Thursday, May 06, 2010

The PM Stumbles Out of a Bad Golden Week

Today is, almost mercifully, a newspaper holiday. Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio wasted a set of perfectly beautiful warm days on the main island in a fruitless and humiliating series of presentations of his ideas about moving the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to new, less-inhabited areas of Japan's maritime margins. After a miserable Golden Week, he will at least be spared a thrashing at the hands of the nation's print press.

In truth, the prime minister's plan is not bad. It gets the Marines and their aircraft out of Ginowan, eliminating the supposedly crucial and insoluble problem of trying to operate a major military airfield in the center of a city. The plan also cancels the insidious land reclamation portion of the relocation of the Marines to Henoko. Instead of paving over yet another section of Japan's nearshore areas, the plan will locate the runways for the replacement base entirely on land. This clears the hurdle of preserving dugong habitat (what the dugongs will think of helicopter noise is another matter) and perhaps more important, Democratic Party of Japan Ozawa Ichiro's political promise that the beautiful ocean around Henoko will not be compromised. Finally the PM's plan moves at least some Futenma's U.S Marines personnel and maneuvers out of the Okinawa Prefecture, as the he promised to do. True, a move of some portion of the activities of U.S. Marines to nearby Tokunoshima fulfills the PM pledge to "move Futenma outside the prefecture" on the barest of technical grounds -- but somthing is at least better than nothing.

The problem the PM faces is not with the plan itself. The plan at least is an improvement on the plan the Liberal Democratic Party and the United States agreed upon in 2006. Yes, it does not represent a full transfer of Futenma outside of the prefecture as the PM promised last year. Yes, it ticks off the American military. Yes, it angers the populace of Tokunoshima. But finding a median solution, where all are called upon to sacrifice, is in the very nature of democratic politics.

The problem the prime minister faces are his own, regarding preparation and presentation. On the campaign trail last year, the now-PM made a very serious promise to the people of Okinawa -- that the main islands and the U.S. would finally do right by them. However, he did so while lacking the infrastructure capable of delivering on that promise. When he became prime minister he had no plan of his own to implement. He did not even have an individual inside the DPJ or the Government selected to be in charge of the project. Eventually the task devolved upon the uninspiring Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi -- but that assignment came about more out of precedent than out of a matching of man and mission.

70% of everything is preparation, 20% natural ability and 10% chance*. If you have a plan and a means of implementing it, you are 70% of the way to your goal. Coming into office without a plan, the PM found himself faced with delivering on his promise based on what is normally only 30% of a successful outcome.

Some talented individuals really can indeed improvise, cobbling together a successful plan and its presentation on the fly.

Unfortunately, if past experiences with "the space man" had not been sufficient to hint that the PM lacked the flair and fearlessness to conjure up a popular, workable plan from thin air, the last seven months have clearly proven that he does not. He has appeared alternately to have no allegiance to any fixed goals or values or, conversely, enthralled to the very last thought to enter his head. He is furthermore, and has probably from birth, a terrible communicator -- so that when he does indeed decide what his views are on a subject, he is unable to find the words and gestures necessary to transmit his commitment to his views.

(For the PM's polar opposite in this regard, see Koizumi Shinjiro. Koizumi fils could make a reading of the tax code sound like an inspiring call to arms.)

As for the 10% of any successful outcome that is the result of pure chance -- no one has a means of controlling that. The PM certainly does not and has not.

So into this short week, faced with a populace annoyed at the sudden halt to their week-long sojourns under sunny skies, stumbles the prime minister. He has two days to generate absolute fantastic news himself or hope that some magical bit of news emerges (Note to PM: on Sunday Ishikawa Ryo started the day 6 shots back in 19th place, then proceeded to shoot a 58 over a par 70 course to blow away the field - and that still did not distract the people's attention from your terrible trip down south) to stimulate a warm feeling about the country's future. For after the terrible atmospherics of the PM's last few days, it would not be surprising if a telephone poll of voters conducted this next weekend finds Cabinet support numbers to have fallen into the high teens.


* The "7-2-1 rule" is my own, based on my experiences of leading hiking trips - MTC.

1 comment:

PaxAmericana said...

Does anyone have an idea as to why the DPJ made so little in the way of preparations for dealing with the Okinawa problem? They were opposed to the old deal a long time ago, and knew they were going to come into power. Also, they had to know that many groups in Washington were not going to cut them much slack, or even play hardball, so what was their Plan B?

On the bright side, all the politicians who bought property near the area to be developed can make lots of money - and the casino lobby will be closer to putting a casino in Okinawa, which is what passes for "progress" in today's Japan.