I do not like the Dec. 8, 2015 Saipan Tribune opinion piece “A few points of clarification” produced by Craig Whelden, executive director of Marine Corps Forces Pacific because it is vague and unconvincing.
To illustrate my point, Craig Whelden states in his op-ed that “Over $900 million has been identified for the CNMI (on construction projects and for leasing on Tinian and Pagan). The government of Japan will fund over $300 million on Tinian.” What precisely does Mr. Whelden mean by this claim? Who, for example, is doing the “identifying” and what should islanders make of this “identification?”
Second, Craig Whelden writes in his op-ed that “We are exploring the potential for joint use projects in the CNMI that benefit both parties.” What does this mean? Who is referenced by use of the term “we” and what precisely does he mean by “joint use” and “benefit?” Is joint use, for example, purely a military endeavor or does it also include para-military forces and allied military and para-military forces or something else?
Mr. Whelden then goes on to state that, “Ultimately our intent is to arrive at solutions that achieve mutually beneficial and sustainable growth, compatible/complementary presence, and shared interests with the people of CNMI.” This statement is vague, filled with passive tense phrases, and does nothing to assuage islander concerns.
Craig Whelden then goes on to state that…“we listened during the public comment period, we will be conducting additional studies in a number of areas of concern identified by the people of the CNMI and federal agencies. I will come to CNMI in early 2016 to brief the governor on the way forward.” This statement is also vague and doesn’t say much of anything.
The fact that the military is “listening” to islander concerns and comments during a public comment period means little because “listening” is not the same as “understanding” and unless Craig Whelden both listens and understands what is being said, then the statements in his op-ed are not very useful and not very meaningful.
I would argue that not only should the military listen and understand what islanders are saying formally and informally, but also come to the conversation table with the view of having more complete dialogue and question and answer events as opposed to having people like Mr. Whelden fly to Saipan to “brief the governor” which represents yet another vague comment.
I do agree with Craig Whelden’s statement that there is “a long way to go before reaching a Record of Decision on the CJMT EIS,” but I think it is incorrect to suggest that “all in the CNMI [should continue]… to work with the military as we continue to close gaps that might exist between us and find common ground that benefits all.”
In my opinion I do not think it is possible to prevent substantial permanent environmental and cultural damage to both Tinian and Pagan if the military gets its way.
As a next step recommendation, I do think that Craig Whelden would generate more credibility and trust with islanders if he publicly stated that the environment and the Chamorro culture on Pagan and Tinian will be permanently damaged and destroyed and that risks to islander human health and social system fabrics will be damaged or broken from proposed military activities.
I also do not think that it is the responsibility of islanders to necessarily work with the military because many islanders have already expressed disapproval of proposed military activities because of the environmental and cultural injury, damage, and destruction that proposed military activities will bring to our island chain.
I think Craig Whelden’s frame of mind needs to change and I think the military needs to find ways to further incentivize islanders to come to the negotiating table because Chamorros have already given more than enough to the national security of the United States over the past several decades and continue to do so.