Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hatoyama in the New York Times

There isn't much I can add to MTC's comments on the New York Times's publication of the translation of Hatoyama Yukio's essay in Voice (which originally appeared in the Christian Science Monitor). I am stunned that no one at DPJ HQ thought better of having Hatoyama's provocative essay appear — again — in an American publication, indeed the American publication where it is guaranteed to be read by the American establishment, such as it is.

Hatoyama will now make it difficult for even potentially sympathetic Americans to view him with anything but distrust.

I have no problem with a DPJ government saying no to the US from time to time. I have no problem with the idea of more distance from the US, which might make for a healthier alliance in the long run. But to an audience not steeped in Japanese debates about capitalism and globalization — to an audience not aware, for example, that the incumbent prime minister has also railed about "market fundamentalism" — Hatoyama looks less like the leader in waiting of one of the world's second largest economy and more like, say, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (who, incidentally, has long looked to Japan for leadership in standing up to the west).

Earlier this week, Hatoyama said that he wanted to meet with President Barack Obama while in the US for the opening of the UN General Assembly. He expressed his confidence that if he were to sit down with Obama and talk frankly about two issues of concern — the matter of Futenma and the matter of the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan by the US — the president would see things Hatoyama's way. While this scenario was far-fetched before, what kind of reception will Hatoyama get now? What kind of reception should he get now?

Does the DPJ not realize how much it has lucked out in the transition from the Bush administration to the Obama administration? The latter has exhibited an openness to the possibility of a DPJ government and not overreacted at, say, Ozawa Ichiro's remarks on the US military presence even as most of the Japan policy community piled on Ozawa for his alleged anti-Americanism. Does the DPJ not realize just how skeptical many Americans are of the DPJ, and that there is a difference between being Washington's lackey and showing a degree of courtesy by, say, not having the party leader's incoherent opinions about "fraternity" and US-led globalization splashed across the pages of the New York Times?

Earlier this week I suggested that the DPJ's leaders should not talk so much about a sensitive matter like the alliance before the party actually takes power and forms a government. This episode, I think, qualifies as talking too much.

I hope that someone senior in the DPJ will be meeting as soon as possible with newly arrived Ambassador John Roos to put Hatoyama's remarks in proper context.

Meanwhile, I am no less convinced that Hatoyama as prime minister will be the single greatest weakness of a DPJ government.

15 comments:

Martin J Frid said...

I think a lot of people in the US are also tired of the WTO and "globalisation" so don't count the Americans out. NAFTA was never very popular. The Europeans already decided to give this kind of neo-liberal deregulation a wide miss, instead focusing on regional deals. Why shouldn't East Asia do the same, as Hatoyama suggests?

Tobias Harris said...

Martin,

I think the point is less the policy content — of which there is rather little — than the tone, which is more than a little fatuous and casually dismissive of the US, which, like I note here, is stupid of Hatoyama given that a) the Obama administration wants to be tolerant and b) there are plenty of people in Washington who are looking for reasons to slight the DPJ.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to be flippant, but Japanese elections should not be fought on the basis of whether people in the United States can trust what the candidates in Japan are saying. Americans need to get over themselves sometimes. It is kind of absurd for an imperial power to wonder why some of their policies cause resentment. Ah well, I guess a lot of Americans in policy positions don't know better, what with Japanese diplomats telling them what they want to hear.

Tobias Harris said...

Dear Anonymous,

I understand and sympathize with your point, but this is not about the general election and everything to do with what happens next. Again, it is about preserving goodwill with the Obama administration, which will help the DPJ focus on the domestic front before the July 2010 upper house election.

My problem is not the content of the essay — although I have my problems with the content — it's the stupidity of publishing it in the New York Times, especially since it had already been published in an American publication. What has the party gained from having the translated essay published in English? As far as I can tell it has merely given ammunition to the people in Washington who want the DPJ to fail.

In this case I'm not criticizing Hatoyama for the policy content, just for the political idiocy of alienating the Obama administration for no good reason. If the DPJ is to succeed, it has to be savvier at home and abroad.

And yes, this essay has not been well received by the administration.

Anonymous said...

Regarding to Hatoyama, there's huge propaganda going on in Japan now through establishment of mass medias such as newspaper, TV stations all supporting Hatoyama's Demoracat Party. Not its policy. Despite of his political donation injustice scandal.

However many Japanese are getting to aware of Lies on Media through internet. As result opinion on current politic in internet is quite opposite of that in sampling opinion poll.

Anonymous said...

"Again, it is about preserving goodwill with the Obama administration, which will help the DPJ focus on the domestic front before the July 2010 upper house election."

I'm afraid that a renegotiation of SOFA, or at least an attempt, is stated DPJ policy. So are social democratic initiatives to create a safety net. So are better relations with China. If the DPJ wins it will have a mandate to implement those policies. That is the way democracy works and that is what the Obama Administration will have to deal with.

I'm not sure if the DPJ authorised the release of the article to the CSM or NYT, by the way. Unless you know any better, it was probably authorized by "Voice". And I'm glad it is out there. It would create more problems for the DPJ to send an article full of hugs and rainbows to the New York Times, and then to turn around once they have one the election and tell the United States that it is actually serious about the commitments it is making.

It's a vision piece, yes, but candidates are supposed to try and be inspiring during elections. It's one of the three ways of convincing people to vote for you, and is generally considered the most desirable. (Of the other two options, the DPJ already has "payment" covered, and as you have pointed out, "fear" is not so attractive.) I personally hope they do stick by their position and shake things up a little.

"And yes, this essay has not been well received by the administration."

Well if the Obama Administration doesn't want its feelings hurt, it can stick to getting their advice from the same experts around Washington who want to fill their heads with nonsense about an incoherent DPJ full of socialists and the hope of a double dissolution in a year's time. Or perhaps America can start listening to what Japan wants for a change.

Or maybe not:

http://www.heritage.org/Research/AsiaandthePacific/bg2308.cfm

Tobias Harris said...

Anonymous,

I'm not quite sure why you're convinced that the Obama administration is opposed to Japan's building a safety net or better relations with China.

Again, the problem isn't the policy content or the fact that the DPJ wants some distance from the US. I hope for Japan's sake that the DPJ to succeed. But I think the DPJ's success does depend on maintaining a cordial relationship with the US. Cordial doesn't have to mean deferential. But whacking at the straw man of American "market fundamentalism" is a terrible way of introducing the DPJ to American elites, about which many are either wholly ignorant or largely misinformed. As a "declaration of independence" from the US, this essay is awfully poorly written, regardless of the language.

You speak as if Hatoyama's vision piece was designed to win votes. Running in Voice, that can hardly be why it was published. Given the magazine's conservative bent, the essay seems to have been intended to assuage conservative elites who have shown little but contempt for the DPJ. I doubt it has succeeded even at that goal. (For the same reason your suggestion that Voice had the translation published is intriguing.)

You warn of the Obama administration's listening to the "same experts around Washington who want to fill their heads with nonsense about an incoherent DPJ full of socialists." I agree. But Hatoyama picked a poor way of shaking that mistaken view of the US.

To wrap this up, my point is simply that Hatoyama's essay could prevent the DPJ from delivering on its own manifesto. As I said in the original post, why would Hatoyama seek an early meeting with Obama and then deliver an essay that treats America as a straw man? Looks like bad politics. I don't think the Obama administration wants to treat Japan as the Bush administration did, namely heavy handedly, pushing Japan to do more militarily above all else. The Obama administration appears to want to listen to Japan. But if what it hears is this poorly articulated nonsen, it might wonder why it bothered listening the first place.

You write as if the only alternative to this essay was "an article full of hugs and rainbows." I think that's a false dichotomy. Rather than publish something written for domestic consumption, he could have written something that said the same thing in different terms — perhaps talking about the challenge of this moment in the history of the global economy, which both Japan and the US face. Anything other than acting as if Japan didn't benefit for decades from access to US markets to the point of becoming the world's second largest economy. I can understand Mahathir's position as the leader of Malaysia — but the same arguments coming from the leader of Japan, an exceedingly wealthy country fairly well insulted from the global economy are absurd.

Anonymous said...

"Rather than publish something written for domestic consumption, he could have written something that said the same thing in different terms — perhaps talking about the challenge of this moment in the history of the global economy, which both Japan and the US face."

Except, of course, leaders fighting election campaigns don't, and shouldn't, write articles explaining their position to the United States when they are fighting election campaigns, period. And Hatoyama probably hasn't.

At least we agree about the fatheads in Washington.

In any case, don't underestimate what a bit of anti-Americanism can do. Hatoyama might see voters rally behind him if the Obama administration starts to get uptight about being accused of supporting free markets. Which is what market fundamentalism is.

PaxAmericana said...

Setting aside the domestic politics ...

Won't the DPJ benefit in the long run from having stated its doubts about the American version of globalization and market fundamentalism before an election? In most democratic societies, a major change without prior warning doesn't go over well. The pro-American crowd in Japan would constantly say that the DPJ had a manifesto, but never discussed such an important topic as moving away from the US.

For what it's worth, I don't see Hatoyama as sounding anything like Mahathir. The DPJ, and many of America's friends around the world, are simply saying they have grave doubts about the way America has been leading the world the last 20 years or so. Massive debts and huge military budgets look like a recipe for trouble.

D said...

I read the CSM article and assume that I need not torture myself slogging through the Voice article.

I have no problem with Japan distancing itself from the US either in many areas, but it seems that it is taken for granted that it will be a freebie for Japan and there will be no repercussions.

However, if the articles accurately reflect what Hatoyama says and believes, then I think it is wonderful that those in US know. A realistic view of Japan and its motives would be welcome.

Delta said...

A well-written piece, as usual.

Certainly, MTC's comments on this half-baked "philosophy" of Mr. Hatoyama's, which would leave those who do not follow Japanese media looking askance, are spot-on.

What is not clear though, to this layman in the interaction between politicians and the media, is what this piece's point is.

If it is to say the DPJ has to professionalise its news management, I would agree completely. If, however, it is to say political parties in one free country have any business asking newspapers in another to censor themselves, can someone please explain what freedom of speech is all about?

Hopefully there would be more light than heat here :-).

Tobias Harris said...

Delta,

The point is that if the DPJ is going to succeed, it needs to be much smarter about the image it presents at home and abroad — which includes how it relates with the media.

Anonymous said...

Tobias,
Your post is spot on. I can't for the life of me understand why Hatoyama would release an article like this as his first statement (as far as I'm aware) in US media outlets. Is he TRYING to start off on the wrong foot with the United States? And this, after a few discrete visits to Washington by DPJ people whose basic message to the US side was: "don't worry, we're not as wacky as we sound." The DPJ needs to stop sending conflicting messages about its approach to the US. It's game time now.

Adam said...

I agree with Tobias -- and those who agree with him -- that it is even dumber for a dumb essay to be widely republished.

Stepping back for a moment, as dumb as it all is, Hatoyama's move might have been geared towards galvanizing his followers. It makes him look brave setting his ideas in English -- as dumb as they are -- and then presenting them to the US political establishment.

About 8 years ago I met Watanabe Shu's (Shizuoka-6) staff at a party, and I asked what kind of people Messrs. Kan and Hatoyama were. After a moment, the staff member said that Kan was brains, and Hato was leadership.

I would say that Hatoyama is doing just that, in a dumb kind of way. He's a figurehead. The challenge for the DJP is to get a competent staff around him once he sits in the chair. (Kind of sounds like a recent GOP scenario, doesn't it?)

Speaking of Shizuoka: Keep your eye on not Watanabe, whose star tarnished after a fling with a dumb announcer named Mona, but his comrade representing the 5th district, Hosono Goshi. Hosono is an intelligent and charismatic young man with a promising future. He didn't even break a sweat when I confronted him in the street several years ago for his party's lukewarm resistance to Koizumi's all-out support for the "War on Terror"!

Delta said...

Thank you for responding.

With just a night to go before the polls open, there is no sign of anything like the Sheffield rally (see Wikipedia), so Mr. Kan's time in Britain was apparently well spent.

While on the subject of the media, is anyone aware of Japanese spin doctors on a par with, say, Derek Draper or George Stephanopoulos?