck on vulnerable pieces of land like Guam.

It seems like only yesterday, I was dealing with an antsy Johnston Atoll Base Commander, an Air Force Colonel, preparing for General McPeak’s visit. The general was on the return leg of a visit to the Philippines to decommission Clark Air Force Base, located about forty miles northwest of

Mount Pinatubo eruption from Clark AFB

Mount Pinatubo eruption from Clark AFB

Manila. General McPeak’s airplane was also carrying the last Clark AFB commander and his wife back to the U.S. For Johnston Island, General McPeak was a big deal; a four-star general, chief of staff of the US Air Force, and a decorated Vietnam fighter pilot combat veteran.

It is no small wonder that the Johnston Island Base Commander was worried about everything from flag protocols to FOD, Foreign Object Debris. Air Force service members are, in general, obsessed with FOD on runways and taxiways because it breaks airplanes. The Base Commander took FOD to a whole new level when he directed a full sweep of the island accompanied by stain removal. Roads, sidewalks, maintenance yards, and parking lots were spit polished and gleaming in the tropical sun; a shining city with no hill. In preparation for the visit, the fruit and snacks were inspected and re-inspected and the tour route of the environmental remediation projects was arranged and re-arranged. Island residents, civilian and military, were washed and re-washed before donning their Sunday best. I was relieved when General McPeak and the others finally landed and taxied to the terminal.  General McPeak was a tightly packed, no nonsense, squared-away general. Following introductions, the premier tour commenced immediately. The only departure from the itinerary was that I, as the contractor manager, was assigned to take care of the Clark Base commander’s wife’s dog. Bummer, I got to step and fetch it to every whim of a cool canine while our base commander drank Tums.

By late afternoon, the visit was all over and the general’s jet was serviced, cleaned, re-provisioned and ready to fly. If the tour had gone well, we’d be celebrating at the Waikiki club at the edge of the lagoon by sunset. If not, we’d be drowning our sorrows at the same location. We contractors huddled outside the debriefing room waiting for a sign; white smoke for all clear or black smoke for trouble. The general made no comment on the touted plutonium clean-up project, the unique Agent Orange RCRA Part B facility, the innovative weathered diesel project, or the JACADS operation. In fact the only thing he said was that Johnston Island looked like a gypsy camp. We were not properly painted in accordance to Air Force Facility Standards. And so the base commander worried about his future and the contractors drowned their sorrows.

In the overall scheme of Cold War (1947-1991) phytoplankton, Johnston Island was too small to be seen with the unaided eye. The Philippine base closures were, by contrast, significant.  The Navy’s Subic Bay and the Air Force’s Clark AFB, have histories that go back to the Spanish Colonial period. The Philippines was a well-documented key player in WWII’s Pacific theater.  The advent of the Cold War ushered in a whole new era of military service. Michael Haydock’s article in VFW Magazine provided an outstanding overview of the lay of the Cold War landscape, “The Cold War in Asia took place in a vast theater. It stretched from the icy waters north of Japan—where a downed flier could freeze in six minutes to the muggy jungles of the Philippines and beyond to the desert wastes of the Australian outback. In many instances the duty, necessary and often dangerous, was little-known or even secret from civilians at home.”…

What began as support to the Filipino fight with Communist led rebels, the Hukbalahap (Huks), the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, taking advantage of an emerging nation ended with a vital role providing forward base support to Vietnam.  The U.S. faces increasing challenges from China, North Korea and other Asian players. The current Pacific military base locations are either too far away, such as Hawaii, or too close, such as Guam and Japan. The Philippines is in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone, which offers sufficient time to launch a counter-strike in the event of a missile attack.  Clark Air Base’s runways can land the largest U.S. military airplanes and Subic Bay, once the largest American overseas military base in the world, has a harbor capable of handling submarines and the largest naval vessels.[3] If the goal can be realized, bases in the Philippines are an excellent investment.

There is trouble in paradise, however. It seems the U.S. government cannot keep its word to the Philippines. According to Philippines Politics Buzz, “While the Philippines keeps hoping for USA to come for a rescue and honor the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) during the china’s (sic) invasion in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, USA opted not to side with the Philippines but take its neutral stance proving that the USA-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty is futile. The very important decision of USA proves that they could not honor what they have signed for the Philippines.”… [4] This decision will, no doubt, lead to re-examination of the wisdom of dealing with the U.S.

On July 29, 1991, Ted Galen Carpenter issued the Cato Institute Foreign Policy Briefing No. 12: The U.S. Military Presence in the Philippines: Expensive and Unnecessary.[5] I disagreed with Carpenter then, and I disagree with him now that I have re-read the discussion. I have never bought either the ‘diminishing threat’ or ‘implausible missions’ concepts in Asia. The Pacific is an enormous theater and there are not too many places to hide. The U.S. has a decreasing military land base from which to maneuver. The Philippines is an excellent, strategically located base for operations, if they can be convinced the U.S. government is a faithful ally. Why is it that both the Islamic extremists and Communists are so hot to trot for a Philippines takeover? Islamic extremists do not comprehend western civilization. China is not a friend of western civilization and they are increasing their military presence. With the world swirling in a geopolitical maelstrom, one would think the least the U.S. government could do is keep its word, for once.


[1] The Hill; Carlos Munoz; 06/06/12; The Philippines re-opens military bases to US forces;

[2] The New York Times; FLOYD WHALEY; April 26, 2013; Shadows of an Old Military Base;

[3] Business Insider; Robert Johnson; June 8, 2012; The US Will Open Massive Philippine Bases Not Occupied Since The Cold War;

[4] Philippine Politics Buzz!; Philippine close deal for ISRAEL MISSILE SYSTEM after USA dishonored MDT for China’s invasion in Scarborough;

[5] Cato Institute Foreign Policy Briefing No. 12:The U.S. Military Presence in the Philippines:Expensive and Unnecessary; Ted Galen Carpenter; July 29, 1991;


A Lost Highway: Foreign Aid

We, the people of the United States, overburdened with taxes, fighting for survival and a way of life, struggling with out-of-touch and out-of-control politicians from all political bents are, in spite of the odds, generous to a fault. Last night the boys and I watched twelve Israeli Scouts perform in the Caravan Gilad; a celebration of Israel through the eyes of its young people. It was energetic, fun and inspiring to watch these youngsters hail life with such enthusiasm. Following the performance, the boys gathered around to listen to Israeli scout tales and, as I was a stranger at the Jewish Community Center, I sat by myself quietly waiting. One of the young women performers joined me

The Caravan Gilad

The Caravan Gilad

for a spot of conversation. It did not take long for her to share all of the wonderful welcomes and generosity she had discovered in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Tucson. Her story is repeated as complete strangers in the United States donate everything from kidneys to money to other complete strangers just because they want to help. The United States is, indeed, a marvelously giving country. These very same benefactors, the everyday taxpayers, almost to a person, loathe foreign aid. Why?

A cursory evaluation of foreign aid could lead one to believe that it helps people outside of the United States by supplying food or money when they need it. If that were so, I think we’d all be pleased, or at least feel slightly less ill-at-ease. The historical foundation and current application of foreign aid, however, are a case study in unintended consequences. The historical roots of today’s foreign aid can be traced to three distinct acts in the foreign aid play.

Act I occurred at a meeting of representatives of forty five countries in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in 1944. The Bretton Woods conference,[1] also known as the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, turned the world on its fiscal ear including the effective elimination of the bothersome gold standard, which required nations to take the nasty deflation medicine when their economies got out of balance. At the same conference, this group laid the cornerstone of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, an organization which pegs the exchange rates to the U.S. dollar. This is also called the par value system. Nineteen countries eventually signed the original Articles of Agreement and the IMF went into business in 1947.[2]  Additionally, this august body also established the foundation for the World Bank, to assist in the reconstruction of Europe following WWII. France became its first customer when the country borrowed $250 million for reconstruction, in 1947.[3]  The IMF and World Bank evolved and changed as they defined and re-defined and expanded their missions. Their tentacles reach around the world, seducing countries and influencing the geopolitical play. For the most part, their losses, which are significant, are underwritten by the taxpayer in the United States.

At the time, Henry Hazlitt, a leading editorialist for the New York Times argued against the Bretton Woods model stating that it would break down over time. In a stroke of genius or prophesy, Hazlitt maintained that “…the result of trusting governments and tying their fates together would be inflation and the collapse of what remained of sound money.” He opined that, to achieve stability, each country should maintain its own monetary system. Hazlitt’s position on the Bretton Woods model eventually cost him his job. He later published From Bretton Woods to World Inflation: A Study of Causes and Consequences; a collection of the articles.

Act II, The Marshall Plan[4] or the European Recovery Program resulted in $13 billion in aid over a four year period from 1947 through 1951. Sixteen of Europe’s war torn nations were the beneficiaries of the original package including technical assistance as well as food, fuel and machinery from the United States. Later there were direct investments in Europe’s industrial sector. President Truman appointed General Marshall as Secretary of State in 1947. The new secretary’s challenge was to address the reconstruction of Europe. Marshall probably already had the roadmap in his head because The Marshall Plan came together quickly and solidly. During a speech rolling out the plan at Harvard, Marshall gave a preview of how the aid would politically benefit the U.S. as it entered the Cold War (1947-1991). Marshall posited that political stability in Western Europe was vital to countering communist expansion in that region, and he believed that political stability was integral to the recovery of Europe’s national economies.

Act III, the Truman Doctrine, was simple and succinct. In February 1947, Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson introduced the domino theory when he explained that more was at stake in the Greek crisis than Greece and Turkey during a meeting with members of both houses of congress. If those two key states fell, he clarified, then communism would likely spread south to Iran and as far east as India. Using the set point of Rome and Carthage, Acheson explained the extent of the polarization of power. The legislators believed, and quickly cut a ‘deal’. They agreed to endorse the program if President Truman would emphasize the severity of the crisis publicly in an address to Congress and in a radio broadcast to the American people. Truman complied. He set the doctrine in few words as he asserted, “It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” The Republican Congress sanctioned the aid to Greece and Turkey, which marked the beginning of a long and enduring bipartisan cold war foreign policy.[5]

Currently U.S. foreign aid is divided into two broad categories: military and economic assistance. The State Department is no longer directly responsible for handing out the civilian half of the direct U.S. foreign aid. That task was handed to the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, in 1961 and it is the only place where a firm number can be obtained. In 2013, USAID, under the State Department’s budget requested $51.6 billion. According to the USAID web site[6] this money is invested in agricultural productivity, combating maternal and child mortality and deadly diseases, providing life-saving assistance in the wake of disaster, promoting democracy, human rights and good governance around the world, fostering private sector development and sustainable economic growth, helping communities adapt to a changing environment, and elevating the role of women and girls.

The total cost of foreign aid is tough to grasp since the only firm number is the USAID budget request of $51.6 billion. The U.S. military currently has a presence in 78 per of the world’s countries. Some of the cost of occupation is in the DoD budget but much of it is funded directly through other congressional appropriations. The cost of the IMF and World Bank is mired in mirrors and misdirection. The only thing certain is that the U.S. taxpayer funds most of it and most of their extensive losses. At least the military still does what the military does. The World Bank is currently directing most of its effort to ‘alleviating poverty’ (See Footnote 3) and USAID is engineering societies.

Both missions are a far cry from reconstruction following a world war. But, while the fruits of reconstruction are still visible, the aid of today rarely reaches the people it claims to help. As a person who has lived and worked in many of the places foreign aid claims as victories, I will bear witness that foreign aid does more harm than good. It creates incentives for dishonesty and lines the pockets of corrupt politicians and crony capitalists. It does little for the people. I stood on the docks in Antofagasta, Chile, while wheat from the U.S. was being unloaded to help the Chilean people following the huge earthquakes there in the early 1960s. The wheat was loaded into government trucks and transshipped to the highest bidder. I survived a 1966 coup d’état in Ghana and the foreign aid for education and democratic systems along with food poured directly into the hands of General Ankrah  and his coup cronies; nothing much reached the thousands in need. I lived on Guam in the 1990s while the State Department turned a knowing blind eye to slavery, while sending foreign aid money to the government to stop it. In the Congo, the U.S. backed Mobutu had bank accounts approximating the sum of the World Bank and IMF loans and grant while his people died of starvation during the many famines. To add insult to injury, we underwrite our enemies with foreign aid. On June 8, 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry released of $1.8 billion in military foreign aid to Egypt[7] even after the release of a video in which they denounced the U.S. as an enemy[8].  Foreign aid is a travesty, another secret pipeline for politicians to use for whatever agenda is on their minds.

Perhaps the American taxpayer is uncomfortable with foreign aid because, while each taxpayer makes a choice to be generous, foreign aid takes taxpayer money by force and spends it to promote political agendas.


[1] This PDF is a selection from an out-of-print volume from the National Bureau of Economic Research;

[2] International Monetary Fund; History;

[5] Harry S. Truman Library and Museum; The Truman Doctrine;

[7] Al Arabiya; 8 June 2013; Kerry quietly releases $1.3bn military aid package for Egypt;

[8] The Blaze; Jun. 12, 2013; Hot Mic Catches Egyptian Politician Discussing ‘War’ with ‘Enemies’ Israel and America;

Hafa Adai Crossroads of the Pacific

Hafa adai is Chamorro for ‘hello’ and the first words I heard as I stepped into the terminal at Guam International in Agana, Guam in late 1997.  I was on the island to explore local partnering potentials for a Base Operating Support (BOS) contract that was expected to be awarded sometime around the turn of the century. The 1997 study submitted to Congress to consolidate base operations and transfer about 2,300 military and civilian jobs to a private contractor was the result of a commercial activities study to compare costs between government and private sector providers. The size of the potential contract definitely had the big contractors’ attention.  The retired generals, astronauts, and high-ranking former government officials who inhabit the upper echelons of defense contractors’ ivory towers were working their political contacts in Washington, D.C. We foot soldiers were exploring the local possibilities. There is a great deal of money involved in the acquisition of one of the big BOS contracts and, once everybody teams up for the kill, the doors of each contractor team’s business development groups receive cipher locks and become war rooms. It was fun and exciting to be part of the effort and Guam’s strategic role in the U.S. military historical context fascinated me.

As the Western most territory of the United States, Guam is a vital strategic asset in the Pacific. It is located about 3,300 miles West of Hawaii, 1,500 miles east of the Philippines and 1,550 miles south of Japan. Part of the Marianas Archipelago, Guam, looks like an island but is actually the exposed top of a submerged 38,000-foot mountain, which is the union of two volcanoes. In area it is about 212 square miles or about three times the size of Washington, D.C.  Guam is a U.S. territory and the people of the island are U.S. citizens. During the Cold War (1947-1991), the U.S. had many more formal arrangements with foreign governments to base our military. Now, most of these islands and island nations want the U.S. gone. Since there are no new islands in East Asia, that leaves increasing the U.S. capability on Guam as a key step to effectively withdrawing from bases where the U.S. is no longer welcome. A brand new BOS contract in a growing military environment is a terrific opportunity for any major contractor with the ability to bankroll the acquisition and start-up. The military industrial complex had representatives nosing around Guam for years before the competition was announced and I was one of many ‘boots on the ground’. In 2000, the seven and a half year contract was finally awarded. At that time, the base contract amount was estimated at about $329 million, which beat the estimate given in the commercial activities study.

Guam has a down side as a strategic asset. It is subject to typhoons. During my stay on Guam, I got up close and personal with Super-typhoon Paka. When it hit Guam, the winds were measured at 145 miles per hour before the anemometer broke. I was on the 7th floor of the hotel listening to the next building scream as it twisted in the wind when the French doors in my room blew out. During half-time when the eye was passing over, I decided to go down to the lobby. I came close to not being able to get back into my room as the second eye wall closed in. The building all stood the test and communications and power were never lost. In the aftermath the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Red Cross swooped in to ‘help’. They consumed every available supply, vehicle, and room on the island to set up their offices and fill in their forms. In the meantime, the real help came from within. The people set up food preparation in the parks and most of us spent time volunteering with serving food, cleaning-up and rebuilding. FEMA and the Red Cross did an excellent job of filling in their forms and consuming what precious little material was left on the island, though.

Prior to WWI, ships using the great-circle route[1] to the west used Guam as a coal stop. Guam was a logistics hub for the Allies during WWII and is, on occasion, referred to as “the Supermarket of the Pacific”. Most recently, during the Cold War (1947-1991), Guam was the “Crossroads of the Pacific” because it was one of the first Polaris missile support bases, home to Air Force B-52s, and a critical Defense/State Department communications/intelligence link. During Viet Nam, Guam also became a base for the minesweepers that worked to clear Haiphong Harbor at the end of hostilities. In 1969, President Nixon pushed a doctrine self-defense for the U.S.’s Asian Allies and Guam’s role and and its important physical infrastructure declined. In 1993, the former Air Station in Agana was closed under the 1993 Base Reutilization and Closure Act (BRAC) and about 1800 acres were turned over to Guam for redevelopment.

Do we need to be in Asia? I think so. Let me count the ways.

  1. North Korea has nuclear capability and they have made certain the U.S. and the world is aware of that fact.
  2. We the People of the U.S., have turned to China to manufacture our goods. We need to be able to get those products back to us. China is not a comfortable ally; they are not our friends and would just as soon see the U.S. leave Asia entirely. Secretary of State, John Kerry, just cut a deal with China. China committed to use their influence with North Korea in exchange for the U.S. pulling back its missiles.
  3. Terrorism is here to stay. In 2002, the Bali attack killed 168 people, which brought focus on Indonesia’s terrorist cells. There are many terrorist cells in the Philippines and the U.S. no longer has bases there. Jemaah Islamiah in Indonesia and Abu Sayyaf in the southern provinces of the Philippines are of concern and growing in sophistication.  They may well have or could soon have what they need to go ‘global’.
  4. Taiwan is always at risk. China would like that little country back. It would take about two weeks for a carrier strike group stationed on the West Coast, or a week from the Indian Ocean, and about the same length of time from Hawaii. If a carrier was deployed to Yokosuka, Japan or in port at Guam the transit time would be much reduced.
  5. Australia and New Zealand are two critical allies. Guam is a key base for strategic cooperation to support these outposts of western democracy in an increasingly hostile Asian world.

Somewhere between occupying 78% of the world and isolationism is the correct answer to where and how to strategically station our military forces. The Navy’s job is to keep the seas safe and open for commerce. Guam is an important component of the Navy’s capability to do its job. If North Korea or China or Russia goes crazy we need to have those boys in place to take care of the business of keeping us free. Hafa Adai.

[1] Great-circle navigation is the practice of navigating a vessel (such as a ship or aircraft) along a track that follows a great circle. A great circle track is the shortest distance between two points on the surface of a planetary body, assuming a perfect spherical model;