Thursday, April 19, 2007

Abe a success?

Over at Ampotan, I found this post that attempts to question the perception of the Abe Cabinet's having been a failure thought provoking, but ultimately wrong.

The mistake is equating legislative victories with success. Given the size of the LDP's majority in the Lower House, Abe hardly deserves credit for doing what a government supported by a large majority is supposed to do. And as I've written before, the implications of the national referendum bill are far from clear.

Meanwhile, his successes in foreign policy should come as no surprise, because as I've argued previously, Abe is in reality a Japanese Gaullist, at home and abroad; in his long-term vision for a "beautiful country, Japan," his desire to play the statesman on the world stage, his careless management of his own cabinet, and his inattention (or indifference) to the alliance with the US, Abe has governed in a decidedly Gaullist vein.

The question is whether he should be judged a "success" for that, and whether his style of governance -- and his vision for Japan, insofar as it has been expressed in concrete terms -- are good for Japan.

Stylistically, Abe has not done much to appeal to the Japanese people or address their concerns, which of late have little to do with constitution revision. Indeed, one significant difference between Abe and De Gaulle is that unlike De Gaulle, Abe is, unlike his predecessor, not particularly interested (or able, it seems) to play the great popular leader.

Instead, Abe has come to rely on the LDP's traditional policymaking mechanisms to move his agenda. If the past decade of LDP misrule have taught us anything, it's that the old LDP policymaking system, with the LDP Executive Council and Policy Affairs Research Council having veto power over policy, has failed Japan. Koizumi at least acknowledged this fact and struggled, in vain, to change it. (For an absolutely superb account of this, read Aurelia George Mulgan's Koizumi's Failed Revolution, especially her chapter on party government.)

Abe, whether out of conviction or out of deference to his LDP-ruling ancestors, seems to have abandoned attempts to change the LDP -- and thus has reverted to the old LDP mantra, "growth then reform." Should Abe's effective abandonment of structural reform -- and the party reform that must necessarily occur in lockstep -- be considered a success?

As for his foreign policy "triumphs," I simply cannot agree with Ampotman. What should be considered a success? His effective isolation of Japan within the six-party talks? His utter failure to maintain close and effective political communication with a US government that needs to be reminded constantly about concerns outside of Iraq, a failure that resulted in his government's being surprised by the US about-face on North Korea?

As for Sino-Japanese relations, remember the adage that "success has many fathers." I wonder if the Chinese role in the rapprochement might be a tad bit more significant than Abe's. Is there anyone out there who does not think that in PR terms, Wen was positively brilliant throughout his visit to Japan (whatever his inadequacies as a baseball player)? And might Ampotman be slightly exaggerating the concrete results of the Sino-Japanese talks? "Stepping up to pace of talks" on the East China Sea dispute hardly constitutes a "major step forward."

So no, I think there's very little to suggest that Abe deserves anything above a failing grade, or, at the very best, an incomplete.

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