HawaiiWritten by Dennis Hollier On 02 June 2011

Governor Abercrombie

There’s been quite a bit of press regarding the latest Rand report, which was officially released yesterday at a HIPA breakfast presentation at Hilton Hawaiian Village. The report attempts to quantify the effects of military spending on the Hawaii economy, and the numbers are astonishing:

  • More than $6.5 billion in annual spending
  • $12.2 billion in cumulative effect
  • 101,533 jobs

But the most provocative announcement at the Hilton yesterday wasn’t made by the folks from Rand. The big news – oddly missing from media reports – was Gov. Abercrombie’s pronouncements about current plans (now largely underway) to move tens of thousands of Marines from Okinawa. “The idea was to take the Marines out of Okinawa and move them to Guam,” Abercrombie said. “But there’s no way that’s going to work.”

According to the Governor, Guam’s all wrong. “They don’t have the infrastructure; they don’t have the capacity; they don’t have the space to train; and they don’t have the EIS. It’s not going to work.”

And, of course, he has an alternative in mind: Pohakuloa on the Big Island. After all, he points out, Pohakuloa is already a major training facility; it’s near the Pacific Command and the resources of Pearl Harbor and Schofield Barracks; and, most importantly, it’s in Hawaii. That’s particularly important in today’s all volunteer military, where retention is as important as recruitment. The Governor wryly considered the preferences of young soldiers: “You ask them where they want to end up, on Guam, or on the Kona Coast?”

Of course, Abercrombie’s remarks – especially before this audience – were strategic. First, he pointed out that the current arrangement of U.S. military resources – in a crescent that runs up the West Coast, through Alaska and the Aleutians, and down through Japan and Korea – is an artifact of the Cold War, when our focus was on the Soviet Union. “Today, we need to think of it as bowl,” he said, gesturing with his fingers to indicate an arc running from California, through Hawaii, and reaching all the way to the Indian Ocean. Not coincidentally, that’s pretty much the jurisdiction of the Pacific Command.

But the Governor’s gambit to try to pick Guam’s pocket is really about securing Hawaii’s economic future. As he pointed out, one of the findings in the Rand report was that nearly a third of all DOD procurement spending in Hawaii was in construction, mostly in housing development. But that spending is gradually coming to an end. Abercrombie clearly sees developing Pohakuloa for the Marines as a way to sustain the growth of military spending in the state.

It’s a bold vision. But it may be impossible to change the military’s plans at this late date. Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been poured into Guam to set the move in motion. And nothing has as much momentum as the U.S. military on a mission. Still, the Governor gave the impression this was a bone he’s going to chew on.

“We cannot sit by passively and wait for decisions to be made for us,” he said. “We have to be thinking proactively.”

So, to borrow a military metaphor, maybe this is just the first salvo in what will be a long fusillade. We’ll see.

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