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    ジレンマ

    Posted by Sean at 22:43, November 8th, 2006

    Predictably, the lead editorial in this morning’s Nikkei is headlined “US Midterm Elections Reflect Iraq Dilemma.” The unwritten subhead is “Does This Mean Japan Is Screwed?”

    In the mid-term elections for United States congress and state governorships and such, held in the off-years between presidential races, it’s usual for the president’s party to lose seats.

    In that sense, the results this time around are not a surprise. However, it seems that they bear witness to a rise in dissatisfaction with the Bush administration revolving around the ongoing circumstances in Iraq–the Democrats have recaptured the majority in the House after twelve years and gained seats in the Senate. The Bush administration has not discovered a way to extricate itself from its dilemma in Iraq.

    Everyone reasons that if the [Iraqi] economy improves public order will also be restored; but the current reality is that because public order hasn’t been restored, the economy has not improved. No method has been found to stop this vicious cycle and reverse the trend.

    The option of restoring stability through a large-scale increase in the deployment of US military personnel has not gained political support within the US; nor has it gained the support of the Iraqi government.

    The argument for complete withdrawal that had been advanced by part of the Democratic Party could result in the abandonment of Iraq, leaving it to become a breeding ground for international terrorists. This is the mistake that has already been made in Afghanistan.

    The argument for phased withdrawal, after strengthening Iraqi infrastructure [to maintain] stability, appears to be rational. But the deepening opposition of Sunni and Shia elements makes prospects difficult to assess.

    A government in which the Republicans hold the White House and the Democrats have taken the leadership of the congress also existed during the Reagan and Bush [I] administrations in the 1980s. It was called “gridlock,” and it prevented efficient decision-making. Will history repeat itself?

    Now, of course, one of the reasons the Nikkei is paying attention to elections in the United States is that they’re important to geopolitics in general. But there’s plenty at stake for Japan specifically, too. The role of the military here is a hot topic, made ever hotter by movements in the PRC and the DPRK. Russia isn’t making many noises at the moment, but it’s never far from the Japanese mind. Japanese politicians have generally perceived the GOP as invested in maintaining close US-Japan security ties. Even those who are not eager to do so are, like most of the global media, interpreting the results of Tuesday’s election as a direct rebuke to the Bush administration on national security and Iraq; it’s not clear how that will affect strategic policy in East Asia, but plenty of people are worried.


    中間選挙

    Posted by Sean at 11:48, November 8th, 2006

    The Japanese media don’t seem to be saying much of anything interesting about the US election results. This is the Nikkei story thus far, useful chiefly if you don’t know how to say “midterm election” or “incumbent” in Japanese. I expect an editorial tomorrow about what the Democratic takeover of the House means for our support for Japanese security. For now, I’m expecting that most of the world press, unfortunately, will adopt the interpretation given in the Asahi:

    In addition to whether the Bush administration’s policies surrounding the Iraq invasion are right or wrong, questions about ethics were posed, related to scandals and incidences of corruption engaged in by Republican congressmen that had come to light. As a result, the Democrats got a boost, and made significant gains in the number of seats they held in both houses.


    Run-up

    Posted by Sean at 03:37, November 4th, 2006

    Since I’ve already cast my vote, I can settle in to enjoying the frantic final week before the election with no pressure.

    For US Senate, I ultimately decided on Casey. I know, I know: The power elite among the Democrats are traitors who want to promulgate the Culture of Death and you can’t expect the GOP to be perfect and anyway I’m just throwing a fit because Santorum won’t let me marry my dog.

    I really did have serious misgivings when I was filling out my absentee ballot, but they’re dissipating. To find out why, consider Peggy Noonan’s latest column (via Michael). I like Noonan very much. Her writing style isn’t showy, but she has a distinctive voice–careful and sober and considered. It’s a voice that makes her love of America come across very movingly, especially when she talks about the textures of daily life or personal interactions.

    Unfortunately, it’s a voice that also betrays her when she says stupid things. There’s nothing worse than saying something way-ass dumb while making it clear that you’re thinking real hard about it:

    Rick Santorum’s career (two Senate terms, before that two in the House) suggests he has thought a great deal about the balance, and concluded that in our time the national is the local. Federal power is everywhere; so are the national media. (The biggest political change since JFK’s day is something he, 50 years ago, noted: the increasing nationalization of everything.) And so he has spoken for, and stood for, the rights of the unborn, the needs of the poor, welfare reform when it was controversial, tax law to help the family; against forcing the nation to accept a redefining of marriage it does not desire, for religious freedom here and abroad, for the helpless in Africa and elsewhere. It is all, in its way, so personal. And so national. He has breached the gap with private action: He not only talks about reform of federal law toward the disadvantaged, he hires people in trouble and trains them in his offices.

    One thing that’s really starting to get on my nerves: Can we please stop referring to politicians who are publicly opposed to gay marriage as if they were being brave and taking a political risk? Such a stance may get you into hot water at certain cocktail parties and rubber-chicken dinners, but voters have demonstrated in state after state that they concur with it.

    Anyway, the things Noonan discusses–Santorum’s prankish sense of humor, his genuine gratitude at the support he gets, his concern for the Casey family as human beings, his personal efforts to help individuals in straitened circumstances become self-sufficient–are all wonderful. They speak well of the man. But we’re not voting for a church choir director.

    Santorum genuinely does seem to voice his beliefs more candidly than most senators; but then, who wouldn’t look like a straight-shooter next to Arlen Specter? Speaking of Specter, Jacob Sullum hasn’t forgotten that Santorum supported him in the last primary against challenger Pat Toomey (an odd choice for someone who’s restoring principledness to the GOP). Additionally…

    I realize social conservatives are a big part of NR’s audience, but Miller offers economic conservatives, the other major component of Frank Meyer’s grand fusion, little reason to root for Santorum, aside from the fact that he supported welfare reform (so did Bill Clinton) and “has served as a leader” on Social Security, which seems to mean he favors Bush-style baby steps toward “personal” (not “private”) retirement accounts. On the down side, he opposed NAFTA, supported steel tariffs, and considers Bush’s immigration reforms “too lax.”

    And Sullum didn’t even mention the $20 million-ish in federal money Santorum scored for farmland preservation in the commonwealth.

    My point here isn’t that Santorum is a closet social democrat, or even that he’s been a bad senator on balance. My point is just that going off the deep end and portraying him as an implacable opponent of federal waste and mission creep is ridiculous. He plays the game just like his ninety-nine colleagues, and it’s condescending for opinion-shapers to cherry-pick his record in the hopes of convincing us otherwise.


    Lame duck

    Posted by Sean at 05:01, May 14th, 2006

    Okay, Jun’ichiro Koizumi isn’t technically a lame duck because he’s leaving his post as head of state by choice, but anyway….

    The news outlets here, naturally, have been keeping close watch on how things are developing within the LDP, given that Prime Minister Koizumi plans to step down in September. Most of the updates are pretty boring, so I haven’t been commenting on them. The Yomiuri has a nice summary of things to date up today, though:

    Even members of the Mori faction, headed by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, which has managed to maintain a semblance of unity, are having difficulty reaching a consensus on fielding one candidate in the election, indicating that the influence of the faction on their membership is declining.

    At a press conference Friday, LDP General Council Chairman Fumio Kyuma said it was no longer in agreement with the recent trend for factions to choose candidates or take members’ opinions into consideration to field a single candidate, referring to the failure of the Mori faction, the largest in the party, to reach an agreement on fielding a single candidate.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda of the Mori faction are seen as increasingly likely to run in the LDP presidential election, which could signal a split of the faction. But the Mori faction may not be the only faction that will have two candidates competing for the top LDP post.

    Oddly, the article doesn’t mention that Koizumi himself was once a member of the Mori faction; his relationship with his former mentor has been strained at times. (Mori ticked the Prime Minister off by commenting against the perceived rashness of his threat to dissolve the lower house last year over Japan Post privatization.) Koizumi has been signaling that he wants factional string-pulling to be kept to a minimum in the selection of the next party leader:

    “It’s no longer easy to unify (a factional candidate). The old LDP is gone,” Koizumi told reporters Tuesday night. “There is no way to stop them if they wish to run.”

    The comment was widely viewed as a move to keep former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in check as Mori was moving to select a candidate who will have the unanimous support of his faction.

    Both Abe and Fukuda are members of the Mori faction, to which Koizumi once belonged.

    Mori had apparently wanted to avoid rivalry between Abe and Fukuda as it could split his faction, and thus chip away his clout.

    Whatever you may think of Koizumi’s policies, the man has charisma; few other politicians gunning for the LDP presidency and prime ministership do (though I’ve always liked Fukuda and was disappointed two years ago when scandal forced him to resign as Chief Cabinet Secretary). Many of Koizumi’s brash promises of reform have been abandoned for the sake of political maneuvering, and those that have gone through have usually been watered down. There’s a lot of political time between now and September, and whether Koizumi’s approach will live on after him remains to be seen.


    Ozawa and Kan in race for DPJ leader

    Posted by Sean at 09:42, April 5th, 2006

    It’s now official: Naoto Kan and Ichiro Ozawa will run for the position of Democratic Party of Japan president this coming week:

    On the night of 5 April, the DPJ’s Ichiro Ozawa and Naoto Kan officially announced in rapid succession at press conferences their intention to stand as candidates in the 7 April election for party leader in the wake of current leader Seiji Maehara’s resignation. Ozawa stated emphatically that he has “resolved to throw my political viability into find a solution to our current hardships and realize [the goal of] a DPJ administration [in the Diet].” Kan related that “the DPJ is truly standing at the edge of a cliff. I aim for an administration that will revitalize it.”

    The vote is expected to be close.


    Koizumi’s post-election China policy?

    Posted by Sean at 08:32, September 16th, 2005

    Simon links to an interesting article by Yoichi Funabashi, an Asahi senior correspondent who’s now a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution. It asks the question about how the LDP’s landslide relates to China from the opposite direction I’ve been asking it–namely, how will Koizumi’s victory play out in Japan’s China policy, and what will that mean as the two countries evolve economically?

    Curiously enough, foreign policy was almost totally absent from the pre-election debate. Some may perceive this as a sign that Japan is growing increasingly inward-looking, as Koizumi simply wanted to limit the agenda to the single domestic issue of postal privatization. However, this reading would be wrong. Although very difficult to detect since it was discreetly under the radar, I would nevertheless contend that the China factor was actually one of the largest issues in this election, as more than any other factor, a rising China and its direct challenge to Japan set the context for the debate.

    I’m not 100% sure I’m convinced by every jot and tittle that follows, but Funabashi is right in the main. Foreign policy was brought up only by relatively minor opposition parties, and then almost exclusively with reference to the SDF deployment in Iraq and the proposed revisions to the Japanese constitution. Not even specific policy issues that were the subjects of recent flare-ups–such as the disputed fossil fuel fields in the East China Sea–were given attention, let alone the larger question of how Japan intends to maintain its strategic role in a shifting Asia.

    One part I’m not sure about–not that I disagree, mark you; I just think it could go either way–is this:

    Koizumi’s landslide victory may in time prove to be the last gasp of the LDP, as the public likely holds unrealistic expectations of how much Koizumi will be able to accomplish before he steps down next September.

    Given their shocked reactions to their own party’s staggering victory, that was on minds of quite a few LDP members themselves right after the election, too. I wonder, though. Japan is a conformist society, but the Japanese have personal idiosyncrasies like everyone else. Just about everyone here has had multiple experiences with, say, projects at work that failed because protocol and consensus-building were prioritized over practical decision-making. I think it very possible that Koizumi is clever enough to find a way to blame any further stalling of reforms over the next year on, if not hold-outs in the House of Councillors, then federal bureaucrats. In that case, it could be his successor who’s in big trouble and will need to get used to doing a Margaret Thatcher impression.

    Funabashi doesn’t put it this way, but he does by extension raise another very disturbing question: Is it even possible for Japan to fashion a really workable comprehensive China policy, or have conditions gotten to the point that protecting Japan’s interests will mean constantly shifting in response to this week’s constellation of trade and cultural conflicts? Remember that you have to factor in (something else Funabashi doesn’t weigh) that the US and Japan have become even closer military allies over the last several years. The possibilities are endless. It will be very interesting to see what Koizumi does with his momentum over these next few weeks when the sugar high is over.


    What does the PRC think about Koizumi’s victory?

    Posted by Sean at 00:38, September 13th, 2005

    Something interesting I haven’t seen given much play: how did the PRC react to Koizumi’s big win on Sunday? I’ve been looking and Googling, but I haven’t found anything substantive. There’s this from Kyodo about a story in a Singaporean newspaper–which is at least part of the Chinese-speaking world. It says the obvious:

    The Chinese-language Lianhe Zaobao said Koizumi is expected to become even more powerful after this election and could easily win wide support for his views on controversial issues such as his recurring visits to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine. The controversial shrine honors 14 Class-A war criminals along with 2.47 million war dead.

    There’s also a translated Xinhua editorial at The People’s Daily, but it’s pretty muffled, too:

    In terms of foreign policies, the LDP noted the need to improve ties with Asian neighbors. Yet, the points was rarely mentioned in Koizumi’s campaign speeches.

    After the voting, the premier stopped short of dismissing the possibility of paying a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine when he was answering questions on a live program of the public broadcaster NHK.

    His repeated visits to the war criminal-enshrining facility was the major stumbling block in relations with China and South Korea.

    The Yasukuni Shrine issue causes the greatest number of public snits, but there are more important things to think about, trade and energy policy chief among them. It will be interesting to see, and I’m sure we will after everyone’s finished gawking at the numbers and talking about Japan Post privatization.

    Just for a sense of perspective, here’s the section of the DPJ party platform about Japan-China relations; I have no doubt that strategists in Beijing read it:

    The restructuring of Japan-China relations is one of the most important tasks for Japanese diplomacy. [Japan should] build a relationship of trust between the leaders of the two nations, and on that basis, systematize and deepen policy dialogue in fields such as the economy, finance, currency, energy, the environment, maritime activities, and security.

    I looked–pretty carefully, I think–but I didn’t see anything concrete about the big Japan-PRC sticking points. By contrast, the LDP manifesto contained a blandishment or two about mutual prosperity, but there was also this item among its 120 pledges:

    Concerning the Hoppo and Takeshima Islands, we will assiduously pursue a resolution. Further, we will secure the maritime interests of our nation, such as the promotion of the development of natural resources in the East China Sea and surveying of the continental shelf.

    I’m sure the Chinese got that message. The Koizumi administration’s China policy has, after all, not only included refusal to stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine but also threats to do exploratory drilling in disputed undersea oil and gas fields.

    Added over cold coffee: I asked Simon whether he’d seen anything in the Chinese media, and this is his answer: Why, no, not much. He also notes that such mention as there has been has focused on the Yasukuni Shrine issue.


    開いた口が(まだ)ふさがらない

    Posted by Sean at 22:48, September 12th, 2005

    Koizumi is still saying that he will play by the rules and step down as Prime Minister in 2006, but there are noises about extending his tenure:

    On Sunday, Koizumi reiterated he would step down in September 2006, when his term as LDP president expires, but more and more members of the ruling coalition have floated the idea of possibly extending his term beyond next September.

    “That’s an important matter we have to think about,” LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe said Sunday night about the possible extension.

    “The LDP’s rule [that Koizumi’s term expires next September] is one thing, but on the other hand there’s the question of how we should interpret the people’s will expressed [in the landslide victory] in this election,” said LDP Acting Secretary General Shinzo Abe, who is frequently cited as a possible successor to Koizumi.

    New Komeito representative Takenori Kanzaki also hinted his support for extending Koizumi’s term. “I’ll be speaking about [term extension] on various occasions from now on. Winning this many seats also comes with a certain responsibility for the prime minister,” Kanzaki said Sunday.

    Yeah, Koizumi has a “certain responsibility,” all right. Having finally returned the LDP to complete and utter domination, he’s going to have the party leadership anxious to squeeze whatever remaining gains from him it can. It seems to me that, overall, it would be good for him to groom a successor over the next year and leave office as planned. If Koizumi gets through a few more key policy changes and is able to say, next year around this time, “Thank you, Japan, for giving me the opportunity to do my job. It’s finished. Time to move on to [say, Abe],” it would help to counter the LDP’s image as a party full of people who seek the greatest amount of power they can amass and then keep a death-grip on it well into their dotage.

    Speaking of which, people are already starting to say that it’s scary that the LDP won so many seats because now it’s going to turn into some big, scary juggernaut. Maybe. Let’s remember a few things, though: a lot of government power rests in the appointed officials in the federal ministries, and the elected officials know it. And some of the key public employees don’t even work for the federal ministries. Recall that one of the toughest parts about getting Japan Post privatization through was the resistance of the postal workers’ unions, which threatened not to use their rural outposts to drum up the support of voters for LDP candidates. Koizumi rode into office on a wave of popularity the first time, too; but we all saw soon enough that that wasn’t enough for him to get everything he wanted by a long shot.

    Hell, the Japan Post privatization package itself has already been watered down considerably; in fact, the watering down started quite a while ago. (Once again, the analogy is not perfect, but check the potential parallels with the California power privatization fiasco.) Koizumi’s next project is said to be the integration of the government’s two pension systems: the one for civil servants and the one for the rest of us salaried types. Worryingly, he’s been quoted as saying, “It will necessary to listen to a variety of opinions while formulating the plan.” Sound familiar?

    In any case, it is true that the LDP focused hard on Japan Post privatization during the run-up to the election. It’s ridiculous, though, to say that that means that voters, in practice, were voting on that single issue and thus can’t be said to have expressed support for Koizumi’s overall policy platform. Note that, if it’s the DPJ we’re talking about, its opposition to the LDP’s Japan Post scheme was very well-conceived.

    No, the Japanese public has not lost its ambivalence toward the SDF deployment in Iraq or the possible amendment of the constitution to allow for combat participation in collective-defense missions. But please. The other parties were all over those issues. They had plenty of opportunities to make their case. Japanese voters, in turn, had the opportunity to, say, vote in a lot of LDP candidates in single-seat districts but “balance” them with more proportional-representation seats from the opposition. They failed to do so. They failed to do so in a big, bad way. They failed to do so even in Tokyo, which is not generally an LDP stronghold. They failed to do so in such a big, bad, Tokyo-included way that it’s hard to interpret the election results in any way but that the electorate wants Koizumi and his crew of upstarts to do what they say they’re going to do.


    Japan to DPJ: “Get lost”

    Posted by Sean at 23:02, September 11th, 2005

    Yesterday was the birthday party of a very close friend, so from 19:00 on I was pretty much away from sources of news, except when I talked to Atsushi at midnight-ish. He told me then that it was 自民党大勝利 (jimintou daishouri: “big victory for the LDP”), but I spent the rest of the night carousing and have just awakened.

    My loverman was not exaggerating. The ruling coalition won over 300 seats. And the LDP alone–without its coalition partners–has an outright majority:

    The 44th lower house general election, in which the major point of contention was which party would control the government, was held on 11 September, with vote counting beginning immediately [after the polls closed]. The LDP won overwhelmingly in both single-seat districts and proportional representation blocs, and together with the Komeito topped 300 seats. It appeared to be an expression of confidence in the trajectory of party president Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s reforms, and it is probable that the Japan Post privatization bills will be passed in a special diet session at the end of this month.

    The LDP will control the chairs of, and won more than the 269 seats necessary to form an absolute majority of members in all of, the lower house’s standing committees.

    In the morning print edition of the Nikkei, the numbers are updated:

    LDP: 295
    New Komeito: 30
    DPJ: 113
    Social Democrats: 6
    Communists: 9

    The rest of the seats that have been counted went in handfuls to unaffiliated candidates or those with the People’s New Party, which was founded by rebel LDP legislators who voted against Japan Post privatization. DPJ leader Katsuya Okada has already announced officially that he’s stepping down. Prime Minister Koizumi looks as if he really enjoyed swallowing that canary.

    A 2/3 majority! I can’t even wrap my head around that–and I like Koizumi and was rooting for him. Of course, there’s a lot to think about. The LDP made Japan Post its focal point for the election, but the opposition parties were very vocal about Article 19, the SDF in Iraq, and social welfare policy. Those are issues on which the Japanese are deeply divided, and the election results surely don’t signify an unqualified mandate for all aspects of Koizumi’s foreign policy. Nevertheless, the voters had a chance to reject the Koizumi government, and it means something that they didn’t. (It’s worth noting, though, that coalition partner New Komeito is much more pacifist than the LDP–certainly than the Koizumi cabinet–but despite its new dominance in the lower house, the LDP still needs the New Komeito to maintain its upper house majority.)

    The English editions of the major dailies have their stories so far here: Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri, Japan Times. (Does the Sankei even have an English edition?)

    Added at 17:11: Another interesting aspect of the snap election was the use of 刺客 (shikaku: “assassin,” lit., “specialized stabber”) candidates. These were the high-profile candidates fielded by the LDP in single-seat districts against those (formerly) in its own party who had voted against Japan Post reform. Most of the assassin candidates won.

    Added at 18:31: Okay, just one more link to the Mainichi, whose English reports are most closely reflecting what we’re seeing in non-linkable broadcast media. This one quotes a series of hilariously stunned LDP members all saying, essentially, “Whoa!” The original Japanese article is here, and its lead paragraph is far funnier:

    As day broke the morning after lower house election day in the Nagatacho district of Tokyo, the LDP was having an attack of “296-seat shock.” “We won so many seats, the prospect of the next election is frightening.” With the LDP victorious and jubilant, and the DPJ soundly defeated and dazed, the blessed and the cursed were sharply distinguishable.

    BTW, that former cabinet member quoted in the English article actually said this: “勝ったのにどうかと思うけど、怖い。ものが言えなくなってしまう。ファッショだよ。” (“We won, but I wonder whether this is for the best. It’s frightening. I’m just dumbstruck. It’s fascistic.”) Yes, that last sentence is a literal translation, but since the quotation ends there, I’m not sure whether the official was referring to the cult of personality that can be said to surround Koizumi or to the high percentage of seats won or what.

    Added at 19:24: Riding Sun calls the success of the Koizumi administration’s strategy to field high-profile women candidates a vindication of the “Japanese Babe Theory.” I think he’s right–it’s not a joke. Most of the women “assassins” seemed smart and lively and, dare I say, sassy. They stood in clear visual contrast to the stereotypical LDP politician. At the same time, I believe the move was also smart because the women candidates suggested a connection to the social and family issues–employment and pension figures, especially, but also education and child and elder care–that the party PR machine was deemphasizing but that most voters care the greatest deal about.

    I don’t want to downplay the capabilities of any of the candidates. They may, in fact, have expertise in hard policy issues that hasn’t been given much attention yet. (At least one, Yuriko Koike, has already been Minister of the Environment.) But image matters, especially when the key issue in an election is an unsexy topic such as Japan Post privatization.

    NHK’s political yak show has all the party leaders on right now, BTW. No one is saying anything even slightly more interesting than you’d expect. Takebe is, of course, in his cool-biz shirt, looking as if he were headed off to the club for a few whiskeys the minute the lights go down; he appears very somber, but maybe he’s just tired. Okada has regained some of his color, but of course he looks very unhappy, and it seems somewhat unkind for NHK to be showing him in extreme close-up when he talks.

    LOL. Tamisuke Watanuki, a leader of the Japan Post opponents who were abandoned by the LDP, is talking. The expression on Takebe’s face across the table! He looks as if he wanted to vault across the studio and throttle him.


    投票日

    Posted by Sean at 22:46, September 10th, 2005

    Today is the snap election here. We’ll see whether Koizumi’s conviction that the electorate supports his reforms–or supports the way he’s going about them–is justified. Atsushi voted last week while he was here. The street was a madhouse yesterday when I got my haircut. (For those who follow my hair-related travails, yesterday found me being massaged with some cinnamon/ginger-y oil and then washed down with apple-scented shampoo. I half-expected to be loaded onto a platter, garnished with mint leaves, and served for dessert with hard sauce and whipped cream.) The Komeito flacks were, indeed, focusing exclusively on Japan Post privatization as they walked by and shook hands. The communists went by in a van blaring about health care and Article 9. We’ll see who gets what when the results come in.