Permissible Arms

Nibbled by ducks. Japanese ducks.

Posted in japan by Karaka on 26 August 2010

Hey, Democratic Party of Japan? Listen up.

It’s really exciting that you somehow managed to turn the tide of sixty years of political opinion to bring your much-beleaguered party to power last year around this time, but the spectacular failure of Yukio Hatoyama this summer and former party leader Ichiro Ozawa’s epic flameout in March of last year really put a kink in those plans, huh?

Naoto Kan was a refreshing change–the administrations finance minister turned prime minister seemed to have his head on straight, or at the very least wasn’t going to run around trying to change everything from the party platform in a mere eight months. I liked him. He was–what’s the word?–stable, something Japan could really use considering the country has traded in for a new prime minister as soon as the new car smell faded from the previous one. (Five in four years. Five in four years. This from one of the “most stable” countries in the world.)

Top that all off with a loss in the Upper House in the Diet, forcing Prime Minister Kan to run effectively offensive measures in his majority-turned-minority government, and you’ve turned the wild success of your party into a sour disappointment in exactly a year. But wait. There’s more.

As of this morning, disgraced former party leader Ichiro Ozawa is back, baby, and those messy little corruption charges don’t seem to bother him at all. See, he’s going to make a bid for party leadership again, facing off against current Prime Minister Kan in the party election next month. Kan, of course, has only been in power for a scant three months. This looks great for your record. This, seriously, is my favorite line from the BBC article:

His bid for power is likely to destabilise the government, analysts said.

REALLY. This idiot is going to destabilise the government? You don’t say! And just to cap it off, Hatoyama is totally in Ozawa’s camp! Because nothing looks better than having the guy that simultaneously couldn’t deliver on his promises and foolishly messed with long-standing defence relationships on your side. Tobias Harris at the WSJ says “In short, the Japanese political system is in for another period of turmoil,” which is about as definitively obvious as you can get. So much for the hope of change with the DPJ. At this point, you might as well bring the LDP back; they may not have been able to get the country out of its long-standing recession, but at least they didn’t treat the Ministry like an air hockey table.

Forgotten what I started fighting for…

Posted in japan by Karaka on 12 July 2010

I’m still trying to get back into the swing of things post-vacation. Thanks to those who have commented on my “Harry Brown” posts, over at On Violence and here. It’s a fascinating film with a lot to say about criminal gangs, violence, martial training, and (a)morality, and I encourage you all to watch it.

I did note, in my plodding attempts to catch up with what the world is doing, that early projected results for the Japanese Diet election are out. The results–not too surprisingly–don’t look great for the DPJ. From AP:

Estimates in major newspapers Monday morning showed the progressive Democratic Party of Japan had lost its slim majority in the upper house, in stark contrast to its landslide victory in August of last year, which ended the conservative party’s nearly 50-year grip on power…The election won’t directly affect the Democrats’ grip on power because they control the more powerful lower house of parliament. But it does raise the serious prospect of gridlock.

This is clearly the result of many factors, culminating in the austerity measures PM Kan’s administration announced recently. Far from the robust majority the DPJ had held in the Diet over the last ten months, this new (projected) Diet will throw wrenches where it sees fit. I’m sure the LDP have been working around the clock to win back some of the ground they’ve lost.

Fiscal announcements are the fastest way to turn popular opinion away from yourself, not that Kan had much choice with the G20 so near to his election. You’d think the administration would have balanced the announcement more delicately, though.

Still, no one thought Kan was taking up an easy job.

I got 99 problems, but a General ain’t one.

Posted in afghanistan, japan, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 23 June 2010

Okay. Time to turn to more productive and less hand-wringing matters. It’s done, it’s over, the lady has sung and that song is a Rolling Stones cover.

This afternoon, Secretary McHugh released its review of Wanat.

After careful consideration of the additional information, Campbell concluded that the officers were neither negligent nor derelict in the performance of their duties and that their actions were reasonable under the circumstances. Therefore, he withdrew the adverse administrative actions.

“In every review and study conducted to date, the courage, valor, and discipline of the soldiers who fought at Wanat have been universally praised. These soldiers were well-trained, well-led, and fought bravely to defeat a determined and intense enemy action to overrun their base in Wanat. They persevered in a fashion that deserves broad recognition of their bravery and tenacity,” said Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff. “Our hearts go out to the families of the fallen soldiers.”

You can access the public (redacted) files from the CENTCOM investigation here. This is probably for the best, though I’m refraining from saying anything firm until I’ve had a chance to review the CENTCOM files.

Newly affirmed Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has apologized to the Okinawans who live in close proximity to the US bases on the island, in a smart early political move.

“On behalf of all of our people, I apologise for the burden,” Mr Kan said, but added that it was integral to the “peace and security of the Asia-Pacific region.”

“I promise to seriously try all the more to reduce Okinawa’s burden related to the US bases and eliminate the associated dangers.”

Okinawa currently hosts more than half of the 47,000 US soldiers in Japan. Mr Kan was speaking at the ceremony to mark the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa, in which some 200,000 soldiers and civilians were killed.

He states he will adhere to the 2006 US-Japan agreement, which is what his predecessor finally acceded too; rebuilding Japan’s relationship with the US was a quick follow. Okinawans will likely not be happy, but they weren’t happy before, and at least PM Kan is being honest about the limits of his influence on this issue.

The NYT’s Lens Photojournalism column features photographs from Restrepo’s Tim Hetherington. Some of them are dramatic; others are a study in contrasts.

How does your Afghanistan work tie into what you just said?

I am interested in visually representing something in as many ways as possible, exploiting as many different forms as possible, to reach as many people as possible.

And how did you do that in Afghanistan?

By working across the spectrum, by first saying, “O.K., I’m going to photograph for Vanity Fair.” And that is a platform that has, say, a two or three million readership. Then those images, because I retain the copyright, are syndicated worldwide. They appear in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Great, that’s another valid audience. The image that won World Press Photo gave another spotlight and went global in a way that could lead people to reach my other work. Then I made “Sleeping Soldiers,” which was a digital projection. It was an art piece, meant for galleries – but that’s still a valid audience.

The whole interview is long and meaty and a respite from the many interviews with Hetherington’s colleague, Sebastian Junger, whose FDL Book Salon with David Axe devolved into a tiresome anti-war kabuki with little to do with the actual book. That seems to be more and more where conversations on “War” are heading, and I agree with Axe that Junger might have been better off calling the book “Combat.”

Finally, CFR has an interview with Stephen Biddle on Afghanistan that got promptly buried by RollingStan.

Will there be pressure on the president, when he looks up from the oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, to try to be clearer on this whole policy? We’ve had many officials saying, “That July date doesn’t really mean much, it was just a symbolic statement.”

There are a lot of people that want to pin the administration down on this. The hearings in the Senate the last couple of days have been the latest example. The hearings right after the West Point speech were an earlier example. Lots of people are confused and want more clarity. They want more clarity for widely divergent motivation. Typically, progressive Democrats want it made very clear that there’s going to be a big, fast withdrawal. Conservative Republicans want the perception that there’s going to be a big, fast withdrawal to be explicitly denied by the administration in order to increase the likelihood that we’re going to stay. So lots of people want more clarity. My guess is that they may not get it. We’ll see what happens with this upcoming December review [Obama in the speech also said the Afghan policy would be reviewed in December].

All this, and America and England face off for the next round of the World Cup. Independence Day never looked so much like a footie metaphor.

Sisyphus at Work

Posted in japan, united states, us military by Karaka on 11 June 2010

TNR has a long piece on the transition of power in Japan, which covers a lot of ground between the LDP and the DPJ, and really gets to the heart of the matter, which is Japan’s yearn to grow into a fully developed actor with less dependence on the United States.

The United States has long complained that Japan seems incapable of acting like a serious country; that most of its people live in a never-never land of wishful thinking on security issues while its leadership cannot seem to act decisively—whether that be a matter of dealing with longstanding economic problems or equipping a military establishment with the actual means to deal with the threats Japan faces. But the political setup that produces this irresponsibility is of Washington’s doing—it’s the way a vassal state can be expected to behave. And while President Obama is not answerable for the stunted sovereignty that forms the most enduring legacy of the American occupation in Japan, he can be blamed for the complicity of his administration in blocking efforts to transform Japan into a politically mature democracy.

For the underlying subtext of last week’s events is that the United States may really after all prefer vassals to allies.

But I maintain that the issue remains a fundamentally internal one, whatever pressure and action the United States can apply to Japan’s turnkey administration. Until Japan can reconcile its fragile position in east Asia with its wariness of extensive and deadly weaponization, it cannot–as was shown by Hatoyama’s scuttling–claim the position of independent authority it rightly covets. The United States has as much control over Japan’s defense mechanisms as it ever has in the last six decades, and it will take a significant force of public opinion (still understandably hostile towards weaponization) combined with ruthless pursuit of policy change to truly grasp independence on the world stage.

This is not to discount Japan’s power, mind. Japan is the second-largest economy in the world, a well-placed democracy in its region with undeniable influence. But there are clear limits to that power, and they start right about where Futenma is.

Speaking of Okinawa, the US military has instituted a curfew for troops stationed there as of today, locking the doors on those winsome doves from midnight to five am. It is an obvious–but potentially effective–olive branch towards new Prime Minister Kan’s administration and the people of Okinawa. I will be watching attentively to see how it goes.

Lastly, PM Kan spoke today about Japan’s massive internal debt problems, comparing their future bleakly to Greece’s present. In the Guardian:

“We cannot sustain public finance that overly relies on issuing bonds. As we can see from the eurozone confusion that started in Greece, there is a risk of default if growing public debt is neglected and trust lost in the bond market.”

Japan’s public debt stood at 218% of gross domestic product last year, according to the International Monetary Fund – the highest in the industrialised world.

Kan said the debt problem could not be dealt with overnight. “That is why we need to have a drastic reform from now in order to obtain fiscal health.”

Now, the Japan and Greece aren’t quite apples-to-apples comparable–the sources of each country’s debt is quite different. But fiscal austerity measures may actually go down more easily in Japan than they have in Greece or Spain, owing to Kan’s fiscal knowledge and current approval ratings (near 70%). Consumer taxes, however, tend to roil public support, and that’s a potential mechanism that could be proposed. For a consumer-goods driven culture, taxes on goods are hateful. But they could prove necessary.

If Kan chooses to make fiduciary responsibility a cornerstone of his work in the next couple of months–as opposed to divisive and generally unsolvable issues such as Futenma and other culture rifts–he has a good chance of surviving. And to tell the truth, I really hope he does.

Inner Demons

Posted in japan, united states by Karaka on 4 June 2010

I really can’t do better than this NYT headline: Japan Elects a New Premier, Fifth in Four Years:

Naoto Kan, a plain-spoken finance minister with activist roots, was elected prime minister on Friday, making him the fifth Japanese leader in four years.

Mr. Kan, 63, won a vote in the lower house of Parliament and will now go through the formality of being appointed by Emperor Akihito.

Smart choice. Kan is a measured and stable guy, which means he might be able to weather the DPJ through the next couple of years.

Slate asks, Did Washington bring down the Japanese prime minister?, which is a pretty leading question. Hatoyama had political problems out of the gate (scandal, poor response, another scandal, and then Okinawa) that had to have been party to his decision to step down regardless of the futility of his glove-slap at Washington. This was the best graph out of Sneider’s article:

Americans harbored growing concerns about the new government’s desire to strike a more independent pose, along with Hatoyama’s gauzy vision of a new East Asia Community, modeled on the European Union. “The basic issue is that Hatoyama was determined to establish more strategic independence for Japan but did not understand that without Japan developing any alternative strategy for its own defense, this was a dead end,” a senior official told me this week. American officials lectured Japan about the strategic importance of the Marines in countering China’s rise without any sense of irony that the Obama administration is engaged in its own, largely unrequited, courtship of Beijing.

Yeah. That I can believe. When Hatoyama came into office, it was on the wave of being a more independent actor on the world stage. But it’s hard to shake sixty-plus years of close engagement on several levels. I don’t disagree that Japan could or should be a more independent actor, but I think it could have been handled more cleverly. Sheila Smith, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, talks of Japan’s Missed Opportunity:

The change in government last September made obvious Japan’s inability to reconcile itself to today’s proliferation dynamics. On the one hand, Tokyo relied on U.S. nuclear superiority while publicly rejecting the use of these weapons on Japan’s behalf. A recent Japanese government investigation into the existence of “secret agreements” between Tokyo and Washington on the transit of nuclear weaponry brought this deep postwar controversy back into the headlines. After months of government deliberation, Mr. Okada was confronted in Parliament by a fundamental question–what would the government do if Japan was threatened? He pointed out that Japan’s three nonnuclear principles–not to possess, manufacture or allow the introduction of nuclear weapons–were designed to keep its citizens safe from the threat of nuclear use. But he had to acknowledge that the government would have to make its best judgment should Japan be threatened based on the need to protect its citizens.

In this light, Mr Hatoyama’s struggle is reflective not so much of its deep and entangled relationship with the US, but of deep and contradictory motivations within its own nation.

Will Kan do better? There’s only so much a prime minister can do when a nation can’t unify around the question of its future defense.

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