- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2005

HONOLULU — Adm. Thomas B. Fargo was, in turn, optimistic, cautious and pessimistic as he looked back over his nearly six years in Asia, first as commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and then as commanding officer of all U.S. forces in the region.

In a wide-ranging interview on the eve of his retirement, Adm. Fargo was upbeat about the surge of democracy in Asia, the working relations developed with other military leaders throughout the region and the evolution of Japan as a mature ally contributing to the security of Asia.

However, he was cautious about maintaining peace between China and the Republic of China (Taiwan), saying that “miscalculation could occur on either side of the strait” that separates them, and was wary about how China would use its rising power. He also was guarded in assessing the future of the U.S. alliance with South Korea.

The admiral, a submariner retiring after 35 years of service, also contended that the United States and its allies had made progress against terrorists, pirates and drug smugglers in Southeast Asia but had far to go.

“We’ve taken a lot of these folks off the street,” he said, “but we aren’t there yet by any stretch of the imagination.”

Asked about changes on his watch, Adm. Fargo put democracy in Asia at the top of his list.

“We’ve seen the emerging democracies mature and fledgling democracies take shape,” he said, pointing to 14 elections in Asia last year.

The “most obvious,” he said, were the spring elections in Indonesia, in which 87 percent of 147 million voters went to the polls to choose the nation’s first directly elected president, as well as a parliament and local officials.

The United States and other advanced nations are lucky to turn out 50 percent of the voters.

Adm. Fargo said the parliamentary election in Malaysia in March “was a vote for moderation. It was a vote that says democracy and Islam and prosperity can flourish together.”

“When democratic processes work,” he said, “that strengthens governance.” He cited historical studies arguing, “Democracies don’t attack or fight other democracies.”

Next to democracy, the admiral said, he was pleased with professional relations developed with regional defense chiefs.

When Adm. Fargo came to Hawaii in 1999, telephone conversations with Asian defense chiefs were rare; today, he talks with three or four a month.

Japan-U.S. security relations have become excellent, he said.

“We are very clearly seeing Japan mature in its security role.”

Adm. Fargo credited Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi with forging Japan’s security posture and said that was likely to continue after Mr. Koizumi leaves office, perhaps in two years.

“Their evolution in their security architecture makes great sense based on the changes we’ve seen in the world,” the admiral said, referring to globalization, the advance of China and the hostility of North Korea.

Adm. Fargo said he was apprehensive about the Chinese, whose military capabilities will continue to expand.

“I would hope that as they develop into a great power — and I think they will be a great power — that they will use all that comes with that status in a constructive way.”

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