RMI becoming a sad story

Reading the Marshall Islands Journal is no longer just frustrating, it has become depressing.   Giff Johnson (editor) and Joe Murphy (publisher) had their fun trying to help Tony deBrum pull off his silent coup and seize power after losing the election, due to the inability of the winning party to resolve its leadership struggle. Then the MIJ helped and stage his showdown with the USA.

Tony said he would bring the USA to its knees, but now the RMI is bending instead. That is not because the U.S. is leaning on the RMI.   In fact, the MIJ article about the visit of the Pentagon’s highest ranking military commander in the Pacific makes it clear the U.S. is trying in a friendly way to remind the people of the RMI and their leaders that in difficult economic times they have a pretty good thing going with the Compact of Free Association.

The U.S. actually seems to be giving the RMI space to come to its senses. What the U.S. does not want to admit in public is that the instability and crisis-after-crisis syndrome in the RMI is not due to the cost of energy or the global economic recession. Rather, the RMI is suffering hardships caused by the heavy burden of self-inflicted failures, self-imposed hardship and self-defeating politics of the RMI under current leadership.

Amenta Matthews, Jack Ading, Litokwa Tomeing and others who became partners in Tony’s silent coup all share some of the blame for putting Imata Kabua’s surrogate in power, and allowing the ideologically obsessed deBrum to become the de facto head of state.   That was wrong because it enabled Tony to make Kwajalein the controlling RMI national priority, and this betrayed the rest of the people of the RMI.

By putting Kwajalein first deBrum keeps Imata Kabua happy, even though deBrum has not really done anything for Kwajalein or Kabua. Indeed, the policies Tony deBrum has implemented regarding Kwajalein and RMI-wide issues seems more calculated to end U.S. Army presence at Kwajalein and terminate free association itself.

If what Kabua really wants is increased lease payments from the U.S. then deBrum’s tactics are not producing good results for Kabua. But as the MIJ story on Imata’s visit with traditional leaders from other Pacific island nations suggests, Imata Kabua seems happy as long as he gets invited to parties where he is treated like a king.

Meanwhile, the question we asked months ago remains relevant, and it can be asked again. Are Tony deBrum’s actions more consistent with achieving the goal of increased Kwajalein payments, RMI-wide adjustment to increased energy costs, additional nuclear claims compensation, or any other constructive goals?  Or, are his actions since seizing power more consistent with a plan fro destabilizing the RMI bilateral relationship with the U.S. and ending what he regards as the U.S. “occupation” of the RMI?

As reported on this website, Tony deBrum has gone on record and told the world in a 2005 to the international community that he wants the U.S. out of Kwajalein. He has admitted that he even wants the U.S. to end free association, which he sees as the political, economic and military mechanism for the U.S. to continue what he views as an imperialist occupation of the RMI that began in 1946.

Admiral Keating’s statement in Majuro was the right message, the U.S. remains committed to free association, and that is a message the people of the RMI want and need to hear.  But it is a message that is getting lost in the confusion and chaos that Tony deBrum is creating in the RMI. Instead of leading to a constructive agenda to address mutual goals, the positive message from the Admiral is being lost in the fog of political conflict and strife instigated by deBrum.

As if the symbolism of a crumbling capital building is not bad enough, now we have Tony deBrum handling the press on this issue?  Since when did he become the spokesman for Public Works? It is no coincidence that he is taking a high profile in managing the evacuation. Tony regards the capital building as the symbol of he sees as Amata Kabua’s capitulation to the U.S. in the first Compact of Free Association, and he is taking intense pleasure in presiding over its evacuation.

The rest of the stories in the current issue of the MIJ paint the true picture of what is going on in the RMI better than we ever could. In a sense the MIJ is a snapshot of the present that also predicts the adversity of the future, especially if Tony continues to be in the position to manipulate the political culture of the nation.

At the same time, the stories in the MIJ are strangely reminiscent of the past, when the RMI was part of the TTPI, and no matter what the U.S. and local government institutions tried to do, better results for social, economic and political development always seemed just out of reach.

That has always been true and maybe always will be due to the inherent structural problems of sustaining an acceptable level of development in such small and remote islands, but it is even more difficult, and probably impossible, when you have a master political manipulator and propagandist who is using a figurehead president to stay in power as the de facto head of state.

So the same MIJ editorial policy that helped Tony deBrum seize power has now become made the MIJ the chronicler of what his reign as the power behind the throne has wrought. All we can do is read the stories, recall all the times we read similar stories in the past, reflect on the truism that the more things change the more they stay the same, and wonder what will happen next.

For example, The DOI health report is deja vu all over again, just like a dozen studies of health care that reached the same conclusion every 5-10 years during the TTPI period.   Like before, the health care system in RMI is making the sub-standard Guam and CNMI health care programs look good by comparison.

If only the U.N. Trusteeship Council was still monitoring U.S. relations with the RMI like the old days, Tony deBrum could go back to New York and accuse the U.S. of human rights violations and crimes against humanity based on failure to provide Marshallese with the same health care U.S. citizens get.

But wait, if treatment equal to U.S. care is what the RMI wants, shouldn’t Tony have supported U.S. territorial  commonwealth status? Instead of opposing free association or pursuing full independence, why didn’t Tony advocate U.S. citizenship and territorial status? The answer is that he does not have a clear goal, he just wants to preside over conflict and confusion of his own creation.

In the TTPI days Tony would go to Washington and New York, traveling on U.S. taxpayer funds, and show pictures of conditions at the hospital to Congress, the U.N. and Greenpeace. He would blame every sad story and social problem he had time to describe on the Americans, and accuse the U.S. government of treating Marshallese as less than human?

Because the U.S. actually deserved to be so accused due to the abuses committed during the nuclear testing program, Tony could get away with saying and doing just about anything he wanted to denigrate and denounce the U.S. presence in the RMI, and its administration of the islands under the U.N. trusteeship.

But times have changed, and the record of U.S. relations with RMI now exists in a larger context than the TTPI and the nuclear testing program. The U.N. trusteeship ended in 1986, and since then the U.S. has invested billions in the RMI’s social, political and economic development, as well as its national security through alliance with the USA. RMI citizens serve in the U.S. military, and their ability to enter, reside go to school and work in the U.S. is an important social, economic and political aspect of the RMI’s national development.

So times have changed, and Tony has had to adapt his methods and strategies for seeking an end to what he believes is U.S. hegemony in the RMI. To deBrum, the U.S. is the man, and he wants to stick it to the man. But because the RMI is a sovereign nation now, Tony can not stick it to the man now the way he used to do, because now he is the man.   He can’t just blame the U.S. any more because now it is the Marshallese who are failing to deliver better health care and other services.   He can’t blame the U.S.  any more, because it is the government he runs that is treating his own people so badly.

When the resources provided by the U.S. were not enough to do better in the past, he accused the U.S. of racism and inhumanity.  But now the U.S. is giving more to the RMI for health care than any other nation is willing to do, so no one will listen to him blame it all on the USA anymore.

He can not even convincingly condemn the U.S. based on the nuclear testing program, because he refused to support additional nuclear compensation under S. 1756. He pretended that was because S. 1756 was inadequate and would close the door to an even larger compensation bill, but that was exposed as a cover up for his real motives. The truth was that he did not want the nuclear compensation bill to move forward before he got increased rent payments for Kwajalein, and he saw S. 1756 as competing with his Kwajalein strategy.

In addition, while the U.S. has unmet obligations to address health care needs arising from the nuclear testing, Tony can no longer blame the U.S. for all health problems in the RMI, because the biggest health problems in the RMI are not caused by nuclear testing. The U.S. territories and other free associated states have similar health care needs based on patterns of life in the islands that are not connected to he nuclear testing legacy.

Also, the rest of the world will not listen to his accusations that the U.S. is inhumane when the U.S. provides levels of support per capita that make the RMI a wealthy nation compared to most similarly situated peoples.

That was underscored b the MIJ story about Japanese assistance.  The interesting point in that article is that titular President Tomeing had told the Japanese government that a water project for Majuro was an RMI priority, but then Tony manipulated Tomeing to change signals and tell the Japanese the water project had to be moved to Ebeye.   That was part of Tomeing’s deal with Tony to keep Imata Kabua happy, by cheating Majuro out of the project and putting Kwajalein first.

But the Japanese do not do well with last minute changed signals. So if the Japanese find the RMI difficult to work with, and there is delay, who can blame them?

Then we have the story about the U.S. Admiral who is serving as the Commander-In- Chief of the Pacific.  He comes and proclaims the U.S. military commitment to the Compact of Free Association.   But it is sort of an empty gesture when the RMI has refused to sign a base rights agreement, and time for renewal is running out on the Kwajalein lease.

The U.S. commitment is not in doubt, it is the RMI commitment that is an issue. The U.S. sees itself as acting in good faith, and there is a perception of bad faith by the RMI for trying to makes its obligations conditional on increased benefits to Kwajalein. That showdown strategy is a throw back to the TTPI days, and the U.S. may not find it acceptable in the context of free association as an alliance based on a mutually agreed balance of burdens and benefits.

Small nations enter alliances with large nations for many reason, one of which is to have security and stability even in times of global crisis. When Tony instigated his showdown strategy, oil was cheap and the major economies of the world were going strong. The world has changed in less than a year, and the RMI needs to decide if it can afford to put its alliance with the U.S. at risk, so that Imata Kabua, the wealthiest man in the RMI, can become more wealthy, and so that Tony deBrum can preside over the decline of the RMI.

Again, if the U.S. caves in, then Tony stays in power as long as the people and their leaders tolerate him, and Imata Kabua ‘s power under feudal custom will be confirmed. The democratic constitutional government of the RMI will have become the instrument through which that will have been achieved. One suspects that this will be the beginning rather than the end of conflict in RMI political culture over the relationship between customary powers of the feudal lords and the democratic government.

That brings us to the story in the MIJ about the traditional chiefs meeting in the RMI.   There is even a picture of a beaming Imata Kabua and Roman Bedor of Palau.   The chiefs made good points about environmental stewardship by local officials, but the chiefs are resisting the primacy of elected leaders of the people. Teaching heritage and custom in the schools is a good idea, but it won’t restore their political power, which is what they really want.

The deterioration of RMI government public policy it is due to a shift in the RMI political culture caused by the alliance between Tony deBrum and Imata Kabua.   This has harnessed the traditional powers of Kabua under the archaic, anachronistic and anti-democratic feudal customs of the RMI to serve the deBrum ideological agenda.   Kabua does not understand deBrum’s real agenda, he is just being used by deBrum to control the government and stay in power.

Kabua has no ability to recognize that deBrum is a classic anti-social personality, and in his political life he is like the sorcerer’s apprentice, taking great delight in unleashing forces of chaos that can not be controlled. Tony learned his craft during the TTPI days, and based on his experience back then he actually believes the RMI may be able to hold the U.S. hostage, and extort increased wealth for Imata Kabua from the U.S. if he is able to really put U.S. access to Kwajalein at risk.

If the U.S. capitulates and makes concessions Congress and the Pentagon have said the U.S. would not accept, that would be a huge propaganda success for Tony, and he would be satisfied, for a while. However, that is not the scenario he most prefers. He would rather see the U.S. pull the rip cord and bail out of Kwajalein, so he could preside over an international auction for use of the atoll.

Because the U.S. has treaty rights to deny use of Kwajalein for military uses by other countries, the RMI might have to limit use of Kwajalein for non-military uses by other governments or even international organizations, governmental or not. Commercial use of Kwajalein also would be possible. It is not know if other uses will generate as much return for the landowners as the current use by the U.S. Army, but as the U.S. prepares to withdraw in 2016, Tony would love to preside over the process for finding out.

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