Archive for July, 2008

Tony deBrum caves in to U.S. under pressure from Imata for Kwaj escrow money?

July 16, 2008


In a letter published July 17th by the Marshall Islands Journal, the RMI Foreign Minister, Tony deBrum,  apparently offers to accept the original terms of the Military Use and Operating Rights Agreement (MOURA) approved by the RMI parliament during the last administration, under President Note.  In his letter deBrum seems to be offering to secure the signatures of the Kwajalein chiefs on the Land Use Agreement (LUA) to extend the MOURA, as agreed by the RMI and USA in 2003.  Previously, deBrum had vowed the MOURA would have to be revised to add more payments or the U.S. would have to leave Kwajalein.
This apparently sudden change appears to be due to U.S. rejection of demands made to the U.S. by RMI Foreign Minister Tony deBrum and his lobbyists for increase of U.S. payments to lease the base site at Kwajalein.   While deBrum has withheld knowledge of the U.S. rejection of his demands from the public in the RMI, his new proposal that the U.S. agree to provide assistance for energy costs, instead of more Kwajalein funding, is clearly a desperate last resort effort.  It is being seen for what it is, a failed attempt to salvage something of value from his plan to blackmail the USA, by withholding extension of base rights unless the U.S. surrendered its rights and increased payments.
The propaganda arm of deBrum’s Foreign Ministry is hailing deBrum’s “amateur hour” negotiating ploy as a bold new solution to the Kwajalein problem.  The high paid deBrum propaganda machine (lawyers and lobbyists) will take credit if the U.S. agrees to consider energy assistance, which costs the U.S. little or nothing as long as he delivers on the RMI MOURA obligation to secure the LUA through the internal legal process of the RMI.    But most observers believe the U.S. does not have funding on hand to bail out RMI, so immediate crisis must be addressed from Compact funds.  Alternative energy projects must be funded from Compact funds or from any new funding the U.S. allocates to U.S. island territories and free associated states to deal with energy cost crisis.
Tony deBrum’s proposal that the U.S. address Kwajalein energy and utility needs is nothing new to the RMI or U.S. because it has been discussed for many years.   What is new is that deBrum is using his national government position to seek U.S. energy assistance only for his political bosses at Kwajalein and Ebeye Island, so they do not have to spend the money they control from base lease payments to help their own people at Ebeye Island.  
U.S. energy assistance at Ebeye would help the RMI handle its nation wide energy problem, but would not solve it.  What is deBrum going to do if the U.S. does not have funding to meet his new demands?   What is he going to do for the rest of the RMI if U.S. assists only Kwajalein and Ebeye, as ransom to get base rights compliance from RMI?
Did Tony ever stop to think that he and his political godfather Imata Kabua have the solution to help their own people at Ebeye?  But that means the Kwajalein land bosses would honor and respect true Marshallese custom, and use wealth from the land to help the people, instead of taking the lease payment money to go live like big-shots in Hawaii (or St. Louis, Missouri).  
Let’s be honest, the real reason deBrum is ready to deliver the LUA and base rights extension as agreed in the MOURA is that Imata Kabua is in debt.  He has borrowed against the current Kwajalein lease funding stream and he needs the escrowed funding to pay debt, and maintain the big shot lifestyle to which he has become accustomed as the wealthiest man in the RMI. 

Imata Kabua and Tony and their lawyers and lobbyists and the other feudal land lords of Kwajalein need the $20 million in escrow for Kwajalein payments under the MOURA because they have borrowed against the Kwajalein funding, even as they pretended and bluffed about kicking the U.S. out, and giving the base to anti-democratic, communist, dictatorship in PRC.   Tony and Imata bragged the RMI would be the “mouse that roared,” but now we will see if they really are just chickens dressed up as roosters, trying to crow but just squawking.

Now, if deBrum and his political godfather really care about the people of Ebeye so much, why don’t they offer to go on public record with what they will do with the funds to be released when the LUA is signed and the  RMI complies with the MOURA?   Why not use a significant part of the windfall funding to pay for clean water and energy at Ebeye?  

Instead of pounding his shoe on the table and pretending to give the U.S. yet another hollow ultimatum linking RMI compliance to energy assistance, why doesn’t deBrum at least propose a contribution by the feudal lords of Kwajalein to help Ebeye?   If the RMI as a nation and the U.S. saw the Kwajalein lease payments being used to actually do something for the “commoners” at Ebeye under true RMI land custom, maybe the U.S. would be more motivated to help the RMI.

When will Tony realize that the U.S. does not respond well to ultimatums and threats?   What if the U.S. does not have funding available to fix the RMI energy crisis in the short term?   They say in diplomacy you should never ask a question or make a demand if you don’t know what the answer is going to be from the other party.   Does Tony know what the U.S. response will be to his new demands linking RMI compliance with its base rights obligations to U.S. energy assistance?   If so, what will Tony do if all the U.S. can do at this time is provide a grant to study alternative energy in the future?

Is Tony just looking for a fig leaf, anything the U.S. can do so he can claim to have gotten something to justify his “showdown” with the U.S. over Kwajalein?   Or, is he really prepared to let the $20 million revert to the U.S. if the U.S. can not agree to the energy assistance he is demanding in some way more meaningful than an OTEC feasibility study?   Maybe a grant for a study combined with restructuring of the RMI national budget to re-direct Compact funding form non-essential programs to energy supply will be the best possible outcome.

But no matter what happens now, the one thing that is clear is that Tony’s big bluff has failed, and what he cost the RMI in good will, credibility with the U.S. and the world, and respect as a reliable treaty and alliance partner, can not be justified or redeemed by whatever solution is found.   Even if the Kwajalein land barons agree to use their $20 million escrow windfall to actually help the people of Ebeye, that could have been done without creating a self-inflicted diplomatic crisis over the LUA and MOURA.  

If the RMI and the Kwajalein land barons had acted in good faith as an ally on the LUA and MOURA as matters we could control, the U.S. would be much more favorably inclined to help out of real friendship now that we face an energy crisis that we can not control.   Instead, the feudal lords of Kwajalein and their mouthpiece in the RMI national government, Tony deBrum, have overplayed the Kwajalein card, instead of keeping their cool. 

The result is that many in Congress and the Executive Branch of the U.S. government, as well as many journalists and academic scholars, now view free association with the RMI as a bad hand of cards the U.S. must play, but only until the appointed time when the U.S. will be able, under the rules of the game, be free to get up and walk away from the table.   Anyone who has studied the terms of Compact II as approved by the U.S. Congress knows that free association will end in 2023 for all practical purposes, unless the U.S. decides to reconsider.  That won’t happen if the RMI is still resentful of the U.S. and a reluctant ally.  

In his reply to the Washington Times editorial deBrum says the U.S. negotiators failed to read RMI internal politics clearly enough to realize the U.S. should meet Kwajalein’s LUA demands to avoid the current problem.  That is Tony’s self-aggrandizing fantasy.

The truth is that by 2003 Congress had seen enough of RMI internal opposition politics to see what was coming, and that is why Congress created the escrow account to hold the agreed increase in Kwajalein payments back.   That is also why Congress made  free association a less close and interdependent relationship after 2023, much more optional for the U.S. instead of an on-going alliance requiring new fiscal and policy commitments on an annual basis.     

Now, the real issue is clear.  Since Tony has decided to make a proposal that helps Kwajalein first, why shouldn’t at least some major portion of the $20 million be used to help the people of  Kwajalein who live on nearby Ebeye Island?   In addition to past lease payments to landowners, the U.S. has paid tens of millions of dollars for community development at Kwajalein and Ebeye, and that funding was to a significant extent mismanaged if not wasted.

Is the U.S. prepared to throw more money at the Ebeye problems when the feudal lords are not willing to help their own people?  Tony is smart and shrewd, but he is incompetent if he is making new demands without knowing the answers to these questions.

The Note Administration proposed energy assistance too, before the price of oil went up, so the new leaders are doing nothing new or bold at all.   In fact, while Tony spent the last 8 months pulling juvenile political stunts on the Kwajalein lease payments issue, he was dropping the ball on S. 1756, which expanded the number of atolls eligible for additional nuclear testing compensation. 

Tony let that bill wither and die on the vine in the U.S. Senate due to lack of RMI support.   Instead, the current RMI leadership focused on Kwajalein lease payment increases.   So it seems the current leadership would rather stake RMI-USA relations on a negative propaganda campaign to get more money for Kwajalein, than pursue a $100 million U.S. Senate proposal for the nuclear test survivors.

Apparently, Tony caved because many of the Kwajalein chiefs and landowners really want and need the $20 million in the escrow account, created to put pressure on the landowners to sign the LUA.   Even if the U.S. agrees to study energy proposals made by the RMI, it appears the U.S. strategy for forcing landowner chiefs to reason and come to their senses has worked.  Tony and his clients chose money in the end, over Tony’s vision of a post American era in the RMI. 

Tony’s letter in the Marshall Islands Journal attempting to attack Al Short is also full of misrepresentations.  When you know better but still say it, you are lying.  That is what Tony’s letter does.   Everyone knows his version of the Compact negotiations is crazy.    But at least he is finally realizing he has a duty to get the LUA signed, or his political bosses will lose $20 million.

Quote of the day:  

“The reason the U.S. has to be very careful here is that Minister deBrum represents the chiefs of the Kwajalein landowners, and reportedly has even worked as a paid lobbyist for the chiefs.  That was before the chiefs gave him land rights so he could serve in the RMI government as a spokesman for the self-same Kwajalein landowners.  Who does he represent now, the people of the RMI as a nation, or the Kwajalein landowners, whose aristocracy and lobbyists will get even wealthier than they already are when the base rights agreement takes effect, and payments being held in escrow until a deal is reached begin to flow.  Indeed, his political party is controlled by the Kwajalein landowners, and gained power only when the ruling coalition that won the elections collapsed due to an internal power struggle.   Thus, the constitutional duty of the RMI is to secure the base rights the sovereign national government agreed to provide in exchange for payments at levels approved by Congress, which was well aware on internal politics in the RMI, and chose escrow future payments until the RMI complies in good faith rather than make any further concessions.”