I was quoted at some length in an article entitled “Shigeru Ishiba set to decline cabinet post and may challenge Shinzo Abe1.” To add a few more thoughts on the matter…
As the article says, “Ishiba has an interest in defence issues and has long favoured the creation of a basic law on security that would spell out unequivocally Japan's right to exercise collective self-defence. Abe has been more mindful of opposition to such a dramatic move and has stated his government will simply reinterpret the constitution to permit self-defence within limits.” In fact, that is the reason that Ishiba gave for preemptively refusing, in public, to take up a prospective offer to spearhead the legislative efforts to implement the reinterpretation of the Japanese Constitution to allow collective self-defense. He claims that the Diet would be paralyzed as the opposition exploits the difference between Abe and Ishiba in the Q&A sessions.
Nonsense. Abe’s minimalist approach is tactical, forced on him by the need to keep LDP dissenters, coalition partner Komeito and a skeptical public on board. The distance between Ishiba’s publicly stated preferences and the administration’s position is an outcome of the give-and-take of normal politics, not a sacrifice of principles. Now, if the situation had been the other way around, things would have been very different. If Ishiba had been an opponent of collective self-defense but had tried to defend it as the cabinet minister in charge, that would have been a fundamental compromise of principle, something a politician could not have lived down, an issue that could very well have paralyzed parliamentary debate until it ended in the minister’s resignation. But accommodating your allies to arrive at a less-than-optimal outcome from your perspective? If you can’t talk your way around that problem, then you probably don’t deserve to be prime minister.
That said, I am convinced that Ishiba believes in his own story. That is human nature, particularly so, I argue, when it comes to politicians.
What is remarkable, though, is that Abe is still going after Ishiba to fill the position, according to media reports. This relentless sincerity is what separates Abe from his peers, some with better policy chops, and keeps key moderates like Yoshihide Suga (Chief Cabinet Secretary) and Fumio Kishida (Foreign Minister) on board for the long run. Don’t be surprised if Abe manages to coax Ishiba back into the fold.
1. Doing a Sherman is not endearing Ishiba with his LDP peers in the Diet, and there is no doubt that this asocial side of his personality played a big part in his inability to translate his popularity with the more distant party rank-and-file to enough votes among the Diet members to edge out Abe in the 2012 LDP leadership election.