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Saturday, July 22, 2000

U.S. troops on Okinawa
aren’t going anywhere

Bullet The issue: Okinawans want the United States to remove its 26,000 troops from their island.

Bullet Our view: This isn't going to happen, because both Washington and Tokyo want the troops to stay.

AT the outset of his visit for the G-8 summit meeting, President Clinton made a couple of gestures to mollify Okinawans seeking the withdrawal of U.S. forces from their island -- a protest demonstration at the U.S. Kadena Air Base drew an estimated 27,000 people just before the opening of the summit.

But the hard fact remains that the Americans aren't leaving anytime soon. Washington of course wants to keep its Okinawa bases to help maintain its ability to act as a stabilizing force in the Western Pacific. But the real sticking point is that the national government in Tokyo wants the U.S. military to stay.

The desires of the Okinawans have been subordinated to Japan's national interests, and that situation is not likely to change. Okinawans lack the political clout needed to force a change of policy. Tokyo has tried to make it up to the Okinawans with massive infusions of aid, but many have not been appeased.

Washington maintains 26,000 troops in Okinawa -- more than half of the U.S. military establishment in all of Japan. The national government supports the U.S. military presence, in part because it relieves pacifist-minded Japan of meeting some of its defense needs, although the Japanese military has been strengthened over the years. If the U.S. pulled out, there would be pressure on Tokyo to stage a massive buildup of Japan's armed forces, which might alarm its Asian neighbors.

Clinton declared that the United States intended to further reduce its military "footprint" on Okinawa by continuing to consolidate its bases, a process that began five years ago. He said nothing about withdrawing troops, and no such action is in sight. In short, he announced no change in policy.

The president made an oblique reference to recent criminal incidents involving American troops, saying the United States intends "to take seriously our responsibility to be good neighbors and it is unacceptable to the United States when we do not meet that responsibility." Although several incidents have been heavily publicized, there have been few of them. U.S. troops on Okinawa reportedly have a relatively good record compared to forces at foreign bases elsewhere.

The president also announced support for a new Okinawan business and education program at the East-West Center.

Charles Morrison, East-West Center president, said the U.S. and Japan have each committed $150,000 for the first year of the program. He said he hopes to have 10 to 12 Okinawan students in the program each year. Although the program may be helpful, it is not going to change many minds on the issue of the U.S. bases.

The G-8 summit gave the Okinawans a chance to dramatize their desire to be rid of the bases. But the best Washington is willing to do for now is to try to make the U.S. military presence more tolerable.

Questionable need
for special session

Bullet The issue: Calls have been made for a special session of the Legislature to correct a quirk in the state Constitution on senators' terms and a new law on medical privacy.

Bullet Our view: It would be wiser to defer both issues until the regular 2001 session.

EVERYBODY agrees that the quirky provision in the state Constitution that would permit some incumbent senators to get a longer term than challengers would get should be corrected. The question is when.

Several good-government groups are calling for a special session of the Legislature, which would mean a proposed amendment could be placed on the ballot this fall. The leaders of both houses are reluctant but may go along.

Governor Cayetano advises waiting until next year. He points out that people will decide to run for office for other reasons than whether they are going to get a two- or four-year term. Legislative lawyers also say the problem can be handled next year.

If a special session were held, officials say it would have to run at least 11 days and cost quite a bit of money.

To keep the time required to a minimum, everyone should agree before the session began on the language of the proposed amendment. Otherwise the session could drag on, with the taxpayers fretting over the cost.

Senate President Norman Mizuguchi announced that a majority of the senators wanted to take up the issue, but added that a simple indication of support isn't enough. They have to submit a written request for a special session, he explained.

"To keep session costs to a minimum, the amendment must be in final form from the first day," he added.

House Speaker Calvin Say says most of the Oahu neighborhood boards support a special session and that is influencing the Oahu House members -- even though the problem doesn't affect them.

Much the same situation prevails regarding the new medical privacy law. Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono has called for action in a special session to clarify the law, which she says is causing chaos among health insurers and providers.

But the governor cautions that it would be wiser to wait until next year's legislative session than try to muddle through a special session with little experience with the law and no prior agreement on what amendments are needed. We agree.

The public expects the Legislature to get its business done during the regular session and looks askance at special sessions. It appears that both of these issues can wait until next January, so let them wait.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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