Rep. Babauta asks Obama about Guam military buildup

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REPRESENTATIVE Sheila Babauta asked former President Barack Obama about the planned relocation of U.S. Marines from Okinawa, Japan to Guam during the 2019 Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia Pacific Program in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Dec. 13.

She said the military buildup on Guam will also affect the Northern Marianas.

“We value our community, our culture, and our natural resources, but we feel like we are at the table with Goliath,” she added. “How does one prepare to negotiate and encourage Goliath to come to the table where we can foster cooperation and coexistence to support national security while preserving our culture and conserving our natural resources?”

Obama said it was a “great” question and added that he shares Babauta’s concerns.

But “since I’m no longer the commander in chief, I can’t just say, ‘Come on and let’s go and talk.’ Also I’m now out of date in terms of all the processes and procedures that are taking place.”

He said Babauta’s concerns “are not unique to the United States — I think they’re true for a lot of countries that are having large military infrastructure.”

Obama said the military “often is not as mindful as it needs to be about its impact on a surrounding community.”

He cited Hawaii as an example, adding that the state is still experiencing issues regarding the presence of the military.

Obama said raising awareness and bringing attention to the issue may help communities that have to deal with the military.

“An average person in the United States is not aware of the impacts that base relocation may have on communities…but [an] underdog in society...[can] mobilize public opinion.... You have to get allies,” the former president said.

He said a group that wants to raise awareness should have a realistic goal.

“If you have…divisions and your agenda is unclear, then it will be harder for you to have a unified voice to tell a story that [brings] you some allies and gives you leverage. Your primary tool is…to raise awareness, but that means you also have to have done some work internally so you’ll know what your basic standard is. When I say unity, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get 100 percent. There’s always going to be somebody who’s hustling somewhere. But it does mean that your basic group agrees to a basic set of demands. You have to know what those are…and they have to probably be realistic enough that they’re achievable,” Obama said.

Babauta and health advocate Samantha Birmingham-Babauta were selected as part of the inaugural cohort of Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific, a cross section of 200 emerging civic leaders from 33 nations and territories in the region who convened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Dec. 10-14.

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