Wednesday, August 29, 2007

First Order of Business at the Cabinet Session? Balancing the Factions

The new Abe Cabinet held an extraordinary session today (Aug. 29, a Wednesday; the Cabinet meets twice a week on Tuesday and Friday) and appointed the 22 senior vice-ministers (LDP 19, New Komeito 3) in the respective ministries and the Cabinet Office. For the appointees - In the case of the LDP, third (or in rare cases fourth) term Lower House Members and second term Upper House members - this is an important step in building resumes, and they are expected to use the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the territory and the people who populate it, and the bureaucracy does its best to oblige. As a result, they tend to become close to their respective ministries and their jurisdiction.

You may have guessed that a senior vice-minister does not wield much real power. That is also evident from something Asahi points out quite baldly in its headline Deputy Vice-Minister Emphasis on Factional Balance, 22 Appointed as well as the text, which gives the following list:

Tsushima faction 4, Machimura faction 3, Koga faction 2, Yamazaki faction 2, Ibuki faction 2, Tanigaki faction 2, Komura faction 1, Aso faction 1, Nikai faction 1, Unaligned 1.

Note that the largest Machimura faction has one fewer than the next largest Tsushima faction. That is only appropriate, since the Prime Minister's faction is expected to show humility in dividing the spoils. Also significant is the fact that the Tanigaki faction is the only U-16 micro-faction to have two. Consider this an analgesic for being shut out (against Mr. Mori's advice) from the Cabinet and the main party posts.

For even more junior coalition Diet members, there are the parliamentary vice-minister appointments. Expect more of the same.

This Is Why We Play the Game: from the Abe Administration Poll Numbers

Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."
- Autobiography of Mark Twain

Here are the support/do not support poll figures for the Abe adminstration, post-election and post reshuffle:

Support Abe administration

Kyodo Tsushin29.0%40.5%

Do not support Abe administration

Kyodo Tsushin59.0%45.5%

For anyone who does not follow the Japanese media with regularity, the discrepancy between the poll numbers for Asahi and Yomiuri are par for the course and reflect their ideological and political leanings (left-center and center-right respectively). Kyodo Tsushin is a wire service and is considered more or less neutral

Now You Can Read the Extent of Mr. Yano's Anger

Here, on the Asahi website, if you can read Japanese. But hurry, because online Asahi articles are perishable products.

Asahi adds an interesting angle to earlier media reports of Mr. Yano's 30-minute phone call to Prime Minister Abe in protest of his omission from the new Cabinet. According to Asahi, the prime minister tried to placate Mr. Yano by telling him that he would appoint him the next time around.

Assuming that the substance of the phone call is emanating from Mr. Yano himself – the words of Mr. Yano and Mr. Abe are placed in quotation marks, indicating that the reporter talked to, at a minimum, a reliable source who could speak for Mr. Yano:

a) Making such a promise – not out of character for the conciliatory Mr. Abe – is not the best way to make a show of leadership.

b) Going public with the promise is not the best way to make Mr. Abe keep it.

Did Mr. Yano's anger make him speak too rashly? Or did he not think much of the chances of there being a "next time"? I suppose the former, seasoned, perhaps unconsciously, by the latter; though your guess is as good as mine. In any case, this kind of blood in the water does not bode well for Mr. Abe.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Post-Reshuffle Trivia and Speculation on the Counter-Terrorism Act Showdown

I expect a well-rounded English-language recap of the new Cabinet and it implications, past present and future from one of the weekly magazines. In the meantime, there are the bloggers, who provide the color commentary. As such, I offer you some things that caught my attention.

The Upper House LDP had feared that they would lose one of the two seats; they managed to keep both. But they are not happy. Rather, Upper House LDP member Tetsuro Yano is furious. Mr. Yano was widely assumed to have the inside track on one of the Cabinet posts usually reserved for the Upper House, but was shut out. Yomiuri reports that he called the Prime Minister to protest. No class act, true, but it's hard to believe that it was all in his mind and nowhere else.

What is it with the Prime Minister and his ex-faction chief and predecessor Yoshiro Mori? Mr. Mori criticized Mr. Abe for keeping Nobuteru Ishihara (Chairman, Policy Deliberation Commission), Yoshimi Watanabe (Minister for Financial Affairs, etc.) and Akira Amari (METI Minister), saying, "[The first Cabinet] included younger 'children' and was called the 'Friends Cabinet.' That was the 'first year class [of the three-year kindergarten]', but I feel that this one has become a little more 'second year class'. He came down especially hard on Mr. Ishihara (Lower House, Tokyo District No.8), claiming that the LDP needed a Policy Deliberation Commission Chairman (one of the Big Three party posts) from the peripheral provinces (地方chihou, usually - and somewhat misleadingly - referred to as "rural areas"). He had made specific suggestions (again publicly) in the make up of the Cabinet and LDP leadership in the week before the reshuffle. Last year, in the Koizumi succession race, He had openly lobbied for Mr. Abe to step aside in order to allow Yasuo Fukuda to get first crack, to no avail. Perhaps he has never gotten over that double show of disrespect for the natural order of things (leader-follower relationship, seniority).

Yomiuri says Makoto Koga was indeed tapped to be the Chairman of the General Council, on of the Big Three party posts, but had declined, opening the way for Toshihiro Nikai. Perhaps he felt offended at being asked to succeed Yuya Niwa his co-head of the Niwa-Koga faction. The two have a troubled relationship Think, Octavian and Mark Anthony, Stalin and Trotsky.

If this were an action movie, the first climax comes over the extension of the counter-terrorism act. The Abe administration is giving every indication that they are willing to compromise on a deal that could include Iraq. It has the right people in the right places saying the right things. If there is no deal, the LDP should be able to pass a new law to its own liking, while bridging the gap between the old and new legislation by emergency logistical arrangements that have US and/or Australian vessels taking up the slack for a few months while the Japanese vessels dutifully shift out then back in to the Indian Ocean. I have no way of determining whether or not such a thing is possible, but it is at least conceivable, and the allied forces would be incredibly stupid not to have worked out such contingency plans. Faced with such a choice, my guess is that Ozawa/DPJ will take the deal that it can get and declare victory and claim – with justification - that it has acted responsibly.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Alberto Gonzales Resigns. Are Things that Bad over There?

Quick, who do you think is going to be the "other" violin?

Actually, this has been going on at all levels of authority. It is an increasingly serious operational problem. For example, the two-month delay in the February Six-Party Talks agreement over the North Korean bank transfer could very well have been due to the sheer lack of administrative expertise available for planning and execution.

Dear MTC: in View of the High Esteem in Which I Know You Hold Kyodo Tsushin...

… it is with the greatest of regret that I must inform you of this unfortunate incident.

To be honest with you, I've lived long enough to know that there, but for the grace of God, go I.

Actually, been there, done that.

Abe Administration Remake Looks Good on Paper But Is It Too Late?

Prime Minister Abe administration has announced his new Cabinet, and it looks good. There will be criticism that Mr. Abe has given in to pressure from the factions, but all in all, it does not look like a group of people that will cause the kind of headaches under Abe administration 1.0 through 1.4 (or 1.31, depending on how you count the MAFF heads).

Leaping out are the names of Nobutaka Machimura (Minister of Foreign Affairs; head of Machimura faction, 82 members), Fukushiro Nukaga (Minister of Finance; main prime minister candidate of Tsushima faction, 63 members), Fumiaki Ibuki (Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology; head of Ibuki faction, 25 members), and Masahiko Komura (Minister of Defense; head of Komura faction, 15 members). Taro Aso (head of the Aso faction, 16 members) is the powerful party no.2 Secretary-General and Toshihiro Nikai (head of Nikai faction, 15 members) holds one of the other two top party posts as Chairman of the General Council. The co-heads of the Niwa-Koga faction (46 members) are somewhat surprisingly left out in the cold. But how are you going to choose one of two people who have very serious issues with each other? The Niwa-Koga faction does have the very effective Yoshihida Suga in charge of elections. Sadakazu Tanigaki and Taku Yamazaki, doves openly opposed to Mr. Abe, are no surprise absentees.

The rest: Hiroya Masuda (Minister of Internal Affairs and Communication; ex-governor), Kunio Hatoyama (Minister of Justice; Tsushima action), Yoichi Masuzoe (Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare; unaligned, Upper House), Takehiko Endo (Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery; Yamazaki faction, 36 members), Akira Amari (Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry; Yamzaki faction, but very sympathetic to Mr. Abe), Tesuzo Fuyushiba (Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport,; New Komeito), Ichiro Kamoshita (Minister of Environment; independent?), Kaoru Yosano (Chief Cabinet Secretary; independent), Shinya Izumi (Minister of State - Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, Minister of State for Disaster Management; independent, Upper House) Fumio Kishida (Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs; Niwa-Koga faction), Yoshimi Watanabe (Minister for Financial Services, Minister of State for Regulatory Reform; unaligned), Hiroko Ohta (Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy; not Diet Member), and Yoko Kamikawa (Minister for Declining Number of Children [they mean "Increasing"; Niwa-Koga faction). The announcements do not say where the Minister for Ocean Policy, Science and Technology Policy, Innovation, Gender Equality, Social Affairs and Food Safety portfolios go.

The Tanigaki faction (15 members) has been completely shut out. Also missing from the Cabinet list are the Aso, and Nikai factions, but remember, they are small factions, and their heads hold two of the three key party posts.

As for the unaligned, Yoichi Masuzoe is an intelligent and creative policy maker and forceful public speaker who has also been highly critical of Mr. Abe and his Cabinet. Thus, he is a substance-inclusiveness twofer. Another substance-inclusiveness twofer is the likeable Kaoru Yosano in the most important Cabinet post, who is also a masterful conciliator as well. (He was highly touted for Chief Cabinet Secretary for Abe administration 1.0.) Hiroya Masuda is widely considered as an inspired choice.

The choices for Foreign Affairs, Finance, and Defense look good too. Under the circumstances, Mr. Abe has done a good job. But it would have looked better the first time around. There will be many critics of the balancing act, who will portray it as a sign of weakness. Also, he will catch flak for reducing the number of women from three to two, and in very junior portfolios at that.

At the end of the day, it's the prime minister's job to turn it around.

Lack of Excitement over the Cabinet Remake. Yet Another Comment on the Upper House Election

I think that too much time has passed since the election for the cabinet remake - not that Abe could have avoided it, given the need to deal with the implications of the political financing scandal - and too many incidents remindful of the pre-election Abe era happening in the meantime that any bright spots in the appointments will be merely noted and quickly forgotten. There's a belabored, shopworn feel to the political Christmas Eve atmosphere.

I also think that too much is made of the electoral consequences of the kakusa (economic winners and losers) issue. After all, the coalition did badly in the big cities as well, where the benefits of the economic recovery are supposedly accruing. As substantial as the crises were – which the Abe administration had more than its share – the seriousness of the leadership problem, real and perceived, in dealing with them cannot be overemphasized. Not that any of the other hopefuls project themselves very well in that respect.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

O'Hanlon-Pollack Op-Ed/Report on Iraq

I'm sure most Americans who are reading this are aware of the O'Hanlon-Pollack NYT op-ed that claimed, "We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms" and concluded that "there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008 (my emphasis)." The op-ed has been hailed by supporters of the surge as a remarkable in-your-face rebuke to defeatists from two long-standing critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, while detractors assail the essay as propaganda by two bedrock supporters of the war in Iraq as output from a guided tour by Bush administration propaganda machine.

Less noticed is the two Brooking analysts' full report (still maddeningly anecdotal and too journalistic for my tastes), which presents a much bleaker picture. More or less the same claim, same conclusion; but, where the op-ed gives one paragraph to the (political) graveness of the situation and half a paragraph to the depiction of the Iraqi National Police as "a disaster", half the full report is devoted to the political difficulties, as well as very serious caveats to the military success. The latter also says, "The current Iraqi [proportional] electoral system is a disaster" and calls for a new national election under "a geographical representational system like [the United States or Great Britain". If you think that that is going to happen before "March-April 2008", after which the full report says that the US will have to draw down to pre-surge levels - the insurgents (code for Sunni) and the militia (Shiia) will appreciate that piece of information - then the future looks bright.

The title to the op-ed, A War We just Might Win, takes on an undoubtedly unintented irony for the more prosaically titled Iraq Trip Report at Brookings.

Note: By "anecdotal" and "journalistic", I mean the frequent use of an illustrative example or qualitative words or phrases like "many" and "far more" instead of numbers and fractions, or even relative terms like "majority" or "most".

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Radhabinod Pal, Lone Dissenter at Tokyo Tribunal

While finding that 'the evidence is still overwhelming that atrocities were perpetrated by the members of the Japanese armed forces against the civilian population of some of the territories occupied by them as also against the prisoners of war', he produced a judgment questioning the legitimacy of the tribunal and its rulings. He held the view that the legitimacy of the tribunal was circumspect and questionable as the spirit of retribution, and not impartial justice, was the underlying criterion for passing the judgment.

No wonder nobody cares what his real objections were.

Oops, Defense Minister Koike Is on the Outs (and Another Minister Has Political Financing Worries)

Yuriko Koike, the Defense Minister, whom I had tagged as the one minister who would keep her job in Abe Cabinet 2.0 (replacing ver.14), won't do so after all. In a press briefing she gave on the 24th at the New Delhi hotel where she was staying, she stated, "Nobody has taken responsibility within the Defense Ministry for the Aegis destroyer information system leak. I wish to take the responsibility. I want to change totally the people and their mindset, and have the new minister take charge…… I have said that I will 'resign' [on the occasion of the Cabinet reshuffle]." She added later to reporters at the New Delhi Airport, "I communicated to the prime minister my intent [not to stay on]. I did not get a direct answer", and "This does not mean that I am taking responsibility for the [confusion over] the personnel decision on the vice minister post."

I took these quotes from the Yomiuri hard-copy front page version (which may have had something to do with the editorial decision to carry Prime Minister Abe's summit with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah in a much smaller space on page 2).

On her return to Japan at Narita Airport next morning, she seemed to dampen any speculation that she would remain in the Cabinet in another capacity, stating, "I've communicated to the prime minister that 'I want to work hard to support Prime Minister Abe as one foot soldier of the party from now on'". However, she did not completely rule out possibility of serving if asked. This, the latest from the online Mainichi

All this is forcing reporters to chase MOD and LDP sources for comments. They are uniformly critical of her decision, although the reasons seem to vary, whether it be taking it on herself to resign after creating a mess just before, giving a somewhat unconvincing reason for the decision, running away from a confrontation with Ichiro Ozawa, or jumping ship before being pushed out anyway by Mr. Abe.

If her departure takes one awkward problem out of Mr. Abe's hands, he can't be pleased that Ms. Koike took the matter and its announcement into her own hands. This reinforces an image of a passive prime minister that does not take charge of the situation and instead allows the situation to dictate to him. In this respect, it does not help him that the two core personnel decisions he has made so far, creating a dual power structure of Cabinet ministers on one hand and the White House-style sub-Cabinet prime minister's team on the other, and engineering the return of the Post Office privatization rebels, both backfired spectacularly. Another silver lining, of course, is that he will be able to replace her with a more conciliatory figure in dealing with counter-terrorism act whose extension will be the biggest and most urgent issue of the upcoming Diet session.

Ms. Koike is not the only Cabinet minister to run into trouble these days. There is Shiozaki Yasuhisa, inflicted twice-fold by the political financing scandal (imagine the misfortune of having one of your accountants embezzle money from you and your losing your job because of it; well, not quite, but close enough to the truth to feel some sympathy for Mr. Shiozaki) and his latest run-in with Ms. Koike. Then, there's Yoshihide Suga, Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, and close . Scandal- and foot-in-mouth-disease-free---all things being relative in politics--Mr. Suga had been one of the brighter lights in the Abe Administration, and MIAC had been rewarded with an oversight role in rehabilitating the public pension system, bringing some functions of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare under its jurisdiction, albeit indirectly. However, if he had harbored any thoughts of staying on, he surely gave them up, as suspiciously large overhead costs have shown up on his books.

Seriously, politicians who want to keep their jobs should start slipping me fat envelopes filled with unmarked 10,000 Yen bills just so I won't write favorably about their prospects. You already owe me one, Mr. Suga.

Friday, August 24, 2007

More on the Khalil Gibran International Academy

I took note of it here. WaPo now says In New York, a Word Starts a Firestorm. Reading the article, it is apparent that it was more like the lynching party finally catching up with the victim. With an Orthodox Jew who doesn't understand Arabic now charge, it' s hard to escape the impression that the New York authorities are waiting for the school to whither and fade away. Assume you were a Muslim and thinking of sending your child there. What would you do now?

So I guess my rhetorical question is: Will any American of note come to Ms. Almontazeri's defense? The school's? Not if Dr. Pipes, who has obviously learned well from his many years of studying the USSR, has his way:

"Daniel Pipes, a pro-Israel conservative who created Campus Watch, a Web site dedicated to exposing alleged bias in university Middle East-studies programs, wrote in the New York Sun that the school would cause problems because "learning Arabic in [and] of itself promotes an Islamic outlook."

Would there be an outcry in the US if someone opposed teaching Hebrew in schools, saying, "learning Hebrew in and of itself promotes a Jewish outlook"?

And then I wonder, am I any different from these people?

I'm Not the Only One Who Doesn't Like President Bush's Iraq Analogy

I'm not the only one who doesn't like President Bush's Iraq analogy. Of course Americans opposed to his policy on Iraq are overwhelmingly reacting to his comparison with Vietnam. (His supporters are, needless to say, counterattacking.) According to the Yomiuri, the Vietnamese don't like it either, if the headline, "Vietnam Foreign Ministry Expresses Displeasure at President Bush's Remarks" is to be believed. However, Reuters thinks that, "Reacting to Bush Speech, Vietnam Focuses on Present". Why the difference? Yomiuri writes

The Vietnamese MOF spokesman expressed displeasure,…… saying, "To the people, [the war] was a fight for justice."

The article closes with another quote from the spokesman:

"The people stood up for independence and freedom, and national unification. The scars of the war still remain."

According to Reuters, the spokesman's comments went like this:

"Vietnamese fought for "a righteous cause" during the U.S. war but preferred to focus on the present, a government spokesman said on Thursday in reaction to President George W. Bush's speech comparing the Iraq and Vietnam conflicts.

"The war leaves consequences that are still visible today, and so are our memories," Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Le Dung said at one of his twice-monthly media briefings.

"But as a nation with a tradition that treasures peace, we are determined to not forget the past but value the present and look forward to a better future with other countries including the United States."

As for my own crusade against the Japan-Iraq analogy, Asahi chimes in with "US President Equates Pre-War Japan with Al-Qaeda, Criticisms toward His View of History". The article gives a somewhat misleading impression that his take on Japan was a big part of the focus of the criticism. (Actually, it seems to have gone almost unnoticed in the US media in the shadows of the Vietnam analogy.) The article is harshly critical of President Bush, closing with:

Mr. Bush depends on his war against terror, but exposed his lack of understanding for the history and culture of other countries including Japan. [The speech] omits inconvenient facts and appeals to the domestic constituency with America's "idealism" and "good intentions".

Speaking of inconvenient facts, Asahi was once one of the foremost proponents of an aggressive foreign policy, going all the way back to its role in touching off the Hibiya Riots.

Yomiuri, reporting from Washington, is non-committal on that point in "US President Appeals for Continuation of Engagement in Iraq, Comparing it with 'Japan's Democratization'", the correspondent confining herself to the following:

[President Bush] introduced a distinct view of history to the effect that freedom expanded into and established itself in Japan, Korea and elsewhere in Asia through US involvement.

Note the use of the word "独自" (original; 《fml》 peculiar; of one's own; unique according to one on-line dictionary; I have translated it as "distinct") in the original text. I think that there is an understated sense of irony there, but maybe that's just me. More significantly, the first Yomiuri article out of its Bangkok bureau seems to have gone to some trouble to produce an article critical of President Bush's Iraq policy while the latter from its Washington correspondent is distinctly neutral otherwise.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

President Bush Hopes Iraq Will Go the Way of Japan. If This Story Sounds Familiar, Yes, You Have Heard It Before.

I want to open today's speech with a story that begins on a sunny morning, when thousands of Americans were murdered in a surprise attack -- and our nation was propelled into a conflict that would take us to every corner of the globe.

The enemy who attacked us despises freedom, and harbors resentment at the slights he believes America and Western nations have inflicted on his people. He fights to establish his rule over an entire region. And over time, he turns to a strategy of suicide attacks destined to create so much carnage that the American people will tire of the violence and give up the fight.

If this story sounds familiar, it is -- except for one thing. The enemy I have just described is not al Qaeda, and the attack is not 9/11, and the empire is not the radical caliphate envisioned by Osama bin Laden. Instead, what I've described is the war machine of Imperial Japan in the 1940s, its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and its attempt to impose its empire throughout East Asia.

Ultimately, the United States prevailed in World War II, and we have fought two more land wars in Asia. And many in this hall were veterans of those campaigns. Yet even the most optimistic among you probably would not have foreseen that the Japanese would transform themselves into one of America's strongest and most steadfast allies, or that the South Koreans would recover from enemy invasion to raise up one of the world's most powerful economies, or that Asia would pull itself out of poverty and hopelessness as it embraced markets and freedom.

---The opening paragraphs of President Bush's August 22 speech before the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars---

Third, President Roosevelt believed that free nations are peaceful nations that would not threaten America. He knew that it was the lack of democracy in Japan that allowed an un-elected group of militarists to take control of the state, threaten our neighbors, attack America, and plunge an entire region into war. And he knew that the best way to bring peace and stability to the region was by bringing freedom to Japan.
With every step toward freedom, the Japanese economy flourished. With every step toward freedom, the Japanese became a model for others in the region. With every step toward freedom, the Japanese became a valued member of the world community, a force for peace and stability in the region, and a trusted and reliable ally of the United States of America.
Today we must not forget the lessons of the past, and the lesson of this experience is clear: The most powerful weapon in the arsenal of democracy is the spirit of liberty. In the 20th century, the spirit of liberty worked to spread freedom from Japan and Germany to Eastern Europe and Latin America and Southeast Asia and Africa. And the spirit of liberty is at work today. Across the broader Middle East, we can see freedom's power to transform nations and deliver hope to people who have not known it. In Afghanistan and Iraq and Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, people have gone to the polls and chosen their leaders in free elections. Their example is inspiring millions across that region to claim their liberty, as well -- and they will have it.

As freedom advances across a troubled part of the world, it is once again opposed by fanatical adherence of a murderous ideology. And once again, the stakes are high. Now, as then, our enemies have made their fight a test of American credibility and resolve. Now, as then, they are trying to intimidate free people and break our will. And now, as then, they will fail.

---from President Bush's 2005 August 30 speech commemorating V-Day at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego---

There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken. (Applause) The nation of Iraq, with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people, is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom.

---from President Bush's 2001 February 23 address before a joint session of Congress---

So maybe it's worth repeating that Japan had been a democracy well before General McArthur stepped foot on Japanese soil. And that it was under that democracy that the Japanese media---with the support of much of the Japanese public---consistently bashed the wishy-washy appeasers among the civilian leadership and all but encouraged the military to take the reins of government.

The democratic process works when it works; when it doesn't, it doesn't.

Hitler blahblahblah, Milosevic blahblahblah, Hamas blahblahblah……

The Smoking Iranian Gun in Iraq? I Doubt It, But Let's Put It in Play

The English version of the Mainichi has outsourced its entire overseas coverage to AP. That's a shame, because the Japanese version carries this spectacular August 23 scoop on help from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to Iraqi militia, a US allegation the Iranian government has been strenuously denying. If the report can be verified, it would be an important step in setting the stage for US strikes into Iranian territory, something that has become increasingly likely as the Bush administration sees Iranian meddling as a serious obstacle to its war in Iraq.

Is something like this really going on? If I had to guess, I would say yes. As for the story itself though, I think that somebody has pulled a fast one on Mainichi. There's no reason for real Mahdi members to talk to the "Mainichi assistant in Baghdad" about Iranian involvement in their activities; in fact, they would be incredibly stupid to do so. So, I'll believe the report when I hear that the men who talked to the assistant as well as the assistant himself have been killed off. Swiftly. Gruesomely. Still, it's such a stunning story that I'm going off the reservation today and translating it here for your viewing pleasure:

Iraq: Shiite Militia Admit to Military Training in Iran
(Cairo, Muneo Takahashi)

By August 22, members of the Mahdi Army, a Islamic Shiite militia in Iraq, disclosed in an investigation by a
Mainichi assistant in Baghdad that they had been receiving military training from the Revolutionary Guard in their neighbor country Iran. The US Forces in Iraq repeatedly criticized Iran for supporting Shiite militia, but Iran had denied it. The Iranian claim will be placed in serious doubt by the testimony from within the Mahdi Army.

The Mahdi Army is the militia organization of the anti-American militant "Sadrists". A Mahdi Army member (36) calling himself "Saad" in Sadr City in South Baghdad, the Mahdi Army's power base, testified that "the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is giving training in sniping and dealing with explosives" in underground shelters in Sadr City remaining from the Saddam Hussein days. He revealed that he has transported arms from Iran to Iraq multiple times since July 2004, and said, "I received military training from the Revolutionary Guard from January through March this year in Iran."

The leading member (36) in the Abu Karal (Caral?) district revealed that "[we] have destroyed four US military Humvees (Highly mobile multipurpose vehicles) in the past two weeks" in attacks that he had led. He revealed that they had modified powerfully destructive Iranian landmines and were using them as roadside bombs.

Another member also said that "[we] obtained Katushya rockets to target US military bases" and that "[he] had transported bonuses from Iran for his brothers (Mahdi Army members)."

According to "Saad", they are receiving these arms and funds through the Iranian external information agency called "Ittilat" in Farsi.

From the testimonies, the Iranian intent to bring disorder to the military forces in Iraq of the US, with which it is in conflict, by using the Mahdi Army can be discerned. It is likely that the arms that have been passed on to the Mahdi Army are also being used to attack the "Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council", fellow Shiite and rival to the Sadrists in the Iraqi south and elsewhere, and is resulting in amplifying disorder within Iraq.

Major General Lynch of the US forces in Iraq criticized Iran on the 19th, saying that "about fifty members of the Revolutionary Guard are training Shiite militia." Hosseini, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, denied the charge, saying, "it is absolutely groundless."

Mainichi Shinbun 2007.08.23 03:00 AM

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

LDP Discontents Start a New Policy Group. Are the Factions on the Move?

It is not a major news item, but the main dailies are carrying the news. Seven LDP Lower House members got together on the 21st and agreed to found a study group to propose an alternative to what they see as the excessively market-oriented directions of the Koizumi-Abe .administrations. The policy proposals will be announced in early September, thus likely between the inauguration of the new Cabinet and the start of the Diet session. The eight founding members (one member was absent from the inaugural meeting due to a prior commitment) are actively seeking more participants from the rest of the LDP.

The Mainichi notes that the founding members all belong to three factions that have only one Cabinet member (from the Yamazaki faction) between them, and casts doubt on their claim that this is not an anti-Abe movement. So, could T be onto something? Are the factions on the move after all? Does the fact that the dovish heads of the two smaller factions, Sadakazu and Tanigaki and Taku Yamazaki, are openly critical of the prime minister mean anything? Is it significant that the Tsushima faction--by far the largest of the three, a close second in the LDP only to the Machimura faction, which has produced the last three prime ministers including Mr. Abe---has traditionally been very much pro-China (Prime Ministers Kakuei Tanaka, Noboru Takeshita, and Ryutaro Hashimoto, to name three Old Friends of China who have led the faction before Yuji Tsushima), whereas Mr. Abe's relationship with our neighbors is seen more as an arrangement of mutual convenience?

We'll know more after we see the definitive list of Diet members who sign on to this policy study group. (Will it include members from other factions, for instance?) Even more when the new Cabinet is announced. But it is important to remember that the Tsushima faction had started off with two Cabinet members. But Administrative Reform Minister Genichiro Sada and Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma, both Tsushima faction members in good standing, had to resign as the result of, respectively, a political financing scandal and inopportune words about the atomic bombs. In both cases, Mr. Abe promoted his sub-Cabinet level advisors (Yoshimi Watanabe and Yuriko Koike) with the corresponding portfolios, leaving the Tsushima faction out in the cold. My guess is that this imbalance will be corrected, as Mr. Abe seeks to broaden his support base within the LDP.

It is also notable that the eight founding members do not include the leadership of the three factions (arguably; I welcome any corrections). Though I do think that Mr. Mori (the true proprietor of the Machimura faction) will make sure that no one from his faction will up putting his/her name to the group manifesto, I don't see the other factions lining up en masse under the banners of this likely time-limited study group. Accordingly, it is unlikely that the new group is any harbinger of the three factions lining up against the Prime Minister, and the others in his support.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

On Factions and the Prime Minister's Decision to Stay on

This is my answer to a comment on this post. Since it's been nearly a week since the original post, I'm reposting it. I think that it has content that stands on its own.


First, my apologies for not elaborating further on my habatsu comment. I'm easily distracted.

As for my response to your first question, I'm mildly surprised that there are still many first-term Diet members able to resist the call of the factions. Mr. Koizumi's support that they received in 2005 will have little to do with what kind of entry-level political appointee or party post they will get in, say, 2008, after they have their second Lower House election win under their belts. As for LDP HQ support, Tsutomu Takebe, the secretary-general who ran the 2005 election, launched an informal group of 24 junior Diet members consisting mostly of Koizumi Children. So, the real question is, do you stay on your own, cast your lot with a 66 year-old ex-SG who currrently has no formal role at party HQ, or join a faction? There is little political continuity at party HQ. In that sense, the LDP is closer to American political parties than ideological or religious parties.

Are factions lining up for/against Mr. Abe? I could have missed something, but could you be referring to Taku Yamzaki and Sadakazu Tanigaki's criticism's of the prime minister? Being at the other end of the LDP political spectrum, that's not surprising.. But they only have 51 Diet members between them out of 313 LDP faction member MPs (the rest are unaffiliated), and the others do not seem to be lining up along factions lines, except to secure cabinet, sub-cabinet, and party posts (with the Upper House members acting as a cross-factional faction of its own for cabinet posts).

It's little more than a guess, but I think it was Mr. Abe's decision, and his alone, to stay on. It was widely reported on the JMSM that Yoshiro Mori, ex-Prime Minister and Koizumi-Abe minder, Hidenao Nakagawa, then LDP SG, and Mikio Aoki, head of the LDP Upper House members, went to the prime minister to tell him that the LDP was likely to lose too badly for him to stay on. Mr. Nakagawa gave what must have been a heavily censored version of the visit on national TV, which still made it clear that resignation was at least one of the possibilities that they had broached. If the trio had been really encouraging, I am sure that Mr. Nakagawa would have mentioned it in his interview. Mr. Mori has given a decidedly anemic version of his role in the talks as well. (I suspect that Mr. Mori still has not completely reconciled himself to the fact that Mr. Abe declined to respect seniority and defer to Yasuo Fukuda in 2006).

Behind that diffident, hands-off demeanor is a self-contained, quietly insistent man of strong, if sometimes shallow, convictions.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Body Count and Other Matters in the Defense Ministry Civil War

The preliminary body count is in on the civil war in the Ministry of Defense. Takemasa Moriya, the vice minister, is on the outs, and will be succeeded by Kouhei Masuda (class of 75). Such being the case, it is obvious that MOD Minister Koike Yuriko's first choice, Tetsuya Nishikawa (72), and Shinjirou Yamazaki (74), the vice minister's counterproposal have to go; likewise the two other bureau and agency heads who have seniority over the vice minister-select. They are the collateral damage. But what is the outcome of the war? And the implications for the geopolitical landscape, as it were?

The Abe administration had hoped to clean house and go into the September Diet session with a new team of party leaders and Cabinet members. Yet they allowed a personnel decision to get out of hand and reinforce the image of a pleasant but detached, behind-the-curve prime minister. It is by no means fatal, but certainly narrows the margin of error for the ruling coalition.

Even as it achieved full ministry status in January with the bipartisan blessing of the DPJ, the Ministry of Defense had been plagued with public procurement scandals and repeated information leaks. Particularly in view of the security breaches, it was not reassuring to know that the minister and her deputy had been contacting each other by way of cell phones. That, more than the unseemly sight of an openly rebellious bureaucracy, showed that MOD was not yet quite ready for prime time.

As for the Defense Minister herself, her chances of remaining beyond the August 27 makeover remain strong. As a very recent Cabinet appointee (July 4) Ms. Koike would have been the one obvious holdover candidate in the first place. Although her handling of events showed weaknesses in her executive tool kit and the media and some LDP members has taken her to task for that, it is difficult for the public to understand why a minister cannot hire and fire her own administrative deputies against the wishes of the bureaucracy. With public sentiment already running against the bureaucracy, I do not think the Abe administration wants to put itself in the position of punishing Ms. Koike.

Then, there are the real issues.

There are two major security issues that require attention. One is the realignment of US forces in Japan (and the Pacific) and, most importantly, easing the burden on Okinawa; the other is the overseas projection of Japanese military potential.

According to media reports from both ends of the political spectrum, Okinawa warmed to Ms. Koike during her tenure in the Koizumi Cabinet as she took on the Okinawa/Hokkaido (it's a long story) portfolio while continuing to serve as Environment Minister. Perhaps it was little more than political theater, like the kariyushi wear that she highlighted as part of the Cool Biz energy conservation campaign for the Koizumi administration. But then, so much of the politics of Okinawa is theater high and low. In any case, she most recently showed that her Okinawa ties were in good order when Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, mayor of Nago, showed up "unexpectedly" at a kariyushi promotion event in Okinawa on Thursday featuring Ms. Koike and supported her dismissal of Mr. Moriya (who is not a popular figure in Okinawa). Japan and the US agreed in 1996 to relocate the massive Futenma US air base to Nago on Henoko Bay within seven years maximum. But little could be done until the newly-elected Mayor Shimabukuro agreed in April 2006 to accept the transfer, and difficult negotiations still lie ahead in order to finalize plans, let alone begin construction. Thus, Mr. Shimabukuro's continued support is crucial if the long-delayed realignment is to go ahead. And any progress that has the blessing of the local authorities will work in favor of the Abe administration, even if actual construction could only begin some time in the future. This clearly works in favor of Ms. Koike's continuation as Defense Minister.

The extension of the overseas role of the Self-Defense Forces is a different matter. For practical purposes, this issue currently has two components: providing air transport in and out of Iraq; and refueling allied ships on the Indian Ocean for operations in Afghanistan. Each has its own renewable legislation, and the counter-terrorism act that gives authorization for Afghanistan expires on November 1. The problem for Ms. Koike is that she and Ichiro Ozawa, the DPJ chief, have a past. Early in her well-traveled career, she was an Ozawa protégé. However, she declined to leave the coalition government when Mr. Ozawa led his then Liberal Party back into the opposition in 2000, and instead remained as part of the rump Conservative Party that eventually was folded into the LDP. Most recently, she criticized Mr. Ozawa's adamant opposition to the renewal of the counter-terrorism act. This was very much a performance in character for the feisty Defense Minister. Retaining Ms. Koike certainly is not an auspicious turn of events for compromise; the kind of compromise that the coalition government needs to reach in order to secure an extension by Nov. 1.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The LDP Loses Big and Prime Minister's No-Show at Yasukuni Takes on New Meaning for TIME

Prime Minister Abe comes in with a muscular foreign policy and national security agenda, loses Upper House election, putting Japan back on the old, more inward-looking America-reliant track. The correspondent thinks that that is not a good idea, given the rise of China and India.

That appears to be the storyline of this TIME article from Bryan Walsh. Though it's pretty much what conventional wisdom dictates these days, there's no reason to reject it for that sake alone. In fact, there's much to be said for this line of reasoning, although I personally am more or less satisfied with the course that our national security policy will likely be taking. (For one thing, I believe that Japan's national interests are generally consonant not only with India but also with China, and that the Chinese authorities feel the same way.)

But my quarrel, as so often, is with the details. For if the media cannot get the facts right, then how can you be sure that they understand? And if they don't understand, why should we believe what they say?

Prime Minister Abe did not go to pay his respects at the Yasukuni Shrine on August 15. Mr. Walsh sees this as "simply the latest step back toward a more disengaged Japan." But it was nothing of the sort. His no-show was foreordained sometime during the spring or summer of 2006, when Mr. Abe and his associates reached an unstated understanding that Mr. Abe would not visit Yasukuni during his likely tenure as successor to Junichiro Koizumi. In fact, it has enabled Mr. Abe to pursue what some call a nationalist agenda with nary a peep from Chinese authorities. (Most people see such acquiescence as a consequence of their desire for domestic stability. I don't disagree with this assessment, but I also believe that this is possible only because they do not actually see such a Japan in its own right as a strategic threat in its own right.) Besides, he has always believed that the spring and autumn rites are the more important events, which makes sense when you consider his historical perspective and political agenda.

In fact, the Upper House election vote against the LDP had far more to do with outrage at the political financing scandals, public communications-challenged Cabinet members, and the public pension system debacle than with rejection of Mr. Abe's external policies. The resultant difficulties that the ruling coalition will have in getting an extension of the counter-terrorism act could be of serious consequence – I change my mind on an almost daily basis about the prospects for a deal - but they have as much to do with the personal inclinations of Ozawa Ichiro, the DPJ leader, than with policy differences between the LDP and the DPJ as institutions. Yes, Mr. Abe needs a renewed emphasis on the domestic front, but that in of itself need not set back his external policy priorities, which from international standards were exceedingly modest in the first place. The DPJ supports patriotism in education, and a constitutional amendment needs a supermajority in the first place. And the tentative favorite to take over just in case Mr. Abe must leave is Taro Aso, whose views are to a great extent in synch with Mr. Abe's. (I still have trouble seeing him as prime minister material, but I digress.) Don't assume that Mr. Abe's policy priorities are on the outs, just because he himself is on the ropes.

Then there is the historical backdrop. Mr. Walsh writes:

Aug. 15 is the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, a day of reflection for the Japanese and celebration for much of the rest of Asia.

Now there are 1.3 billion people in China, and I am sure that it is a cause for celebration for the Han, or 91.1% of Chinese citizens., and I am sure that the 72.3 million Koreans feel even more strongly about this. And I guess that most of the 4.6 million Singaporeans will agree that August 15 is a good day. But what of the 1.44 billion people on the Indian subcontinent, not to mention the 20 million Sri Lankans just off shore? Do you think that they share, to a man, fond memories of the victory for their British overlords? Do the 234 million Indonesians care that on August 15, the Dutch could finally confirm for good (or so they thought) the return of their East Indies colonies? Or was it merely a milestone of decidedly mixed blessings that passes barely noticed in the narrative of their fight to regain sovereignty, which they officially declared on August 17, only two days later? As for the 142.8 million Russians, or at least 79.8% of them (geographically, Russia is a predominantly Asian empire), I'm sure that they remain disappointed that the war ended so early. In fact, they made sure it didn't, for themselves at least.)

You see, underpinning Mr. Walsh's article is a uniquely American perspective that sees the war with Japan as a war of liberation, and there is an undeniable truth to that. But for most of Asia, it was a war of the empires. Know that there lies Japan's true transgression, and that "Asia" so understands that. Know too, that there is also a very broad Japanese consensus on this that includes Mr. Abe to Mr. Ozawa and stretches from the left and far into the right, including along the way luminaries such as Yasuhiro Nakasone.

Why does all this matter? For one thing, unless you understand the backstory, you won't understand the who, what, and why of the conflicts over our histories and the contemporary symbols thereof. More to the point of this complaint, you will have no clue of the long-term external consequences of the setback to Mr. Abe. For another, you won't understand why so many well-meaning American interjections into the debate at best do nothing and at worst exacerbate them, but that's a subject of another story.

Sorry, Anonymous. Not enough time and energy today for a longer piece on habatsu. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Mainichi Says It's the Defense Minister Winning on Both Counts and Takes a Dig at the Prime Minister as Well

A Mainichi reporter has taken Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki's statement that "the procedures are the problem, and I am not taking issue with the substance", and claiming this as evidence that Defense Minister Yuriko Koike will get her way and replace Takemasa Moriya, the current vice minister, with the Policy Agency transfer Tetsuya Nishikawa. So much for my prophetic powers, though the possibility remains that this is spin from the Koike camp.

But going by the headline, the real story here is:

The Defense Vice Minister: "Inexperience" Again on Personnel Issue. Voices of Doubt Raised at the "Wait-and-See" Prime Minister"

All eyes will be on the fate of Ms. Koike come August 27. And the well-traveled defense minister has enemies of her own. But I don't think that the prime minister can afford to kick her out of the Cabinet. And you know how my guesses work out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Defense Minister Saves Us from the Political Doldrums of Summer with a Well-Aimed Zinger at Her Deputy.

The Defense Ministry makeover would be put off until the new Cabinet would be installed on August 27. That left the JMSM parsing yesterday(14th)'s inconclusive 20-minute meeting between Defense Minster Koike and her Vice Minister and top MOD bureaucrat Takemasa Moriya.

Until, that is, Ms. Koike delivered this zinger:

Concerning Mr. Moriya's anger as the fact that "[he] hadn't been told about [his retirement]", Ms. Koike criticized him, saying, "Beyond this specific occasion, it often happened that I'd call him on his cell phone and he'd call back the next morning. I think this is a problem in terms of crisis management. In this particular case, I called him twice."

Beyond the obvious power asymmetry (Mr. Moriya cannot go around giving press interviews on the issue) and public sentiment against the bureaucracy (Mr. Moriya is a civilian, not a military officer, so even the pro-military Sankei bloggers are overwhelmingly in favor of Ms. Koike), this one must hurt.

Ms. Koike also threw in an apology to her Cabinet Chief nemesis Yasuhisa Shiozaki for the inadvertent leak, just as she had been making the rounds of the requisite nemawashi.

I've already been quite sure that Mr. Moriya is a goner. But with this latest, Ms. Koike has improved her odds of staying on. (Though a transfer to another portfolio of equal weight is a possibility.) The only test of will that remains is, who will succeed Mr. Moriya. My guess is, she'll give in here.

Seriously, guys, you've been the subject of similar accusations of dereliction, many times, over your lifetime? And they came at you when you least expected, to the greatest of effect? And they cost you?

Other than a minister with a minor portfolio changing her mind at the last minute, no member of the Cabinet visited Yasukuni on what we somewhat euphemistically call, "Shuusen Kinen-bi (Anniversary of the End of the War; August 15)". Ex-Prime Minister Koizumi did. But that doesn't count either. So this was a total non-story.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Plot Thickens on the Koike-Moriya Affair

Yasuhisa Shiozaki, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, has put his foot down and refused to allow Yuriko Koike, the Defense Minister, to fire Takemasa Moriya, the long serving defense vice-minister. He told her yesterday that the defense minister cannot be fired without the agreement of the Cabinet Personnel Deliberation Committee, which vets all senior bureaucratic appointments before they are put up for approval by the Cabinet. Mr. Shiozaki also told her that the decision would be made by the defense minister in the new Cabinet, scheduled to be installed on the 27th, two weeks later. It is hard to believe that Mr. Shiozaki could have made the decision without at least tacit approval from Mr. Abe. Committee and Cabinet approval should be pro forma events, but in this case, the total lack of nemawashi before the decision and her subsequent trip to the US apparently gave the vice minister an opening to make good use of his formidable political contacts. Widely rumored to be one of the very few Cabinet members to be asked to stay on, the odds on her demise has risen considerably.

There may be some personal animosity between Ms. Koike and Mr. Shiozaki. The two reputedly crossed swords early in the Abe administration when she was introduced by Prime Minister Abe to President Bush as the counterpart to the National Security Advisor, and Mr. Shiozaki later called Stephen Hadley to remind him that he was the real counterpart. Ms. Koike had accepted a demotion from Environment Minister to the sub-cabinet national security advisor portfolio with hopes of creating the Japanese version of the US National Security Council, so Mr. Shiozaki's interjection must have been particularly irksome.

In any case, the real stake here is the leadership issue. The Abe administration has been riddled with political financing malfeasance and misspeakings, leading to three Cabinet resignations one suicide in a little over ten months. Mr. Abe has been criticized not only for the poor choices, but also for the showing a certain diffidence that allowed these political crises to continue longer than they deserved, appearing more pares than primus in dealing with Cabinet members who were, in many cases, his seniors in biological age and Diet tenure.

Disarray involving his Chief Cabinet Secretary, his latest Cabinet appointment, and a powerful, rebellious bureaucrat: this is the last thing Mr. Abe needs as he tries to make a new go of it with a split legislature.


(Sequence of salient events on August 13)
Ms. Koike meets Mr. Shiozaki during morning hours.
10:45-12:18 Prime Minister Abe meets Mr. Shiozaki.
13:59-14:47 Mr. Abe meets Mr. Moriya, who is accompanied by the MOD Information HQ chief.
18:06-18:27 Ms. Koike meets Mr. Abe.

(Sequence of expected salient events after Aug. 13)
Aug. 15 Cabinet meeting (the twice-weekly Cabinet meetings are expected to be suspended for an informal summer recess before the Cabinet reshuffle)
Aug. 27 Cabinet reshuffle and extraordinary Cabinet meeting (late night)
Aug. 28 Regular Cabinet meeting

There is a certain political logic to Ms. Koike's precipitous decision. If she had waited till September, ditching the long-serving likely would no longer have been an option for her, given that efforts to extend the counter-terrorism act would have gone into overdrive by then.

The Cabinet Personnel Deliberation Committee consists of the Chief Cabinet Secretary and his three deputies (two Diet members and one senior bureaucrat). The Committee vets all bureaucratic appointments that require Cabinet approval, i.e. vice ministers, agency and bureau chiefs their administrative equivalents.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Head of City's Arabic School Steps Down Under Pressure

Head of City's Arabic School Steps Down Under Pressure

The principal of New York City's first public school dedicated to the study of Arabic language and culture resigned under pressure yesterday, days after she was quoted defending the use of the word "intifada" as a T-shirt slogan.

Debbie Almontaser, a veteran public school teacher, stepped down as the principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, a middle school that is to open this fall in Brooklyn.

Ms. Almontaser's remarks, made last weekend, were in response to questions from The Post over the phrase "Intifada NYC," which was printed on T-shirts sold by Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media, a Brooklyn-based organization. The shirts have no relation to her school.

"The word basically means 'shaking off,' " Ms. Almontaser told the paper. "That is the root word if you look it up in Arabic."

Ms. Almontaser may not have been condoning the violence that the Palestinians unleashed in the occupied territories, but her views on the righteousness of their cause were evident.

In her defense, the West has never faced up to the fact that Israel remains the only final solution to a European problem that the Allies imposed on the colonies*. If nothing else, the Arab media will surely seize on the fact that the other people in article, Joel I. Klein, the school commissioner, Michael R. Bloomberg, the mayor, Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, are Jewish.

* Europe settled the better part of its internal accounts in the 20th Century through territorial concessions and what would now be called ethnic cleansing. The post-WW II Soviet takeover glazed over some faults that ruptured when the empire came apart in the nineties.

Afghan-Pakistani Jirga Shows the Power of the English Language

That looks like Arabic script in the photo in the Al Jazeera article on the Afghan-Pakistani conference held in Kabul. Otherwise, it's nothing but English on the banners. In fact, the news footage on BBC showed President Musharraf addressing the jirga in English, overdubbed with a local language. Another reminder that English has become the language of global discourse.

Of course the tools of globalization can be used to good effect by all. The English language is no exception, as the CNN-friendly spokesmen of the Taliban showed us to such effect, in the pre-9.11 days.

Using those tools and creating them are two very different matters, as this physicist informs us on science and Islam.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Yuriko Koike Strikes Again, This Time at the Heart of the Defense Establishment.

Yuriko Koike, the new Defense Minister and possibly the only holdover in the upcoming cabinet shuffle later this month, is a bare-knuckles political fighter who was the first to enlist with then-Prime Minister Koizumi to run as an "assassin" against the Lower House rebels who voted against the 2005 Post Office privatization bill. The fact that she abandoned her LH seat in Hyogo Prefecture to move two and a half hours by Shinkansen to run against a renegade incumbent in Tokyo made her act all the more remarkable. (She won running away.) Now, according to the Sankei, she is facing a rebellion from Takemasa Moriya, her deputy as the long-serving administrative vice minister of the Ministry of Defense, who is drawing on his political contacts to resist being retired and replaced by a Police Agency transferee.

If true, Mr. Moriya has picked the wrong fight with the wrong politician at the wrong time.

The Self-Defense Agency had since its insipience been dominated by the Ministry of Finance and the Police Agency. The two powerful bureaucracies (and to a lesser extent other ministries including) routinely seconded its career bureaucrats to monopolize the choicest JSDA offices, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs monopolized decision-making in the meatier national security issues. Thus, the desires of the JSDA were two-fold: rid top management of MOF, PA and other outsiders; and achieve full-ministry status. The JSDA made gradual but steady headway on the first objective, and it achieved the second this year under Prime Minister Abe. Mr. Moriya, born and bred as a JSDA official, appears to have been a major player in this respect, and he was rewarded with an unheard-of 4-year reign as JSDA/MOD vice minister, including a special dispensation to serve beyond the mandatory retirement age for public servants. (The normal life span of a vice minister in any ministry or agency is one to two years. Few survive deep into their third year.)

Ms. Koike must have thought that enough is enough, and, before embarking on a trip to the US, she decided to replace Mr. Moriya with Mr. Tetsuya Nishikawa. The catch? She had chosen a PA transferee, instead of someone of native stock.. Adding insult to injury, in contrast to longstanding custom, Ms. Koike had made the decision on her own, without consulting the MOD bureaucracy. According to the Sankei, Mr. Moriya has mobilized his formidable political contacts to resist this reverse coup.

The problem for Mr. Moriya is that, regardless of what he has been led to believe, Ms. Koike is the politician, and he is the bureaucrat. In the first place, the LDP is not going to sacrifice one of their own to save the neck – and if that is not possible, face - of a bureaucrat, even is Ms. Koike by all reports appears to have broken long-standing unwritten rules in not consulting the Chief Cabinet Secretary and his three deputies. (An appointment of a vice minister does require a Cabinet decision.) More importantly, if Prime Minister Abe never could have afforded to give the impression that he had caved under pressure from the bureaucracy or its LDP supporters, then to do so now would cost him what political capital he has left after the Upper House election debacle.

For Mr. Moriya's sake, I hope that the reports of his resistance are greatly exaggerated.

AFL-CIO Hosts the Democratic Presidential Candidates Forum, and Yomiuri Goes with Senator Clinton Bashing China.

The headline of the Japanese-language article reads: "I Won't Eat Horrible Quality Chinese Food Products" Senator Clinton Declares.. According to the article, she said that "we need to deal with Chinese manipulation of its currency" and went on to state that "strict standards should be imposed on imports from China" and that she "wouldn't eat horrible quality Chinese food, nor would [she] buy toys that made children sick." She received "applause and cheers". Barack Obama and John Edwards were also quoted in what "created an appearance of China bashing". (The online Asahi does not mention the debate at all.)

Compare this with the US media, such as the WaPo, which focused on the efforts of the candidates to show off their pro-labor credentials, as well as the war on terror (with Mr. Obama's designs on targets in Pakistan serving as the bone of contention); the NYT, which went mainly with immigration as a labor issue, with a brief Obama/Pakistan coda; and the AP by way of WaPo, which covered more or less the same ground as the lengthier WaPo original. But nowhere in any of these articles, or anywhere else on the English-language sites that I follow, is there any mention of China. Even AFL-CIO's own weblog, which covered the event extensively, ignores it altogether.

This contrast in media perspective reflects a huge gap in the ways the two nations each see the world. In Japan, the US and China are seen as the main external forces shaping our policy agenda. In the US, the China question still lacks immediacy in the political debate. It will figure more prominently there as various pieces of protectionist legislation make their way through Congress and presidential candidates work hard to show their pro-American credentials and look responsible at the same time. The human right issue should also become an important part of mainly the Democratic debate as the August 2008 Beijing Olympics draws near. But even then, China does not figure to be a decisive issue in the 2008 elections.

The number one external issue for the US is, of course, the conflation of the war on terror and the war in Iraq. In bypassing the commotion altogether, the Japanese media reminds us that, for us, the war on terror and the war on Iraq are distant events on foreign shores and hills and vales. And it is this gap that complicates the most immediate problem facing the divided Diet: the extension of the anti-terrorism act, which expires on November 1.

You can find what the candidates said about China here and here. For your convenience, I've copied Ms. Clinton's comments here:

SEN. CLINTON: I want to say amen to Joe Biden, because he’s 100 percent right. You know, six and a half years ago, we had a balanced budget and a surplus; now we are in deep debt with a rising deficit, and it is absolutely true that George Bush has put it on the credit card, expecting our children and grandchildren to pay for it. We’ve got to get back to fiscal responsibility in order to undercut the Chinese power over us because of the debt we hold.

We also have to deal with their currency manipulation. We have to have tougher standards on what they import into this country. I do not want to eat bad food from China or have my children having toys that are going to get them sick. So let’s be tougher on China going forward. (Cheers, applause.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The End of TimesSelect?

The New York Post (by way of Matt Drudge in my case) tells us that the New York Times is about to go back to a free-service format. If true, it's about time. As RK in New York once reminded me, TimeSelect only served to teach us that life could go on without Paul Krugman. (RK is a Republican.)

Monday, August 06, 2007

How Do I Read the New Komeito Loss in the Upper House Election?

How do I read the New Komeito loss in the Upper House election? That's the latest assignment from my favorite Japan analyst. As per request, I am posting my homework here.

Somewhat overshadowed by the coalition's loss of an Upper House majority, as well as the LDP's first ever loss of a plurality since the Great Conservative Merger of 1955, is the heavy setback that junior coalition partner New Komeito also suffered. There seems to have been some defections from the NK's Sokagakkai constituency, and the NK's ability to throw Sokagakkai support behind the LDP where it is not fielding its own candidates (all single- and two-seat districts as well as one three-seat district) has been called into question. In the aftermath of the debacle, the NK and/or the LDP, depending on whom you listen to, was rethinking the value of the coalition.

This is important if anything comes of it because, depending on the results of the next Lower House general election (coming no later than October 2009 and possibly as early as late spring 2008), the NK could hold the casting vote in deciding the new prime minister. However, from an election perspective, the LDP continues to make more sense as the NK coalition partner. Moreover, practical concerns make DPJ-NK cooperation in the next two Upper House elections difficult, if not impossible. Thus, barring a fundamental realignment of the Japanese political parties, the LDP-NK coalition will hold for the foreseeable future. Let me explain…

The coalition brings no obvious benefits in the proportional-seat election, where both parties work to keep their party faithful in line while bringing in as many unaligned and cross-party votes as possible. The NK may have suffered from guilt by association this time around, as polls leading up to the vote showed roughly one-tenth of NK supporters intending to cross over to the opposition, and the actual NK votes did drop from 8.62 million (15.4% of all votes cast) to 7.77 million (13.2%). (It won 8.19 million, or 15.1%, in 2001). The LDP by contrast, managed a much smaller drop, from 16.80 million (30.0%) to 16.54 million (28.1%). I believe that the NK has a core Sokagakkai constituency of around 8 million, and that a small percentage of this religious faithful as well as a very small fraction of non-Sokagakkai floaters are willing to move their votes around. But despite what must have been the drop off in floater and religious faithful vote for the NK, it managed to keep seven seats, down only one from 2004 (and 2001). So the downside for the NK has been limited.

The benefits accrue to the coalition in the local-seat election, where the seats are apportioned to the provinces according to the number of eligible voter residents with each province receiving a minimum of one seat. The value of the LDP-NK coalition for the LDP is in the support the NK gives to the LDP candidates where the NK is not fielding its own candidates. This is most evident in the single-seat or two-seat districts, where the NK has no realistic prospects of winning on its own. (The NK has in the past chosen not to field candidates in some three-seat districts.) The value to the NK is in the support the LDP can throw to the NK candidate in any three-seat district where the LDP fields only one candidate. The LDP does not have realistic prospects of winning two seats on its own in these three-seat districts because they are urban provinces, where the traditional LDP support base of farmers, public works-dependent construction firms, the local post office and others is less effective.

In the July election, one province had five seats, five had three, and twelve had two, while the rest (29) had one each. In the provinces where collaboration occurred (one-, two-, and three-seaters), both the LDP and NK received significantly more votes for the local election than they received for the (national) proportional election. The crossover effect is easier to discern for NK candidates. Since the NK has very limited appeal beyond its institutional Sokagakkai support base, I think that it is fair to assume that most of the additional votes for the local NK candidate came from LDP supporters.

NK help for the LDP candidate in the single- and two-seat elections is harder to discern because the difference between the proportional and local votes varied wildly. The more personal nature of the support for LDP candidates, as well as the resultant potential for defections from the LDP support base, undoubtedly contributed to this variance. However, there is enough of a gain to make me believe that the NK support did substantially help LDP candidates both successful and unsuccessful in receiving more votes than they would have received on their own. The coalition did work, if not to the total satisfaction of the two parties.

But what would the electoral prospects of the NK in a coalition with the DPJ? Not as good as the deal they have now. The DPJ has a much smaller support base than the LDP, and is consequently more reliant on the unaligned "floater" votes. In other words, the DPJ has less control over the number of votes it can throw to the NK. Moreover, there are practical concerns that virtually preclude collaboration in the 2010 and 2013 general elections.

In a perfect world, the NK would be able to keep its coalition benefits by fielding the second coalition candidate in the three-seat districts. But the DPJ will have two incumbents in two of the three-seat districts in the 2010 election in question, while both the DPJ and NK have one incumbent in the other. Chiba will step up from a two-seat to three-seat district. But the NK was not strong enough to field a candidate there in the July election, when the DPJ won two seats. As for the other three-seat district, Osaka, the single LDP and KN candidates will have their hands full in a four-way fight with the DPJ and JCP. In other words, there is little room for DPJ-NK coordination to come into play in the 2010 Upper House election in the all-important (to the NK) three-seat districts. The NK has nothing to gain from leaving the coalition even if the 2010 election were the only general election under consideration, and prospects look even worse in 2013, when the DPJ will be fielding two incumbents in four of the five (and one incumbent in Osaka, where it will likely again face a four-way single-candidate fight, leaving no room for collaboration).

On a substantive policy level, some people think that the DPJ is a more natural fit for the pacifist Buddhism that underlies the NK foreign and security policy. It is true that Ichiro Ozawa's stand against the renewal of the anti-terror law and his emphasis on the importance of the UN is much more than a mere tactical choice to position the DPJ in opposition to an unpopular coalition policy to support the US in Iraq (and, to a lesser extent, in Afghanistan), or to appease the still significant support from the traditionally pacifist, politically anti-American labor unions. However, Mr. Ozawa's shelf life could be fairly limited, if only because of his health problems, and there is reportedly substantial mistrust between Mr. Ozawa and the NK. Moreover, the younger, more libertarian generation of LDP Diet members, represented by people like the previous pro-US DPJ leader Seiji Maehara and current policy head Takeaki Matsumoto, prefer a much more muscular security policy. There is no reason to believe that, over the long-term, the NK will find more ideological comfort in collaboration with the DPJ.

Barring a fundamental realignment of the political parties, the LDP-NK coalition, now in its ninth year, shall continue.

A quantitative analysis should yield a better understanding of the benefits of the coalition. More importantly, my conclusions are based solely on the analysis of the Upper House general elections. I do not expect my conclusions to be significantly altered by an analysis of the Lower House general elections, but someone will have to pay me to do that. I need to use less user-friendly databases for that, and the analysis itself promises to be more complex due to the more complicated nature of the Lower House electoral system.

The NK suffered a big loss in the local-seat election, going in with five seats and escaping with only two. Three of the four NK incumbents standing for election in four of the five three-seat districts lost. (The NK did not field a candidate in Chiba, the fifth three-seat district.) In all three cases, the big winner was the DPJ, which took two seats in each of them, while the LDP managed to keep one apiece. The three-seat districts are all urban districts, where the LDP has not fared well of late. Here, the coalition fielded two candidates, one each from the NK and LDP (the exception being Chiba, where the LDP fielded two candidates and the NK none). But the DPJ won two seats in each of the three three-seat elections that it contested with two candidates. The coalition did a good job of vote allocation - the NK received considerably more votes in the three- and five-seat elections it contested than it did in the same prefectures for the proportional seat election and the LDP seemed to have benefited from NK support in districts where the NK did not field a candidate (though the benefit to the LDP is more difficult to gauge from publicly available data). But in each of the three cases, the JDP outpolled the LDP-NK coalition total by a wide margin, and in only one of these cases could even a perfect 50-50 split of the cumulative LDP-NK vote have lifted the NK candidate above the successful DPJ candidate with the fewer votes. Unfortunately for the coalition, the shift in voter sentiment swamped the positive effects of the vote sharing.