Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The return of the grand coalition (proposal)

After going into hiatus in the wake of Mr. Fukuda's election as LDP president, advocates of an LDP-DPJ grand coalition are making noise again. Feverish speculation about the meeting between Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Fukuda is focused on the idea that they were either a) planning a snap election or b) making plans for a grand coalition, and with that cue, Yomiuri is back to work proposing an idea it was keen on back in August as a way to salvage the Abe administration.

Mr. Fukuda no doubt fueled speculation by not dismissing the idea outright but instead talking about practical difficulties in implementation. Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura was slightly more open about his disdain for the idea, but even he didn't reject it outright. Former LDP secretary-general Takebe Tsutomu was more forthright in his support for the idea in a speech at a meeting of his campaign training school.

I remain as dubious about an LDP-DPJ grand coalition as I was in August.

I also remain skeptical about Mr. Ozawa's falling for a grand coalition. Doing so would mean watching his party crumble beneath his feet, and would likely demolish the rump DPJ's electoral prospects. The DPJ would become ever more like the anti-mainstream faction that Mr. Koizumi suggested it had become by winning the Upper House — and why would voters bother defecting from the LDP...for the LDP. I am convinced that Mr. Ozawa's goal is to unseat the LDP and make his own party the new governing party. It's hard to do that without a party.

But that doesn't mean that Mr. Ozawa isn't looking for a way to be able to work with the LDP to get legislation passed. I think the "secret" meetings between the party heads are concerned with drafting rules of the game for a divided Diet. As I've suggested earlier, the DPJ has no choice but to cooperate with the LDP if it wants to see legislation passed; the LDP has the luxury of not cooperating, even if, as Jun Okumura discusses in this post, the LDP is extremely reluctant to use its supermajority. Not surprisingly, the moment the anti-terror special measures law expires and the MSDF ships set sail for home, Mr. Ozawa's confrontational posture slackens and he sits down to talk with Mr. Fukuda. I agree with MTC: the end of the MSDF mission has, in a sense, let the air out of the tense political environment. Mr. Fukuda does not share his predecessor's enthusiasm for the mission, and now that Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ have earned their "victory," having done exactly what they set out to do in the aftermath of the Upper House election, the two leaders can get down to business and figure out how and on what issues the two parties and the two houses can work together to forge a national agenda.

And so to address Jun's question about why the LDP remains extremely reluctant to use its supermajority to pass the new law, I don't think the government is prepared to pay political costs well out of proportion to the benefits that could accrue to the LDP as a result of the continuation of the refueling mission. I really think that Mr. Fukuda would prefer that the issue go away, regardless of the tough rhetoric used by Mr. Machimura to criticize the DPJ (indirectly). (The CCS described Japan as returning to the "minor leagues" for pulling out of the Indian Ocean.) The new bill may very well die in the Upper House, the government will do its best to spin the defeat as irresponsibility on the DPJ's part, but it will do nothing further.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bring on the family feud

Hatoyama Yukio, DPJ secretary-general and brother of justice minister Hatoyama Kunio, has responded to his brother's absurd comments about his "friend of a friend."

This is the kind of thing we wonks were waiting for when Mr. Abe brought Kunio into the cabinet in August. Sooner or later there would be something that would require Yukio going after his brother. (I just received Mayumi Itoh's account of the Hatoyama clan in the post today, luckily, and am now ever more eager to read it.)

In any case, Yukio responded by saying precisely what I said yesterday, arguing, "He probably wanted to say that Al Qaeda is near, but if that's the case, it is essential that he contact his friend to make inquiries about the situation and where this man is." Yukio was actually fairly tame in his criticism, using the word "thoughtless" as opposed to a number of other, stronger words that might be more appropriate in this situation.

I remained convinced that for once it would be entirely reasonable for the DPJ to push for Hatoyama Kunio's resignation.

Who's afraid of the old LDP?

The scheduled debate between Prime Minister Fukuda and DPJ President Ozawa has been postponed until November 7th, following a closed meeting between the two that is being described by critics as "closed-door collusion."

Apparently Komeito secretary-general Ota Akihrio was particularly concerned about meeting, fearing that Messrs. Fukuda and Ozawa were discussing a snap election for which his party is not ready. The prime minister reportedly told Mr. Ota not to worry.

Whatever the content of the discussion between the latest combatants in the Hatfield-McCoy feud Kaku-Fuku war, the secretive dealings of Mr. Fukuda will undoubtedly fuel a new round of alarmism about the return of the old LDP.

But as I've lately been reading Nathaniel Thayer's classic How The Conservatives Rule Japan, I've thought a lot about what exactly the "old LDP" is. Is it the party of zoku giin working together with bureaucrats to formulate policy? Is it the party of factions duking it out to get their candidates elected and their senior officials in the cabinet? Massive koenkai? Structural corruption? The combine of big business yen, small business/farmer votes? Yoshida realism? Kishi conservatism? Miki liberalism? High posture? Low posture? Cabinets of strong men (cabinets that include the full spectrum of factions, like, say, Mr. Fukuda's) versus "one-lunged" cabinets (cabinets rooted in factions and politicians loyal to the prime minister, like, say, Mr. Abe's)? Reactionary or reformist (whether cynical or sincere)? Party men or bureaucrats?

The number of ways in which the LDP has historically been divided means that the phrase "old LDP" — found, in one form or another, in both the Japanese and foreign press — is meaningless without further explanation. It is not the kind of phrase that can be used and have the listener or reader automatically know what it means.

The LDP, it seems, has been different things at different times. Like most social entities, it has subject to a host of external and internal variables, not least the quality of the (invariably) men at the helm. There is no one "old LDP," only old LDPs. There are few situations in contemporary Japanese politics for which there isn't some precedent from the past fifty years (although the divided Diet we're witnessing now is one of those periods without a true precedent). The one constant is that the LDP's end is holding power. But the LDP never stopped trying to hold power. Mr. Koizumi's talk of reforming the LDP had everything to do with ensuring that the LDP continues to hold power.

So to talk about a return to the "old LDP" is essentially meaningless. Conditions have changed: the money has dried up, undermining the old pork-barrel politics (just ask Tamura Kohei); there is more public scrutiny of political activities; more urbanization, so less reliable support; a main opposition party that is, while still raw in many ways, more ready to challenge the LDP for power than the old JSP; and from my point of view, worse leaders. The shift in these variables mean that there is no going back again. The LDP will not be the party it was decades ago, whatever that party was and no matter how hard certain LDP members try to recreate an idyllic past.

All of which goes to say that whatever the difficulties confronted by Mr. Fukuda now, he sits at the head of a resilient organization that has changed with its environment, and will not give in easily to Mr. Ozawa's machinations.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Hatoyama Kunio's ridiculous argument

Prime Minister Fukuda and DPJ President Ozawa met this morning in advance of their debate in the Diet that is scheduled for Wednesday. The leaders, Asahi reports, were scheduled to discuss an extension of the Diet session to the end of November and the MSDF refueling mission, just as the MSDF refuels its last coalition warships (for the time being).

I wonder whether the discussion touched on the DPJ's growing list of potential targets for censure motions — now said to include Mr. Fukuda himself — and the more troubling matter of Justice Minister Hatoyama Kunio's perplexing admission that a friend of a friend is a member of Al Qaeda, who supposedly provided Mr. Hatoyama with a tip to avoid Bali in October 2002.

Mr. Hatoyama — once described in a Shukan Bunshun article as Mr. Fukuda's "loyal dog Hachiko" despite his close support of Mr. Aso — was trying to justify plans to implement a system for fingerprinting foreigners upon entering Japan by suggesting that such a system would prevent his friend's friend from entering Japan.

Is Mr. Hatoyama really so lacking in common sense as to fail to see why the example he used to support this dubious proposition is problematic (to say the least)?

Apparently he has some clue that it was probably the wrong thing to say, as Mr. Hatoyama has apologized for giving the impression that he knows a member of Al Qaeda, claiming that he can't trust his friend's information. But will an apology be enough to keep Mr. Hatoyama off the DPJ's little list? A censure motion against Mr. Hatoyama might actually be appropriate, given his incredible lack of judgment.

If his friend suggested that he knew a member of Al Qaeda, wouldn't a sitting member of the Diet feel strongly about finding out whether there was any truth to the idea and putting the resources of the Japanese state to work finding and apprehending this person? And if he inquired further and found there was no truth to it, but still said it aloud, doesn't that show him to have a lack of judgment rendering him unfit to serve as, of all things, minister of justice?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dubious prospects for the MSDF mission

With the MSDF's refueling ships set to leave the Indian Ocean later this week, the fight in the Diet and in the court of public opinion over a new law authorizing the MSDF mission continues to run against the government, in that public support for the new law, insofar as it exists, is tepid at best and unlikely to be strongly in favor of the government's using its Lower House supermajority to override the Upper House.

I think Michael Penn of the Shingetsu Institute gets it exactly right in his latest newsletter: "[The LDP's leaders] are nowhere near where they need to be politically in order to strong-arm passage of the bill in the near term, and I have little doubt that the main reason they haven't given up already is because they don't want to offend the US embassy and Washington just before the scheduled November 16th meeting of Prime Minister Fukuda and President Bush."

Ambassador Schieffer's repeated remarks about Japan's pulling out of the war on terror (an argument taken up, not surprisingly, by Gordan Chang at Contentions) may ultimately have an impact opposite of that hoped for by the ambassador. He may have conveniently provided Mr. Fukuda with cover for ending the mission, especially if the prime minister's meeting with President Bush in November is frosty, as it could very well be. Now that the ambassador has shifted from criticizing the DPJ to criticizing Japan as a whole, the government could make like the Indian communists and criticize the US for interfering with Japanese democracy, necessitating the withdrawal of the law from public consideration. Given that the feud over the abductions issue has now gone public, it is quite plausible that Mr. Fukuda would enjoy the support of the LDP's conservatives for a move like this, and it would conveniently allow the government to end the refueling mission on its own terms while undermining efforts by the DPJ to spin withdrawal as a victory for its side.

Should the LDP decide to persist, however, it still faces an uphill battle, as LDP secretary-general Ibuki Bunmei admitted on Sunday, suggesting that although the government wants to deal with the issue within the bounds of the session, it may be unable to avoid extending the special session so to send the bill to the Upper House, daring the DPJ to reject it. I'm sure the DPJ will have no problem doing just that, and it may also pass a censure motion against Defense Minister Ishiba, as both Hatoyama Yukio, DPJ secretary-general, and Yamaoka Kenji, the DPJ's Kokutai chairman, have suggested. Beyond its impact on the debate over the refueling mission, a successful censure motion against Mr. Ishiba raises an interesting question for the rules of the game in the divided Diet. Should Mr. Ishiba resign, despite a censure motion being non-binding? Is it right that the DPJ can use its control of the Upper House to force members of the cabinet to resign at will?

Meanwhile, I'm amazed at how little energy the government appears to have put into fighting for its new law; it's no surprise that public support is lukewarm. But maybe I shouldn't be surprised. Maybe the government is just looking for a way to make the whole issue disappear and find a scapegoat to blame for Japan's "pulling out of the war on terror." (Words that will undoubtedly haunt the alliance for years to come.) In which case, with the US bullying Japan on this issue, the Fukuda government now has its scapegoat — the challenge now for Mr. Fukuda could be how to spin a legislative defeat into a moral victory and prolong his government so that he can turn his attention to matters domestic.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The foreseeable crisis erupts

Ambassador Schieffer has, according to the Washington Post, sent a cable directly to the president (an unusual step) warning Mr. Bush of serious consequences to the US-Japan alliance should the US remove North Korea from the state sponsors of terrorism list without progress being made on the abductions issue. The ambassador also complained about being cut out of the six-party talks.

I hate to say I told you so, but I've been arguing for months that Chris Hill's Berlin agreement presented a serious problem for the US-Japan relationship, because while the US was determined to continue negotiations in good faith, Japan — first under Mr. Abe, now, apparently, under Mr. Fukuda — was unwilling to talk about anything but the unresolved abductions issue and essentially opted out of the negotiations. (Try this post from February, this post from March, this post from May, this post from July, this post from September, and this post from earlier this month.) This gap has grown as the negotiations with Pyongyang have matured, and now that there is a real chance of the US making a real concession to North Korea as a reward for progress on denuclearization, alliance managers in both countries are panicking.

Both governments must bear the blame, having missed opportunity after opportunity to discuss this gap and find a way to realign the US and Japanese positions.

Consider that since the February agreement, Vice President Cheney visited Tokyo, Prime Minister Abe visited Washington for a summit with President Bush, the US and Japan held a 2 + 2 ministerial on security, and Messrs. Bush and Abe met on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Germany and the APEC summit in Sydney. At the ministerial and sub-ministerial levels, Japanese officials have made frequent visits to the US, and US officials have been in Japan.

At each of these occasions, the allies could have had a frank and open discussion about the differences between the US and Japanese bargaining positions. (In Cheney's defense, he tried in February.) If Japan was unprepared to broach the issue itself, then the US government should have forced the issue months ago, and the man to do that should have been Ambassador Schieffer. It's too late in the game for the ambassador to complain about the consequences of the US bargaining position in the six-party talks. He should have seen this coming and worked with Japanese officials to try to close the gap or at least explain — loudly, clearly, and unambiguously — to Japan why the US is prepared to move forward. Part of the problem seems to be that Chris Hill is essentially on his own, meaning that the US bargaining position is more of a Rice-Hill bargaining position.

At the same time, I have no sympathy for the Government of Japan. It had months to anticipate this development, but chose to do nothing. Of course, the problem is that with Mr. Abe and the conservatives in charge, the GOJ lacked the flexibility to alter its position in tune with the US. What MOFA bureaucrat would stand up to Mr. Abe, when doing so ran the risk of being treated as a "traitor" by the conservatives, much like Tanaka Hitoshi, former deputy minister for foreign affairs. Perhaps Japan's conservatives wanted a crisis to happen, as an excuse for Japan to pursue a more independent course. For them, perhaps it's a win-win situation. If the US chooses an agreement over the alliance, they have an excuse to clamor for a more assertive, independent foreign policy; if the US chooses the alliance over an agreement, so much the better.

In other words, both governments have been in disarray. With intra-governmental coordination lacking, it is unsurprising that inter-governmental coordination has been stunted.

This problem is indicative of a serious flaw in the alliance. It seems that Japan has the idea that if it supports the US unconditionally in places like Afghanistan and Iraq (which it did from 2001 onwards), it deserves the unconditional support of the US in the showdown with North Korea. As I suggested in this post, Japan views the alliance as mutual entrapment. The US clearly does not. And so over the past six years the purpose of the US-Japan alliance has become muddled, and now each ally has different expectations for the alliance; given this, it is no surprise that in the face of a shared concern they not only cannot agree on a common position, but they have even been unable to admit that serious differences exist.

Now that negotiations with North Korea might finally be ready to bear fruit, both governments are panicking about damage to the alliance. Inexcusable, really.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dueling with the right in Japan and the US

Perhaps as a sign that the six-party talk's latest agreement on North Korea is getting dangerously close to proceeding smoothly, there are signs that the positions of two actors are changing, one for the better, one for the worse.

For the better, Sasae Kenichiro, Japan's negotiator in the six-party talks, suggested in a meeting with Dennis Wilder, the NSC's senior Asia assistant, that it is "essential" to execute a verifible denuclearization for North Korea to be removed from the terror list, a position that is strikingly close to the US position. Mr. Sasae apparently appended a remark about the abductions issue, but it seems that the overall thrust of the talks — according to Asahi — was actually the nuclear issue, suggesting that Japan might be ready for a subtle shift in its position in the talks.

At the same time, however, the New York Times reports that the American right, which has been remarkably quiet about the latest progress in negotiations with North Korea (giving Chris Hill and Condoleeza Rice space to bargain with Pyongyang), has turned on Secretary Rice, with Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen meeting with Ms. Rice to question the administration's North Korea policy. Perhaps Republican discontent is more a sign of fears that the deal might work: when it was unclear whether Mr. Hill's bargaining would bear fruit, conservatives could hold off from sniping at the negotiations out of confidence that the talks would fall apart.

Now, though, it may be too late for conservatives to do anything to stop it — unless there is some truth to the lingering rumor that Israel destroyed a North Korea-provided Syrian nuclear facility last month.

In any case, it seems that the tacit alliance between American and Japanese conservatives, cemented during the tenures of Messrs. Koizumi and Abe, remains sound, even as US-Japan relations experience a bit of turmoil.

Political change, left and right

Japanese politicians and commentators are increasingly coming around to the view that the next general election, whether it will be held next month or next year, will likely be historically significant, for even if the DPJ does not unseat the LDP, the election could upset the status quo and trigger a new political alignment.

One can find signs of the anticipated realignment.

On the right, Hiranuma Takeo, who before Mr. Abe's crackup looked like he was prepared to return to the LDP, recently suggested the creation of a new study group devoted to "a rebirth of conservatism based on Japan's tradition and culture" that could, according to Sankei, hint at the creation of a new conservative party. His hope, it seems, is to draw conservatives from both the LDP and the DPJ, who he expects might be dissatisfied with the leadership of their respective parties.

I can't see this succeeding, given that some of the LDP's conservatives are already planning for Mr. Fukuda's departure and working to ensure that Mr. Aso will not fail in his bid to succeed him. Meanwhile, whatever their dissatisfaction with Mr. Ozawa's leadership, I suspect that the centrifugal forces of a major political party (important jobs, respect, the prospects for unseating Ozawa and seizing control for themselves) will easily overwhelm the appeal of a speculative Hiranuma new party.

More intriguing, however, are signs of a new dynamism on the part of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP). Akahata (Red Flag), the JCP daily, has been dutifully reporting on the travels of JCP chairman Shii Kazuo throughout Japan. With the DPJ and the LDP looking like the old factions, the JCP may benefit by being the one party that has a genuinely unique critique of the government. In a speech in Chiba last week, for example, Mr. Shii criticized LDP rule for its large corporation-centered approach, its acting as America's yes-man, and its efforts to legitimize Japan's imperial past. He also called for the gradual disarmament of Japan and the dissolution of the JSDF. In a recent speech in Nagasaki, he elaborated on the party's opposition to structural reform and the need to defend vulnerable members of Japanese society, and insisted that unlike the DPJ, the JCP's confrontational stance is without contradiction.

Given social insecurities, given the DPJ's own money problems and ambiguous policy positions, given discontent with politics as usual, I think there may be room for the JCP to become an important small party — to use a German analogy, if Komeito plays the role of the Free Democrats to the LDP's Christian Democrats, then the JCP could be the Greens to the DPJ's Social Democrats. The JCP is already giving signs of bowing to political reality; while Chairman Shii insists that the party remains dedicated to achieving a majority of its own, the party's new election strategy recognizes the difficulty of winning in single-seat districts and so the JCP will concentrate on the regional PR blocs in the next Lower House election (as suggested by Ichida Tadayoshi, JCP secretary-general). Sooner or later, however, the Communists will have to compromise their principles if they are to play a significant role in the political system as a potential coalition partner for the DPJ.

Not least, the party will have to change its name. Whatever the history, the word "communist" is an albatross around the party's neck, undermining what could otherwise be a policy platform that has some appeal to Japanese voters. In his Chiba speech, Mr. Shii spoke of the "romance" of the party's name, which Mr. Ichida suggested is related to the party's history as the only party that both opposed imperialism before the war and the alliance with the US afterwards. Mr. Ichida also spoke of the party's reluctance to become a "normal" political party scrambling for cash and receiving subsidies from the state. An admirable idealism, perhaps, but a guarantee of remaining effectively useless. The Japanese "allergy" to communism remains, and the party would be wise to stop limiting its own public support.

But the changing political environment should be viewed by its leadership as yet another opportunity to modernize their party. The MSDF refueling debate has opened up questions about the US-Japan alliance, the pensions scandal has raised the fears of millions of citizens, and corruption scandal after corruption scandal have undermined whatever confidence voters have in the political system. As a party that has been consistently opposed to Japan as it is, the JCP would be foolish not to try to take advantage of new political circumstances and carve out a niche for itself.

Of course, the Communists have missed opportunities in the past, and it would not surprise me if they were to miss this opportunity too. But I am intrigued by the prospect of their potentially adding another wrinkle to the political realignment of Japan.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Will bullying have consequences?

Ambassador Schieffer has criticized, yet again, the DPJ's opposition to the extension of the MSDF refueling mission, this time in a speech at Japan's National Press Club.

"...I think if Japan stops doing this on a permanent basis," he said, "I think it would be sending a very bad message to the international community and to terrorists, because I think it would be saying that Japan is opting out of the war on terror for whatever reason." [The above link is to full text of the speech from the US Embassy in Japan.]

Once again, Ambassador Schieffer is given an opportunity to moderate his position and appear slightly less overweening, and once again, he chose to emphasize Japan's international responsibilities (and its purported alliance responsibilities) over Japanese democracy.

Is the ambassador, whether under orders from the White House or not, deliberately trying to make life harder for the Fukuda government as it tries to maneuver the new bill on the refueling mission to passage? Does Ambassador Schieffer think that reminding the Japanese government over and over again of the "very bad message" it will send if it brings its ships home ("If the MSDF stops giving gas to warships, the terrorists win!") will somehow ensure the smooth passage of the new law?

I suspect that with each statement the ambassador makes reiterating the (well known) US position on the anti-terror law, the resolve of LDP members weakens ever so slightly (and the determination of DPJ members firms up). After all, it's not like the LDP — especially its conservative ideologues — are pleased to be reminded of their dependence on the US, and so I wonder whether at some point too much goading from the US could prompt the LDP to stop fighting for the bill by arguing against the use of the supermajority to guarantee its passage. There must be someone within the LDP arguing that Japan should withdraw the MSDF as payback for the Bush administration's about-face on North Korea.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fukuda should mention Iran

In the past week, the Bush administration has raised the intensity of its rhetoric on Iran to dangerously absurd levels.

Last week, President Bush suggested that Iran's possession of nuclear weapons could lead to World War III, which White House press secretary Dana Perino later played down as suggesting nothing more than the seriousness with which the president views the threat posed by a nuclear Iran.

More recently, however, Vice President Cheney said in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Sunday, "The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," and that Iran faces "serious consequences" for its pursuit of nuclear arms.

Between talk by Mr. Bush — head of state of a country that has somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 nuclear weapons — of World War III and Mr. Cheney's using the same language that he used in advance of the Iraq War (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan), observers in the US and elsewhere cannot be blamed for wondering whether the US will be at war with Iran in the waning months of the Bush administration. (Niall Ferguson dismisses the idea that war is imminent — imminent being a few weeks — but that's little comfort to me.) Even if the talk is bluster designed to make Iran give in somehow, the LA Times wonders whether the Bush administration, its credibility all but spent, can achieve anything but more Iranian recalcitrance with this approach.

For my part, like Fareed Zakaria, I'm not convinced that Iran is somehow beyond deterrence:
When the relatively moderate Mohammed Khatami was elected president in Iran, American conservatives pointed out that he was just a figurehead. Real power, they said (correctly), especially control of the military and police, was wielded by the unelected "Supreme Leader," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Now that Ahmadinejad is president, they claim his finger is on the button. (Oh wait, Iran doesn't have a nuclear button yet and won't for at least three to eight years, according to the CIA, by which point Ahmadinejad may not be president anymore. But these are just facts.)
How does Japan enter the picture?

Prime Minister Fukuda will, of course, be in Washington next month to meet with President Bush. I think that the November summit might be a good opportunity for Mr. Fukuda to distinguish himself from his predecessors and state in no uncertain terms that Japan finds the Bush administration's rhetoric counterproductive to the resolution of the crisis, that Japan, as a state with official ties with Iran, wants to play a greater role in finding a solution, and that Washington cannot count on Tokyo's support in the event of war unless all other options are exhausted first.

In other words, for the US-Japan alliance to be more equal, Japan has to act like an equal of the US, making demands of its own on its ally.

Of course, given the Bush administration's expectations from its allies (i.e., seen and not heard), an interjection by Mr. Fukuda would probably have little impact on the administration's plans for Iran — and it's unclear to me how Japanese mediation could help resolve the crisis — but at least Mr. Fukuda could stake out a firm Japanese position now and perhaps prevent Japan from getting overwhelmed by events should a war come, all while signaling to the Japanese public that Japan's foreign policy will not be conducted from Washington.

The shape of criticism to come?

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, due to visit Japan in early November, criticized NATO members for failing to meet their Afghanistan obligations in advance of a NATO ministerial this week.

Secretary Gates said, "I am not satisfied that an alliance whose members have over 2 million soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen cannot find the modest additional resources that have been committed for Afghanistan."

If he's disappointed in NATO allies, just imagine what he'll say when he visits Japan, where — not surprisingly — in the first day of deliberations on the new bill authorizing the MSDF refueling mission in support of operations in Afghanistan more than half the questions concerned the unrelated Moriya scandal and the supposed cover-up of an error by a Defense Ministry (then Agency) official that misreported the amount of fuel provided to the US Navy.

Whatever his disappointment, however, I hope that he'll hold off from criticizing Japan (and the DPJ) publicly, unlike Ambassador Schieffer. US goading is part of the problem, not part of the solution, because it has made Japanese politicians and officials accustomed to framing security policies in the context of "what do we need to do to make Washington happy," not "what role should we play in the world." If the Japanese government would rather under-commit and thus free ride for as long as the ride's working, no amount of bullying and blustering by US officials will make it changes its mind, because Tokyo has learned to play the game of contributing just enough to placate Washington.

The only way to break the cycle will be the force Japan to be free, to force it to bear the bulk of the burden of its own defense and thus begin thinking seriously about what its national interests are and what capabilities it needs to secure those interests.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The non-debate debate continues

The government's new law on the MSDF refueling mission will be discussed in a plenary session of the House of Representatives this afternoon, in the midst of the widening scandal involving Moriya Takemasa and the Yamada Yoko corporation. As implicitly suggested by MTC, the Moriya scandal has provided the DPJ with yet another opportunity to avoid discussing the principles involved in the MSDF mission and instead base its opposition on shenanigans at the Defense Ministry.

Perhaps Koike Yuriko was on to something when she suggested that history stopped for Mr. Ozawa in 1990, except Mr. Ozawa is increasingly reenacting 1990 from the perspective of the opposition parties. Now that the DPJ has decided that its bill will not include provisions for JSDF dispatch to Afghanistan proper, the debate will see more political maneuvering that will be little more than a repeat of the fight surrounding the international peace cooperation bill that the Kaifu government — with Mr. Ozawa, then LDP secretary-general, spearheading the effort — pushed for in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The opposition parties, led by Doi Takako's Socialists, killed the bill by a thousand cuts, which led to Japan's giving $13 billion instead, which led to accusations of checkbook diplomacy, which led to Japan's embarrassment...which led to more than a decade of Japanese officials speaking of the need to make up for its response to the Gulf crisis and then Mr. Koizumi's deploying the JSDF to the Indian Ocean and Iraq.

Mr. Ozawa's ill-advised (because it exacerbated tensions within his own camp) gambit was the one chance for the debate over the refueling mission to address Japan's position in the world and perhaps articulate a foreign policy that is neither US- nor UN-centered but has more in common with the European powers playing a major role in ISAF. Political conditions made Mr. Ozawa's position untenable, but perhaps a different leader who enjoyed the trust of his own party and its supporters would be able to lead and take a stand on a position that might be unpopular but has the merit of suggesting real changes in Japan's international posture.

Hatoyama Yukio was honest in stating the DPJ's utter cowardice in this debate: "It is not mistaken that if lives of JSDF personnel active in Afghanistan were lost, it would give rise to a storm of substantial criticism of this policy as greatly mistaken."

In other words, rhetoric about Japan's international responsibilities is meaningless when it comes to Japan's actually bearing real costs to meet those responsibilities. [Ed. — Bear no burden, pay as low a price as possible.]

The LDP is no better than the DPJ on this front, because the government is content to stick with the cost-free refueling mission, even while piously declaiming about Japan's need to fulfill its promise to the international community.

And so let the Diet debate begin, between an LDP that probably just wants the whole issue to go away as soon as possible and a DPJ that is wholly incapable of articulating a coherent position on Japanese security policy.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Fukuda's bumpy road

Prime Minister Fukuda, facing reports of corruption at the Defense Ministry thanks to Mr. Moriya and confusion as to how his government intends to proceed with the new bill on the MSDF refueling mission, may now be facing a precipitous decline in popularity.

Mainichi's latest poll recorded an eleven point drop in the cabinet's approval rating to 46%, with disapproval rising five points to 30%. The honeymoon, it seems, is over. Mainichi also asked about support for the MSDF refueling mission and found that support was more or less unchanged, falling one point to 48% (with those opposed rising by one point to 43%). Interestingly, when asked their reasons for supporting the mission, respondents overwhelmingly (65%) said it was because international contributions are important, as opposed to only 18% of respondents saying it was necessary to prevent a worsening of relations between the US and Japan. (Oh, and DPJ supporters are not only overwhelmingly opposed to the MSDF mission, but also to Japanese contributions to ISAF — what was Ozawa thinking?)

While the public remains generally in favor of the government's position, the LDP should be worried that support isn't growing. Once the bill hits the Upper House — LDP secretary-general Ibuki Bunmei insists it will — the LDP will have a hard enough time retaining the support it has in the face of an endless parade of witnesses and revelations exhibiting how poorly managed the MSDF operation has been.

The DPJ is momentarily well placed to exploit the government's growing weakness. But one should not go too far in praising the DPJ. Judging by Mr. Maehara's appearance on The Sunday Projectas described by Jun Okumura — it seems that the DPJ is back to being strictly negative following Mr. Ozawa's (politically) ill-considered statement of support for JSDF participation in ISAF. Not only did Mr. Maehara provide no clear statement on the party's plans for constructive legislation, but he also further undermined Mr. Ozawa's leadership by suggesting that the party president's comments on the unconstitutionality of the MSDF mission were Mr. Ozawa's personal opinions and not party policy. The DPJ could come out on top in the legislative battle, but I'm not sure what that means, considering that Mr. Ozawa must present a realistic, constructive alternative that can challenge the persistent meme that the DPJ is as of yet unfit to govern while trapped between rank-and-file support opposed to all options on the table (see above), an Upper House caucus sympathetic to the views of the party's supporters, and the party's young hawks.

As things stand now, both the LDP and the DPJ are in purely reactive stances. Neither seems to have a clear strategy; each party is essentially relying on the other to make mistakes, with the party that makes more and bigger mistakes losing.

No wonder former PM Nakasone Yasuhiro is already talking about the post-Fukuda era, with his candidate of choice being "an able politician like Aso Taro."

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Fukuda fakeout

Earlier this week, Masuzoe Yoichi, health minister, suggested that a snap election may be possible within the year, fueling speculation of an imminent dissolution of the Diet as a result of parliamentary deadlock.

He was promptly reprimanded by Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura, who clarified that it is the prime minister's responsibility — the prime minister's alone — to dissolve the House of Representatives and call an election, and that it is inappropriate for a member of the cabinet to address this (no matter how many books on politics, including one on the premiership, to his name).

Prime Minister Fukuda, too, jokingly chided himself for hinting at the possibility of a snap election at an informal gathering of cabinet members.

But behind the jokes, however, is the very real concern that should the LDP call an election now, it could face a defeat that would make the July defeat look like an LDP triumph. Miyagawa Takayoshi, head of the Center for Political Public Relations, had an article in the October 18th issue of Shukan Bunshun (not online) in which he describes his predictions for a general election.

In short, disaster for the LDP:

LDP 197 (down 110 from 307, 134 single-seat constituencies)
Komeito 23 (down 8 from 31)

DPJ 224 (up 111 from 113, 145 single-seat constituencies)

Combined with slight gains or no change among the other opposition parties, the opposition as a whole would have 260 of the Lower House's 480 seats. The article goes into some detail about the components of this dramatic shift, with change concentrated in Hokkaido (where the DPJ already has a strong foothold and will be running against LDP heavyweights like Mr. Machimura and former PARC chairman Nakagawa Shoichi) and Tokyo, where the DPJ saw its position nearly wiped out in 2005 (another article in this issue suggests that Mr. Ozawa might consider jumping constituencies from Iwate to Tokyo, confident that the vacated seat will be picked up by the DPJ candidate).

A couple things leap out at me. First, even if this outcome comes to pass, the DPJ will still need a total of seventeen more seats to secure a governing majority, which will mean turning to some combination of Kokumin Shinto, SDP, the Japan Party, Suzuki Muneo's Great Earth Party, and an assortment of independents (not to mention the Communists, who may be an unlikely coalition partner but who may play a decisive role in the next election by changing their electoral strategy and limiting the number of candidates they run in the next general election). The opposition parties may be cooperating now, but would a governing coalition fall into place easily under Mr. Ozawa, given memories of the last multi-party coalition engineered by Mr. Ozawa? Obviously this case would be different, given the DPJ's overwhelming dominance of a coalition, but the DPJ would still depend on its coalition partners in order to govern, despite the discrepancy in numbers.

Second, and more significantly, given the prospects of a defeat of this magnitude, why would Mr. Fukuda decide to call an early election that would mean the end of LDP rule? If the party had even a remote possibility of restoring its prospects over the next twenty-three months, why would it act within the next three, as suggested by Mr. Masuzoe? Sure, it could get worse for the LDP, and the DPJ could take an outright majority, but it seems like that's a risk worth taking.

And I think the LDP knows this, which is why I suspect that any references to an early election from Mr. Fukuda or his inner circle are intended more to rattle the DPJ than to signal serious intentions of calling an early election. Why? Because as suggested by Mr. Koizumi's new "mainstream / anti-mainstream" thesis, the closer an election seems, the more the DPJ will go on the attack and try to widen the differences between it and the LDP. Like bullfighting in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, Mr. Fukuda can wave the cape of an early election, prompting Mr. Ozawa to lower his head and charge, only to withdraw the cape and have the DPJ slam head on into the cold, hard anvil of another two years (at least) of divided government.

All of this depends, of course, on Mr. Fukuda's retaining his teflon coat — or to stick with the metaphor, remaining the calm, unflappable matador untouched by the turmoil around him. As Jun Okumura suggests, Mr. Fukuda's cabinet might even be on the brink of losing its allure and seeing its popularity plummet should its new anti-terror law stall in the Diet thanks to Moriya Takemasa's allegations. But I still have strong doubts that Mr. Fukuda will cave into a snap election quickly.

As for Mr. Miyagawa's predictions, I haven't checked them thoroughly, but I intend to do my own breakdown and predictions for the 300 single-seat constituencies soon, critiquing Mr. Miyagawa's in the process.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Carl Schmitt on the US-Japan alliance

Well, not exactly, but I found this passage in "The Concept of The Political" interesting in light of Japan's schizophrenic relationship with the US.
...It would be a mistake to believe that a nation could eliminate the distinction of friend and enemy by declaring its friendship for the entire world or by voluntarily disarming itself. The world will not thereby become depoliticalized, and it will not be transplanted into a condition of pure morality, pure justice, or pure economics. If a people is afraid of the trials and risks implied by existing in the sphere of politics, then another people will appear which will assume these trials by protecting it against foreign enemies and thereby taking over political rule. The protector then decides who the enemy is by virtue of the eternal relation of protection and obedience.

Ambassador Schieffer again

Just in case the LDP was unclear on US desires, Ambassador Schieffer said in a meeting with Foreign Minister Komura, "We desire the continuation of the MSDF's activities."

The discussion appears to have been part of routine meeting on the foreign policy agenda in advance of Prime Minister Fukuda's visit to Washington next month, and so some might say that of course he would repeat Washington's fervent desire that the MSDF continue refueling coalition warships in the Indian Ocean.

But he should have said something along the lines of, "The US government has made its wishes known, but we recognize that this is a decision that the Japanese government and people must make for themselves. We will respect whatever decision results from Japan's democratic process."

The intrusion of the US government through Ambassador Schieffer's comments (and sniping with the DPJ) is one of the more regrettable aspects of this debate, and probably played an important role in raising the stakes for all involved. And so the US may indeed get its wish of continuing Japanese involvement in the coalition, but it will be in spite of the activities of the US government and its emissary in Tokyo.

The one-year limit

In a must-read discussion of the "burden" of the governing coalition's supermajority in the House of Representatives, MTC argues of the LDP's concession to Komeito on the one-year time limit on the new anti-terror law, "This concession...makes not the least bit of sense. Abbreviating the renewal's tenure guarantees that the country will be witnessing exactly the same debate in a year's time."

On the face of it, this seems right. Having already had to put up with some three months of feuding over this issue before any legislation was introduced to the Diet, I don't think anyone wants to think about having to do this all over again next year.

But then, what if the government — provided it is still a Fukuda government, or perhaps more appropriately, an LDP-Komeito government — doesn't intend to fight for renewal next year?

What if the one-year extension is a form of mercy killing?

It's an open secret that Mr. Fukuda is neither especially fond of Mr. Bush nor a die-hard proponent of the current JSDF missions abroad, whatever his role in making them happen in the first place. Had the DPJ and Mr. Abe not raised the stakes on renewal in the weeks before he came on the scene, I can imagine the prime minister's being unwilling to push for renewal in the face of opposition. The circumstances of his ascension to power, however, have made it difficult for Mr. Fukuda to do anything but echo Mr. Abe's rhetoric on Japan's "international promise." Accordingly, extending the mission for but one year may be a way to both placate Komeito, ease public opposition, and potentially draw some opposition defectors (and vindicate Mr. Abe), and then end the mission on the LDP's own terms, declaring sometime next summer that Japan will not be extending the mission again but will begin talking with the opposition and other coalition countries about how Japan can best contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

At the same time, as Jun Okumura argues, it's now or never for the government. If the bill is going to pass, it will have to pass now, in this session, most likely with a Lower House override. There is also the question of how much the government is willing to give up to get this bill passed. Will the government, for example, accede to the DPJ bill calling for the withdrawal of JASDF elements in Iraq? Will it persist in the face of public disapproval and/or an Upper House censure motion? What price is the government willing to pay to get this issue off the agenda for another six-seven months (or for good, if my read of Mr. Fukuda's lack of enthusiasm for this bill is right)?

So it's far from over, but the government still holds the key to resolving the Mexican standoff: the supermajority. But whether it can use its trump card depends on sufficient public support, as Yamasaki Taku and others have argued. Accordingly, the government will give any concession there is to give in the coming weeks in the hope that it will somehow prompt a ten point (or so) increase in support for the mission, which could prompt greater support from the media — critical to this law's passage, as noted by Jun — and thus lead to a snowball effect for public opinion.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The end of the beginning

I'm not entirely clear to me why the cabinet decision to submit a new bill on the MSDF refueling mission deserves this kind of treatment from the BBC, considering that the government announced days ago that it would make its final decision on October 17th — and that there was no doubt that the government would decide to submit its bill to the Diet.

This is nothing more than the end of the beginning, a decision that introduces a new, parliamentary front in the battle over the MSDF mission. The new law limits refueling to ships explicitly involved in maritime interdiction operations and eliminates provisions about parliamentary approval, which will undoubtedly be subject to intense debate in the Diet.

It is still unclear exactly how this drama will play out, and what role the DPJ counteroffer of civilian contributions to Afghanistan's reconstruction — Mr. Ozawa agreed to the compromise position earlier this week — will play in the final outcome, but the debate is moving forward. My money remains on the government's getting its way, extending the Diet session to the end of the year and passing the bill over an Upper House veto. Mr. Fukuda will undoubtedly make all manner of conciliatory gesture to the DPJ, in part as a way to coax the public to support the government's doing whatever necessary to pass the bill.

But I could be wrong, because it's still unclear precisely how a divided Diet will function and how the public will react to the parties' efforts to cope with it, meaning the cabinet's deciding to support the continuation of the refueling mission does not have the air of finality that it might have had four months ago.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The vanishing ally

Candidate Clinton has penned her contribution on foreign policy for the ongoing feature in Foreign Affairs on the foreign policies of the major presidential contenders.

I haven't found much of value in the contributions thus far, and Senator Clinton's is no exception. Her world view essentially emphasizes "power and principle." I'm not entirely clear how that differs from, say, Francis Fukuyama's "realistic Wilsonianism" — which perhaps says more about the narrowing of American foreign policy options in the waning months of the Bush administration than it does about Mrs. Clinton's foreign policy perspective.

But Tokyo is paying close attention, because Mrs. Clinton writes, "Our relationship with China will be the most important bilateral relationship in the world in this century." That may be disconcerting for Japan, used to hearing US officials insist on the importance of the US-Japan relationship, but it also happens to be true. The Japanese government should be more concerned that Japan receives even less attention than India, in a section purportedly about America's alliances. Note that India isn't an official ally — and is struggling over whether to accept the Bush administration's gift to India that offers civilian nuclear cooperation, potentially a kind of down payment on a more formalized partnership.

Indeed, in foreign policy statements like this, Japan increasingly appears simply as one ally among many, a tool in the US foreign policy toolbox that no longer merits special attention. This is a shame, because the US-Japan relationship could be an essential part of the US approach to China, helping smooth China's ascension to regional and global leadership (and hold China accountable). Senator Clinton hints at this — she mentions cooperation on clean energy — but no policymaker or presidential candidate has discussed a Sino-US-Japanese triangle.

Japan, it seems, will have to demonstrate its value to the next administration, at least if the Democrats win.

How did it come to this? Some may be tempted to blame Japan, particularly following the bizarre spectacle that is the feud over the MSDF refueling mission in the Indian Ocean. But the US — and the Bush administration — are far from blameless. For all the talk about deepening alliance cooperation, it is clear that the purpose of deeper security cooperation has been to make Japan better able to serve Washington. As Ambassador Schieffer's response to DPJ opposition to the refueling mission shows, the Bush administration has expected Japan to follow along quietly; under Messrs. Koizumi and Abe, Washington wasn't disappointed.

The implication of Senator Clinton's essay is that this kind of relationship, in which Japan is seen and not heard, is unsustainable and of not particular value to the US. Henceforth, for Japan to merit special attention from Washington it will, ironically, have to find its voice and learn to act more independently of the US. It will have to demonstrate its ability to undertake political initiatives independent of and even (occasionally) in opposition to the US. Meanwhile, Japan must have a serious discussion on security policy, determining just how dependent Japan should be on the US for its security as the US reconfigures its presence and just how prepared Japan is to contribute its forces abroad, if ever. Any discussion on security policy must be accompanied by a discussion on how Japan can pay for it all — no small matter.

The next administration can play a role in this discussion, not least by changing the tone: no more bullying, no more demanding. Instead, Washington and Tokyo urgently need to discuss the political ends of the alliance, the "constitution" of the alliance in the post-9/11 era. What are the ends to which the US expects Japan to contribute with the JSDF, and to what ends is Japan willing and able to contribute? The gap between the two visions must be openly acknowledged, and shrunk through negotiation as much as possible — but it is in that gap that Japan's future as a political power in East Asia lies, the role to be played outside the formal bounds of the alliance. The more the allies acknowledge that their interests diverge, the more space for Japan to articulate its own interests and carve out its own leadership role in East Asia.

Japan, of course, has often been more than pleased to free ride, because while the US has occasionally tried to cajole Japan to do more, it has never tried very hard or for very long. Demanding that Japan be independent — forcing Japan to be free, as it were — and treating Japan as an equal partner in the alliance (whatever the actual disparities) may be the only way to make Japan think about political ends and means and the role of the alliance in its foreign policy, and raise its value to the US as an ally.

Will a reprimand placate the DPJ?

Yamaoka Kenji and Ooshima Tadamori, the DPJ and LDP Diet strategy chairman respectively, met on Tuesday to discuss Nakatani Gen's absurd smear of opponents of the refueling mission as "terrorists."

Mr. Yamaoka reportedly demanded that Mr. Nakatani be removed from his post as director of the House of Representatives special anti-terrorism committee.

Mr. Ooshima's response was, I imagine, probably unsatisfactory. He reminded Mr. Nakatani of the need to cooperate with the DPJ, and so he should "mind his words and actions." In the Upper House Budget Committee, Prime Minister Fukuda reinforced, for good measure, his government's flexibility when it comes to cooperation with the DPJ, especially when it comes to Japan's activities in and around Afghanistan. "A constructive way of debating is important," he said.

I suspect that a mild warning to Mr. Nakatani will not be enough to satisfy the DPJ, and it may be any day now before, say, Mr. Ozawa says something incendiary in response.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Thrust and parry on Afghanistan

Prime Minister Fukuda and members of his cabinet were grilled in Upper House Budget Committee deliberations on Monday, and continued their defense of Japan's participation in coalition activities in the Indian Ocean on grounds of Japan's obligations to the international community as the second largest economic power.

The sparring in the Upper House this week comes in the midst of results of a new opinion poll by Asahi, which show a small gain in support for the refueling mission since last month's poll, with support rising from 35% to 39%, with 44% opposed. For an Asahi poll, that seems to be a decidedly close margin. At the same time, however, the poll recorded marked opposition to a new law authorizing the mission, with 28% in favor and 48% opposed to a new law.

The poll also contains some good news for Mr. Fukuda's hopes for a long tenure. While it recorded a slight drop in support for his cabinet from 53% to 47% and a slight rise in its unfavorable rating from 27% to 30%, the poll also recorded a sharp drop (50 to 32%) in respondents who think that a snap election should be called quickly, and a similarly sharp rise (43 to 60%) who think that it's not necessary to call a general election soon. The poll also recorded a nine-point drop (41 to 32%) in support for a DPJ-centered coalition government, with support for an LDP-centered coalition holding steady at 33%.

Meanwhile, in advance of the scheduled October 17th cabinet decision, the government has agreed that the new law will apply for but one year, a concession by the LDP to Komeito — whose rank-and-file membership is as or more dissatisfied than ever with the now eight-year-old coalition with the LDP. I would expect more concessions to Komeito on legislation in the months to come. What choice does the LDP have? Nothing the LDP can do will probably make the Komeito rank-and-file happy, but the LDP at least needs to give the Komeito leadership something that can be presented to the rank-and-file as a positive outcome of the coalition.

But while the government continues the work of restoring the damage inflicted by Mr. Abe, the DPJ is lurching forward, seemingly making up strategy as it goes along. The DPJ leadership has reportedly decided to submit its own version of a law authorizing Japanese contributions in and around Afghanistan — but the content of said bill remains to be decided. Mr. Ozawa, of course, wants the bill to mandate a JSDF contribution to ISAF, but the compromise position seems to be civilian participation in Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT).

It's unclear to me why Japan can't do both — and that might be what happens, particularly if the DPJ bill only mandates a civilian contribution to Afghanistan reconstruction. Of course, LDP approval of the DPJ plan won't be enough to buy DPJ acquiescence on the refueling mission.

I still find it difficult to see how the DPJ can "win." Winning in this case means making passage of the bill over an Upper House veto politically untenable for the government, but it is not clear to me how the DPJ can reverse the trend in the government's favor on this issue. In Budget Committee deliberations, the DPJ seems to have been unable to score a direct hit on Mr. Fukuda, who if he keeps this up may earn a reputation as a "teflon" prime minister. The muddled DPJ response certainly can't help, particularly compared to the government's straightforward, low-risk plan that simply calls for continuing what the MSDF has been doing for six years. Easy to understand, and unambiguous, as long as the government can continue to bat away allegations about Japanese fuel being used for the US war in Iraq.

UPDATE — It looks like Jun Okumura and I have similar takes on the situation.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Nakatani gives a gift, but to whom?

On Fuji Television on Sunday, Nakatani Gen, a former head of the (then) Japan Defense Agency (JDA), borrowed from George W. Bush and said, "Those who are opposed to this [the MSDF refueling mission] are nothing but terrorists." (Of course, not having watched the program, I'm forced to rely on newspaper accounts, such as this one at Sankei.)

DPJ secretary-general Hatoyama Yukio wasted no time in responding to Mr. Nakatani's incendiary charge. "Since thirty percent of the people are opposed to the refueling activities," he said, "Even in Japan thirty percent have become terrorists. It is offensive for such unreasonable things to be uttered on television. It's no joke."

For Mr. Fukuda, Mr. Nakatani's remarks provided the prime minister with an opportunity to discipline his party and publicly chastize a prominent member of the LDP for absurd and indefensible comments. If he delays and prevaricates, Mr. Nakatani's remarks will retain their efficacy as a weapon for the opposition to wield against the government as the Fukuda cabinet struggles to build up public support for continuing the refueling mission. But if Mr. Fukuda acts quickly to emphasize that Mr. Nakatani's remarks are inexcusable, he will further distance his cabinet from Mr. Abe's and continue to show his government's moderate stripes and modest ambitions in the Indian Ocean.

For the DPJ, presumably Mr. Hatoyama's comments won't be the last we hear from the DPJ about Mr. Nakatani's ludicrous remarks.

The timing of this gift couldn't be better for the DPJ, which is tearing itself to pieces over the refueling mission. On the 10th, Mr. Ozawa reportedly said, "Surely if you say that it's [JSDF participation in ISAF] is detestable, then you have no choice but to leave the party." On the 12th, Mr. Hatoyama suggested that Mr. Ozawa's words were excessive, and that Mr. Ozawa's remarks were his personal opinion, not party policy, and that all that the party executive wants is for members to respect the party's basic policies. The Yomiuri article linked to above includes the obligatory references to Mr. Ozawa's past experience as head of the New Frontier Party, at which time he similarly divided the party by trying to enforce ideological purity.

Is the DPJ heading to a crisis? Will the "left wing" of the DPJ fall into line behind Mr. Ozawa, or will it call his bluff and continue to challenge his latest tactical shift, perhaps even bidding to force him out as party president? And should a rebellion fail, would its members leave to form their own party?

At this point, the extent of agreement within the DPJ is limited to pressing the government on allegations about the diversion of fuel to US warships participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The DPJ caucus in the Upper House will keep up the pressure this week in Upper House Budget Committee deliberations, but the real question is whether Mr. Ozawa will be able to impose his vision for a Japanese contribution to Afghanistan on his party.

And then there are Mr. Koizumi's cryptic remarks at a gathering between the "New Wave" (the Koizumi Kids Klub — "K-K-K? That's not good...") and the Nikai faction, in which he suggested the likelihood of a general election this year and the interesting possibility for political realignment. Would the secession of the DPJ's left wing and the creation of a rump DPJ with considerable overlap in policy terms with the Koizumi Kids raise the probability of a merger between the two, a threat wielded by Mr. Koizumi during his premiership?

Observing Japan turns one

Today (October 15th) marks the first blogiversary for Observing Japan.

Many thanks go to you, my readers, for your comments, emails, and visits. I must also thank my fellow Japan politics bloggers, especially Jun Okumura and MTC, who have been prolific and insightful interlocutors commentators and even better mentors and friends.

Over the coming year, there may be some changes around here — I've been searching for guest bloggers, for example — but I will continue to comment on Japanese politics as long as I have something to say.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Is Japan on the brink of a new foreign policy debate?

With another week of budget committee deliberations and thus another week before the Fukuda Cabinet officially decides to proceed with a new bill authorizing the MSDF refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, Mainichi reports that the government is striving to build upon the public support it has already gained, as shown in numerous public opinion polls. The goal, as enunciated by Yamasaki Taku on multiple occasions, is to gain around two-thirds support from the public so that the government can pass a rejected bill again in the Lower House with confidence that it can weather a censure vote in the Upper House.

For my part, I think a new bill will ultimately pass, even if the government has to wait until late December to get it. By now, the stakes for the LDP and for Japan are such that the government will say or do anything to outmaneuver the DPJ into getting its way, even having Mr. Ishiba accuse Mr. Ozawa of having a cavalier attitude towards the lives of JSDF personnel (discussed in this post). It's nothing short of extraordinary how quickly the DPJ has gone from confident and united to divided and uncertain, and the LDP from open civil war to calm and unified, insofar as the MSDF mission is concerned.

If the new terror law passes, however, it will be on the grounds enunciated by Mr. Fukuda during the LDP presidential campaign: Japan needs to continue to participate in the multinational operation to preserve its international reputation.

Tanaka Hitoshi, former administrative vice minister of foreign affairs and an ally of Prime Minister Fukuda's when the latter was chief cabinet secretary, elaborates this argument at some length in an interview in Chuo Koron conducted by political journalist Tahara Soichiro.

Mr. Tanaka is not without doubts about how the mission has been conducted — he says at one point, "Of course, I think it's essential to raise the transparency concerning the JSDF operation" — but he is unequivocal about the need to extend the mission, preferably on the basis of bipartisan consensus. "At this time," he said, "If Japan completely withdraws from the Afghan operation, how much will it harm national interests? — this is probably well understood by Fukuda-san. I think that all effort will expended in aiming to extend the operation. Moreover, even in the DPJ there are proponents of extending the special measures law."

The interview from which this discussion is drawn concerns Japan's post-Abe foreign policy as a whole, and is worth reading for a glimpse at what can be called the realist position in Japan's foreign policy establishment. (It's available in two parts, one and two, at Yahoo's Minna no Seiji.) Mr. Tanaka questions the idealism of Messrs. Koizumi and Abe, criticizing the former's Yasukuni visits and the latter's emphasis on the abductee question in relations with North Korea. The phrase "national interests" appears regularly in his remarks, and he does not indulge in the idealistic fancies that some politicians prefer — he makes a point of dismissing the utility of the US-Japan-Australia-India quartet as unnecessarily hostile to China. Mr. Tanaka's approach is not altogether surprising for a former senior MOFA official, but it provides a valuable look at a way of thinking not altogether different from Mr. Fukuda's. It is a foreign policy for a middling power sensitive to its position in the region and the world, conscious of its own limits, and keen to maximize its options. For example, the alliance with the US is important, but it should be but one pillar of Japanese foreign policy. (Interestingly, it was an expression of this way of thinking about Japanese foreign policy in the 1994 Higuchi Commission report that contributed to Washington's refocusing its attention on the US-Japan alliance after the deep freeze following the cold war.) If Mr. Fukuda manages to last "between one month and ten years," I would expect Japan's foreign policy to move further in this direction: less emphasis on the US-Japan relationship, less concern with democracy, and more focus on Asian institutions and shared regional leadership with China.

The question is whether this approach would outlast Mr. Fukuda, regardless of whether the next occupant of the Kantei is an LDP or DPJ premier. As far as the LDP is concerned, Mr. Aso and his conservative idealism remain a potent force within the party, as elaborated by Komori Yoshihisa at his blog. Even as old-style mainstream conservatism enjoys something of a resurgence under Mr. Fukuda, Mr. Aso will remain a forceful advocate in the anti-mainstream, calling for a more confident Japan that forcefully promotes universal values like liberty, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and capitalism. I, like Mr. Tanaka, am skeptical about the efficacy of Abe-Aso "assertive diplomacy," because I have yet to see it accomplish anything but Japan's not-so-splendid isolation.

Perhaps one of the best things Mr. Fukuda can do once the battle of the anti-terror law is complete would be to articulate a "realistic" vision for Japanese foreign policy that reassesses Japan's ends and means in light of its status as a middling power. How can Japan become more "European" in its foreign policy, allied to the US, dependent even to some extent, while still capable of disagreeing and having a full-developed Asian "alternative" to its partnership with the US? What place should Japan's military power have in this scheme (and from that, a practical plan for revising the constitution)? I would argue that doing so would put the realists in a better position than their conservative idealist rivals, who have yet to articulate their vision beyond emphasizing the alliance with the US and a more active role for the JSDF abroad.

Mr. Fukuda's surprising ascendancy to the head of the LDP may prove beneficial for Japan's evolving foreign policy thinking, because it may force both ideologues and realists to better articulate their plans and ideas. With luck, Japan could be on the brink of a true renaissance in its foreign policy thinking, resulting as much from an intra-LDP debate as a debate between the LDP and the DPJ (the latter may remain stunted as long as the DPJ's own position remains muddled).

Friday, October 12, 2007

Changing terms

Following the discussion in this post from earlier this week, I found this article at the Economist website of interest.
It opens by exploring the evolving terms used to describe Europe, but then shifts into a discussion of democracy, and suggests, "ban the word 'democracy', which has been worn smooth by misuse." It proposes as alternatives "law-governed," "free," and "public-spirited," with Karl Popper's "open society" serving as useful short hand for societies with these qualities.

As per my previous comments on this, the problem with democracy promotion is often one of language, because democracy means different things to different people. Like "empire" or "imperialism," the term has been overused to the point of analytical uselessness. For a government to proclaim itself in favor of spreading democracy almost ensures disappointment, both for transmitters and receivers, as the reality never quite matches what either had imagined. Replacing democracy with more concrete terms, such as those mentioned by the Economist, would provide for more concrete targets — and thus more realizable visions for what the developed democracies can actually achieve in helping other countries develop politically.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The coming factional realignment?

The constant churning within the LDP discussed in this post appears to be proceeding apace, with the Koga and Tanigaki factions — the splinters of the former Kochikai, which broke following the aborted Kato rebellion in 2000 — in discussions to reunite by the spring, in time for the next election.

The Kochikai began life as the Ikeda faction in the early days of the LDP and traditionally had a elite, bureaucratic coloration, placing it squarely in what was once the LDP mainstream. The restored Koga-Tanigaki faction will presumably have a total of 50 Lower House and 11 Upper House members, but would not alter the ranking of factions by size — the Koga faction is already the third largest faction, and adding the Tanigaki faction's fifteen members would simply narrow the gap between the second-ranked Tsushima faction and the Kochikai.

But will the merger be the first of a series of rearrangements among the LDP's factions?

Will, for example, the supporters of Taro Aso scattered throughout the ranks of the LDP make their support explicit and join Mr. Aso's own faction?

Will the Koizumi Kids continue the process of becoming a formal faction as a way to preserve some scrap of influence within the party?

How will the Tsushima faction recover from the blow of losing its supremacy in the Upper House among LDP factions?

In other words, will the factions become at once more coherent ideologically and reorganized around a new set of individuals?

Any new alignment might depend on the results of the new Lower House election, and the distribution of seats that are sure to be lost. Presumably if the losses are concentrated in certain factions the impetus to merge will grow.

If Mr. Koga gets his way as head of election strategy, the election will be held sooner than later: at a meeting with the Aomori prefectural LDP chapter, he suggested that it will be best to hold an election following the July G8 summit.

The last days of Abe Shinzo

For a look at how illusory the LDP's purported post-Fukuda unity is, Bungei Shunju has an article called "Shinzo Abe: The truth of the last three days." (It's published in four parts at Yahoo's Minna no seiji site: one, two, three, and four.)

There aren't too many surprises in the article: Aso Taro laughed in Fukuda Yasuo's face when the latter insisted that he join the cabinet; the Aso camp is larger than officially recognized, and will continue to scheme to position Mr. Aso for the post-Fukuda era; Mr. Fukuda doesn't particularly like Mr. Abe, in part due to the latter's efforts to undermine Mr. Fukuda's ideas on North Korea policy under Mr. Koizumi; Mr. Koizumi's surprise "endorsement" of Mr. Fukuda is apparently behind the resignation of Iijima Isamu, Mr. Koizumi's private secretary, who is antagonistic with Mr. Fukuda and only learned of his boss's decision from the press; and Mr. Abe became progressively more decrepit in mind and body as August passed.

Who, the article asks, is the real winner?

I would say Mr. Fukuda, simply by virtue of having emerged as the prime minister, but no one comes out of this article looking particularly good. Mr. Fukuda looks like a scheming, treacherous snake full of grudges; Mr. Abe by the end is a pale shadow of himself subsisting on gruel at Keio Hospital; and the LDP looks more like the court of a Renaissance Italian city-state than a modern political party. Of course, no political party is free from vicious internal disputes and jockeying for power; take the US Democratic Party, for example. But thanks to decades of nearly uninterrupted power and grudges going back generations, LDP struggles strike me as particularly vicious and all too often hidden from the light of public scrutiny. Policy has next to nothing to do with the feuds documented by Bungei Shunju. The only policy dispute mentioned at length is over North Korea policy, and it seems to me that Mr. Fukuda was more outraged at being beaten by the young deputy chief cabinet secretary than at seeing his preferred course of action rejected.

In other words, the LDP was, is, and will always be, at heart, concerned solely with power. No leader can change that, and as long as the LDP has no principles save the pursuit of power, and as long as its leaders are those who can scheme and backstab their way to the top, the LDP will force its rivals to play by the same rules. Under Mr. Ozawa, the DPJ may be able to do that — but is it possible to surpass the LDP's desire for power?

Of course, this means that it is a bit contrived to speak of an old and a new LDP: there is one LDP, with an unchanging purpose. Mr. Koizumi, rather than fundamentally transforming the party, may have simply given contenders for the throne some new tools, including popular support outside the party, which in the right hands can both make up for a lack of support within the party and be used as a weapon against one's enemies, and the intensification of the "reform" theme, which makes it plausible for LDP politicians to run against their own party. And so the dynamics of intra-party competition have changed: the factions are weaker and more strapped for cash; the zoku giin don't have the same influence over policymaking they once had; the Kantei has grown in power. But I wonder whether this transformation has had a perverse effect on intra-LDP politics, making competition for the party leadership that much more intense, because now the premiership is that much more valuable a prize.

I am also uncertain about the contemporary LDP's crosscurrents. In the past, the party was divided along multiple fault lines: factions, policy tribes, bureaucrats versus party men, hawks versus doves. And now? The camps seem less clear cut to me, and are perhaps even more rooted in personality than ever before.

Therefore, in light of all this, I do not expect the Fukuda truce, if it even exists, to last long. The LDP's history is one of chaos and brutal power struggles more akin to those seen in Beijing and Moscow than in Washington. As long as Japan's voters continue to return the LDP to power, the country's leaders will continue to be those who can survive, one way or another, the party's internecine wars. Even after Mr. Koizumi, it is no closer to becoming a top-down, coherent political party.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Damn the DPJ, full speed ahead!

The Fukuda Cabinet has announced a schedule for the passage of a new law enabling the MSDF's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean. A final cabinet decision will be made on October 17th, following the conclusion of deliberations in the Upper House Budget committee, and the new bill will be introduced for deliberation to the Lower House's special anti-terror committee on October 19th, with the bill expected to pass the whole house on October 26th.

Barring some kind of last-minute DPJ surrender, it looks like the sixty-day countdown to automatic passage will begin on the 26th, meaning that the MSDF will have to return to Japan — or leave the area of operations — for close to two months, unless the DPJ decides not to use up the full sixty days and act quickly to reject the bill.

There is some question as to whether the government will balk at re-passing the bill in the House of Representatives over Upper House rejection. Yamasaki Taku, who has been the party's voice of reason on this issue from the moment it became clear that a new law would be needed, has once again expressed his concerns about the government's forcibly passing the law. He suggested that using the supermajority to override the Upper House could result in an Upper House censure motion against Prime Minister Fukuda, forcing a snap election.

But I wonder whether an Upper House censure motion would be as devastating as anticipated by Mr. Yamasaki. The Japanese Wikipedia entry on censure motions shows only one motion passing, forcing the resignation of Nukaga Fukushiro as JDA chief back in 1998. There is not much precedent to work from when it comes to reacting to a successful censure motion. After all, unlike Lower House no-confidence motions, censure motions are non-binding. The government is not obligated to do anything — it would all depend on the public's response to both the LDP's use of its supermajority to pass the law over the Upper House's rejection and the DPJ's responding with a censure motion. Presumably with public support, Mr. Fukuda would be able to ignore a censure motion without fear of consequence. But it's all part of figuring out the rules of the game for divided government.

Meanwhile, it's not clear what role the DPJ will play in this drama, aside from opposing the government's plans. Mr. Ozawa is already backtracking on his stated desire to see JSDF troops contributing to ISAF, suggesting that he will work within the DPJ to draw up a prudent plan and stating that stabilizing the livelihoods of the Afghan people is most important. Mainichi suggests that Mr. Ozawa's gyrations have muddied his party's stance and diminished the DPJ's ability to challenge the government, and demands that the DPJ both question how long the government intends to keep the MSDF at work on refueling and formulate alternate plans for participating in the war on terrorism. Maehara Seiji admitted on Wednesday that there is some fatigue with Mr. Ozawa, in no small measures due to the party's differing factions; members from before the DPJ's merger with Ozawa's Liberal Party are at odds, he says, with members who accompanied Mr. Ozawa.

The DPJ may also have lost the momentum with which to challenge the government on reports that US warships used Japanese fuel in Operation Iraqi Freedom, with the Pentagon nixing the suggestion by reporting that the 675,000 gallons of fuel received by the USS Kitty Hawk from the MSDF supply ship Tokiwa via the USS Pecos was used within three days in late February for maritime interdiction activities before moving to the Persian Gulf to participate in Operation Southern Watch. Defense Minister Ishiba reiterated the Pentagon's explanation in his sparring with Kan Naoto in Budget committee deliberations, and barring any new revelations — by no means impossible — the government may be in the clear on this issue, not least because public opinion continues to trend the government's way.

With the new law ready to be sent to the Upper House by month's end, the DPJ better know exactly how it intends to respond. It is in the midst of a sustained war over public opinion, for which it appears wholly unprepared. In this second Kaku-Fuku war, the DPJ (the "Kaku" team) has thus far been about as overwhelmed by the unassuming Fukuda fils as my beloved Chicago Cubs were by the unassuming Arizona Diamondbacks last week.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

How long can Ozawa last?

The tide has definitively turned against Mr. Ozawa, the surest sign being that the media is carrying reports about allegations of fiscal malfeasance by his support groups, once again involving the use of campaign funds for real estate. And so Mr. Ozawa is the target of newspaper editorials demanding that he provided a detailed account of his activities. (Of course, as MTC notes, none of this may be of any consequence as malfeasance goes.)

At the same time, as argued by Jun Okumura, Mr. Fukuda continues to enjoy a honeymoon with the press, which has excused reports of mistakes in Mr. Fukuda's own political funds reports, among other things. I guess the frequency of stories about allegations of corruption serve as an indication of "who's hot, who's not" — and the prevailing circumstances could easily change. But for the moment, Mr. Fukuda winds in his sails, and Mr. Ozawa appears to be flailing wildly in search of a way to regain the momentum his party had until Mr. Abe resigned.

But if the blows against Mr. Ozawa's reputation continue, will he be able to recover his stature and continue to serve as leader of the DPJ, especially if I'm wrong and an election is in fact around the corner? There's nothing like ongoing allegations of corruption to remind voters of Mr. Ozawa's roots in the Tanaka-Takeshita faction, and Mr. Ozawa's latest shift on security policy may exacerbate tensions within the DPJ that had been temporarily dispelled by Mr. Ozawa's opposition to the extension of the anti-terror law. While Nagashima Akihisa and the DPJ's other hawks may be rather pleased with Mr. Ozawa's announcement of a plan to have JSDF forces participate in ISAF — Richard Katz and Peter Ennis, in a TOE alert, quote him as saying, "Japan must stand right in the center of Afghanistan, and shoulder-to-shoulder with forces from NATO and other countries in the efforts to bring stability to that country" — an article by Tsutsumi Gyou in Liberal Time suggests that Mr. Ozawa may have miscalculated with his latest step.

"Does Mr. Ozawa's plan to participate in ISAF rest upon sufficient debate within the party beforehand? If Mr. Ozawa acted on his own authority without satisfactory debate within the party, it is a problem for the DPJ as a political party. It will amount to a faction of Ozawa dictatorship."

Of course, Tsutsumi then goes too far and talks about how Hitler took advantage of pension politics to take power and concludes that Mr. Ozawa is "an alarming politician." (Chalk one up for Godwin's Law.) But the point about Mr. Ozawa's "dictatorial" control of the DPJ stands, and it is worth asking how long his rule will continue unopposed, how long the flailing at the top of the DPJ — ably discussed by Jun Okumura in a post that came through while I wrote this post — will last before there is a concerted push for a change.

Another article in Liberal Time suggests that Okada Katsuya, the man who was at the helm just in time to see his party washed away by Mr. Koizumi in September 2005, could be the man to succeed Mr. Ozawa.

"Inside the DPJ, the voices of those saying that 'It is not a good plan to seek a dissolution and general election in the current extraordinary session of the Diet' are gaining strength, and 'If Prime Minister Fukuda's approval ratings rise, the DPJ should choose Okada Katsuya as its candidate for prime minister to lead the party in the next general election.'"

Whether the new leader is Mr. Okada or someone else, the DPJ needs to reconsider the Diet strategy pushed by Mr. Ozawa that has effectively squandered whatever the party gained from its July victory.

It is increasingly difficult to see Mr. Ozawa as the man to bring about a change of ruling party.