Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo announced his resignation Wednesday afternoon in Tokyo. Despite widespread agreement that he should have resigned after his party's rout in the July Upper House election, the decision still stunned many, especially since it came only two days after he had vowed to "stake his job" on extending the Maritime Self-Defense Forces' (MSDF) mandate to refuel vessels in the Indian Ocean.
While this may end Abe's political career, it is a brilliant tactical move: it robs the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) of political momentum and gives the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a chance to reconnect with voters. Much depends on who the LDP picks to succeed Abe: a party determined to reassure voters will opt for an older, known quantity, even though that may herald a return to the old LDP and a retreat from the dynamism of the Koizumi years.
Abe's resignation changes the dynamic. Stepping down eliminates a lightening (sic) rod for criticism. Giving up the prime minister's office is the sort of sacrifice that Japanese expect from their leaders. It changes the focus of the political debate from Abe to Ozawa, who many believe is making a technical argument against a deployment that he would have supported under other circumstances. The MSDF is refueling ships from many countries (only 30 percent of the fuel has gone to U.S. vessels this year), supporting a multinational force that is struggling to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and making precisely the type of international contribution that Ozawa fought hard for in the first Gulf War. Abe's retiring from the scene means that Ozawa's arguments, rather than Abe's behavior, will be the focus of debate. (The speed with which Abe reversed gears also feeds speculation that a deal may have been struck with the DPJ on the MSDF issue; such backroom maneuvers are not unknown in Japan.)
I know that the author of this report is just passing through Tokyo...but he should have made the effort to ask some questions of persons not ensconced in the offices and lobbies of Nagata-chō, Kasumigaseki and Toranomon--wherein all things are connected to everything else and all outcomes predestined.
He would find out that the people are sovereign here; that fate and chance intervene in the best of plans; and the Elect are charlatans performing shadow plays for the entertainment of captive foreign visitors.
Prime Minister Abe's resignation was not a brilliant tactical move--nor was it a sacrifice Japanese expect of their leaders. It was the embarrassing final desperate tantrum of an unformed man--or possibly something quite sinister and sad.
The rest of this essay (it will be #34 in the series) will likely appear here in a short while.
I can wait.