Monday, November 26, 2007

Neither Fukuda Yasuo nor Ozawa Ichirō is stupid

So it is best to ignore editorialists who say otherwise.

Fukuda Yasuo and Ozawa Ichirō are playing the long game, a game that Ozawa knows well.

Fukuda has the threat of ultimate sanction--the ability to reextend the Diet session until January 13, when the 60 day limit on House of Councillors inaction on the Indian Ocean redeployment legislation expires. After January 13, a two-thirds majority of the House of Representatives can reapprove the dispatch over the objections of the opposition.

Such a confrontational stance would likely trigger a disastrous Diet regular session from late January to early June 2008. The steamed DPJ would just sit on every bill that reached the House of Councillors. Every bill would then end up being passed via the override provision. It would be legal but would look awful.

While such brute force tactics may have their admirers in the LDP and its hangers on, they are -ultimately self-defeating. The terms of a member of the House of Councillors is 6 years; the next House of Councillors election is not until 2010. Relying on force to pass legislation now would not lead to just a winter of discontent. It would lead to several years of discontent.

Ozawa is fighting with one hand tied behind his back. He cannot ultimately beat Fukuda's and the ruling coalition's initiatives in the Diet through procedural means. He also cannot call too loudly for new elections: the DPJ is still 80 candidates short of a full slate.

Nevertheless, Ozawa might have cards galore up his one free sleeve. For every day the Diet is extended, the greater the chance is that yet another scandal involving the Defense Ministry or the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare appears on the front pages of the newspapers. Due to the Yamada Yōkō Affair, Finance Minister Nukaga Fukushiro is radioactive--he looks more and more like a goner. He was the only Tsushima Faction no-show at the political party I attended last week (Did I refer to Nukaga as the master-of-disaster in three months ago? You bet your sweet bippie I did.) With the investigative powers resulting from the opposition alliance's capture of the majority in the House of Councillors, the offices of the Democratic Party are beehives of activity, looking for the next Matsuoka-Akashi-pension records-Moriya embarrassment.

Ozawa also has not erred in his choice of battlefield. Support for the new dispatch legislation will never reach a level of 60% even 50% for a sustained time period. The dispatch, especially the new, hyper-restrictive version of the dispatch awaiting the approval of the House of Councillors, is a humiliation for Japan. Its key selling point is not "Japan participates in the world anti-terror fight" but "Japan wins the applause of the Bush Administration while doing the absolute minimum to keep itself in the game." Try as you might, you cannot prettify such a presumptuous and miniscule contribution to international security.

"Come, let us march hand in hand with our allies! Then, well before the moment of truth, let us stop, wave and watch our allies slip over the horizon to get killed!"

If Hatoyama Yukio can restrain himself to just one head-slapping non-sequitur per day--and someone in the Democratic Party can illuminate the press on the crucial point "Defense Minister Ishiba Shigeru's tactic of speaking softly, enunciating and stating the obvious veeeeeewwwwwy slooooowwwly should not be preventing you from noticing that he is still stating the obvious!"*--then every new morn gives the Democrats another chance to draw real blood from the LDP.

So two old political pros, the scions of old political pros, are playing a game of chicken. It is not out of a personal desire to be stubborn--the pair indeed went the extra kilometer to try to work out a private, amenable solution. That got shot down.

Right now each man is merely acting as the avatar of his party. Each one has good reasons to believe it can wait the other side out.

We get to watch.

* For the record, I like Ishiba Shigeru immensely. The press is letting him get away with murder, though.

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