Pacific is a bright spot for Bush
There's no way around it: President Bush leaves the presidency in just a few short weeks with his legacy in tatters.
Opponents say he deserves all that he gets. Supporters suggest that in time Bush will be remembered more kindly, as someone who led the country during the greatest security crisis since World War II.
There is one area, however, where Bush will likely — and rightfully — be remembered kindly in Hawai'i and throughout the Pacific. That is his active interest in establishing marine "monuments," or protected areas, throughout great swaths of the Pacific Ocean.
In June 2006 Bush declared the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a protected national monument. And this week, he extended the same designation to waters around the Northern Mariana Islands and to a sweep of Central Pacific Islands.
Many suggest first lady Laura Bush, who has an active interest in environmental conservation, encouraged these actions. Cynics wonder whether the establishment of these protected areas provides an as-yet not-well-understood security boost for the United States, since it asserts an active U.S. interest in monitoring and controlling access to much of the strategically important Central Pacific.
In any case, Bush's actions ensure that these remote coral atolls, islands, reefs and ocean areas, pristine today largely because of their isolation, will continue to be protected as part of a global environmental heritage.
There is an irony here. While the focus is on protecting fragile and largely untouched resources, these islands and oceans have hardly been immune to the destructive hand of man. Many — such as the Northern Marianas, Johnston and Wake Island — were swept up in the fury of World War II and retain the scars still.
I spent much of my youth on Wake Island (my brother was born there), and Wake is anything but a pristine, natural Pacific Island. In many ways, it is a gritty modern outpost developed to serve the interests of trans-Pacific aviation. To this day, the bunkers and other remnants of battle are easy to find on the hot white coral that makes up the three islets of Wake.
The same is true on many of the other islands. Much of the Northern Marianas is a wasteland of what we in Hawai'i call koa haole, planted to prevent the massive erosion that was sure to follow the devastating bombing the islands suffered during the war.
For all of that, the waters and reefs around these islands have, courtesy of their isolation, survived in far better shape that those closer to major human settlements such as Hawai'i.
If they are given a bit of breathing room through Bush's historic declaration, future generations can do nothing but applaud.