Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Will the Domino Tiles Fall and If So When?

My metaphors of the month: The “gravity well (for the Yoshida Doctrine)”, and the “domino tiles (for the Ubukata-to-Ozawa sequence).”



I was asked a question related to the second one, namely: When and how likely is it that Yukio Hatoyama will resign—before the July election, or after? My answer was-is: Before the election in late May or early July if, as is highly likely, it becomes clear that the Futenma helicopters revert to their fifteen-year, in situ, default position while the US military embarks on the multiyear redeployment of 8,000 Marines and their dependents to Guam before the Japanese Government has second thoughts about its multibillion dollar send-off. This is guaranteed to leave everyone, including locals whose livelihoods depend on business from the Marines, unhappy. More important to the DPJ, this will create negative headlines and talk show rakings that will push poll numbers down. Hatoyama goes down for squandering political capital on a useless endeavor, taking Ozawa with him by assuming responsibility for his own political financing scandal. There’s a good chance that the better part of this scenario will come to pass, but can Hatoyama take a hint? Nothing that we’ve seen so far suggests that he can, or, on a not unrelated point, that he’s feeling any pressure. Does “blithely nervous” make sense?

After the election, though, the odds of his going any time soon becomes worse since, in my view, the DPJ won’t lose enough seats to make media demands for his resignation so strong that the DPJ can no longer resist.

9 comments:

Janne Morén said...

In a way, Ozawa dumped and Hatoyama carrying on would be a pretty good scenario. He'd be a stabilizing force around the DPJ government for long enough that the LDP, the DPJ and the political landscape can crumble properly around him before he goes.

That'll make for a real chance at a realignment around current political divisions, rather than the current system of parties grouped around who your parents or your mentor happened to be.

Jun Okumura said...

Hi, Janne. Coming to Tokyo any time soon?

Listen, I don’t think Hatoyama has been a stabilizing presence; if anything, Ozawa has been the last-ditch backstop on the policy side in my (admittedly minority) view. The story will be different if the PNP=Kamei and the SDP leave the coalition or are otherwise neutralized after the July election, but this is less likely to happen if stays. Even if Hatoyama does manage to pull off that feat, he will have to keep his DPJ colleagues under control as well as most likely manage a delicate pas de deux with Komeito. Will he be up to that?

Janne Morén said...

Hi, Janne. Coming to Tokyo any time soon?

I came back from Tokyo tonight, actually. Had two days of project meetings in Wako and in Shinagawa. Next time I'll try to let you and MTC know - it'd be fun to meet you both.

It's good to have you back writing again.


Listen, I don’t think Hatoyama has been a stabilizing presence; if anything, Ozawa has been the last-ditch backstop on the policy side in my (admittedly minority) view.

Not stabilizing in any active manner. I was thinking more along the lines of a warm body occupying the position, making enough of a tactical roadblock to prevent any sudden takeover moves or other actions that would topple the government too soon.

Mark said...

Jun,

Just out of curiosity, what would you personally prefer Japan and America do on Futenma?

Jun Okumura said...

Janne:

You wish “a warm body” would do the most it can to avoid doing active harm. At this point, I’m sure that there are a lot of DPJ supporters and even DPJ Diet members who believe that no“ sudden takeover moves or other actions that would topple the government” can be “too soon.”

Mark:

I like your use of the word “curiosity.” After all, the powers that be could care less about my opinion on this.

Ideally, Japan could bid farewell to US Marines in Futenma as China, Russia and (yes) India agree to stop their regional military buildup and all other countries in the region follow suit. That would put an end to Futenma.

Barring that scenario, I don’t have a good answer, since I don’t have the expertise to be confident in any thoughts that I might have on the minimum military capabilities that the bilateral security arrangement must have at its disposal. That, of course, on an abstract level expresses what everyone on both sides of the rather lopsided alliance is aiming at. (People like the SDP who reject the alliance don’t count.) As a rational human being, I am aware that the presence of the helicopters on Futenma Air Base does not significantly raise the average local resident’s risk of dying by an accident, any accident. Moreover, I have been told by someone who should know that the 8000 US Marines and their dependents there would be perfectly happy to remain. As a clincher, I have shown before the extraordinarily (but understandably) low-crime nature of their presence in Japan.

I guess that I’m building up to the making the point that, if I had my druthers, I’d be most happy with the cheapest option—everything stays as is. Unfortunately, this is the business-as-usual scenario, only one of many possibilities, and an unlikely one at that.

Mark said...

Well, if Mr. Smarty Pants Ex-MITI Bureaucrat doesn't have the expertise to provide a good answer on Futenma, then I don't imagine the average Japanese voter has the expertise either. If that's the case, do you believe that the government should ignore the voters on this issue? And more broadly, what do you personally think of democracy? On a question like Futenma, you could make the argument that Japan should leave it up to the experts to decide (e.g. the U.S. military, the Japanese Ministry of Defense, etc.), and that the Japanese public should accept the answers they provide. I wonder - given your status a former bureaucrat - what is your opinion on democracy?

Jun Okumura said...

Well, if Mr. Smarty Pants Ex-MITI Bureaucrat doesn't have the expertise to provide a good answer on Futenma, then I don't imagine the average Japanese voter has the expertise either. If that's the case, do you believe that the government should ignore the voters on this issue?

Since you’ve been quiet the last couple of days, let’s see:

It’s obvious that most of us voters, including me of course, do not have expertise on the major issues of the day. But does that mean that a government can safely ignore the electorate on any such issues? Obviously not. And now that Futenma has become a national issue, there is no way that the Hatoyama administration can ignore the voters on the matter in the run-up to the July election. That answers you question. But instead of leaving it at that, let’s look at the fundamentals of the Futenma question; I think that it represents a first step toward a conceptual framework for understanding the role that issues play in the political process. I’m probably reinventing the wheel, but it’s a useful exercise for me.

In a representative democracy, we get to hire and fire the people who come up with the answers and use the bureaucracy to fill in the details and implement them. Issues fall between the local and the national, their effects falling between special-interests and the general population. Futenma per se is a local issue affecting the Okinawans in the neighborhood. However, depending on the circumstances, it can become a prefectural issue—or even a national one, which is exactly what happened when the Hatoyama administration’s actions began to affect the US-Japan alliance negatively. This brought the entire media down on top of the Hatoyama administration and cast grave doubt on the competence of the prime minister and by extension the entire DPJ. The Japanese electorate today does not have the broad and deep cleavages of religious, ethnic and other societal divides that create clear-cut political constituencies. This gives particular importance to general competence as perceived directly through our personal experiences and indirectly through the media.

And more broadly, what do you personally think of democracy?

I think that regular elections, a relatively free media, an independent judiciary, and a military under civilian control are unconditionally good for a reasonably literate and numerate society.

On a question like Futenma, you could make the argument that Japan should leave it up to the experts to decide (e.g. the U.S. military, the Japanese Ministry of Defense, etc.), and that the Japanese public should accept the answers they provide. I wonder - given your status a former bureaucrat - what is your opinion on democracy?

I’ve already responded to this question.

Mark said...

Jun,

I have written a response to your comments. It is 18 pages long. I figure that's too long to post in a comment. I have sent it to you as a word document. Let me know if you didn't get it and I will resend it. I'm also on gmail. The user name is marklode.

Jun Okumura said...

Okay, Mark. Thanks for the heads-up.