Sunday, August 26, 2007

Prime Minister Abe's Magical Democracy Tour

The Japan Observer (here, here and here) and The Asahi Shimbun (here) have taken Prime Minister Abe Shinzō to task for flitting about Southeast and South Asia, proposing the establishment of a closer union of democracies. As the Observer notes, the "Arc of Democracies" is essentially no longer operative : nobody believes G. W. Bush and the U.S. of A. capable of imposing its will and way of life around the world. The "spreading of democracy" moment--brief as it was--has come and gone, leaving Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza smashed and smoldering, the Saudis and Pakistan under dictatorial rule, Russian democracy being ground up beneath the slow imposition of a KGB state and every single one of the rulers of the "outposts of tyranny" still in charge of his battered homeland.

Furthermore China has discarded the oafish street thug behavior it flaunted under Jiang Zemin, making it so much harder to instill a "we democrats, we've got to hang together" vibe:

Abe received no applause in the Indian parliament when he referred to a stronger partnership between Japan and India as "an association in which we share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy and the respect for basic human rights as well as strategic interests."

He also failed to get a reaction when describing his vision of establishing a "broader Asia" or an "arc of freedom and prosperity" throughout the Pacific and the Indian Ocean that would eventually incorporate the United States and Australia...

From: "Abe's stale diplomacy won breathing space, not momentum"
Source: Kyodo News
Printed in The Japan Times, August 26, 2007.
So why did Abe go hat in hand to the Indonesian, Indian and Malaysian governments, asking for them to be his values-based friends?

Bureaucratic inertia, to be sure--the policy had been decided many, many months ago, it was just too bad the prime minister's ability to project authority evaporated away in the meanwhile.

More important, however, is the interlock the Prime Minister sees between the concept of Japan being part of a family of democracies and a determination to revise or eliminate Article 9.

The Japanese public is still too nervous about a straight up repudiation of the principle of giving up war for all eternity. A lot of good times have been had behind the shield of Article 9 and the U.S. -Japan Security Arrangements. If one were ask members of the public, "Should Japan get back into the war game?" most everyone would answer "No!"

For their part, U.S. government officials and U.S. politicians, though they have made a great many noises about Japan "pulling its weight" or "putting boots on the ground" over the years, would not want Japan to repudiate the Peace Constitution for reasons of pure, national self-interest--the primary one being the establishment of an independent Japanese deterrent military capability JUST IN CASE there is a perception of a deterioration in the reliability of U.S. security guarantees.

Japan's self interest = bad, for you that are keeping score.

Abe's understanding--and if he were a real leader, he would probably not be far wrong--is that Japan needs to be a visible part of a recognizable family of democracies before it can step out into the world as a military power. Becoming one of a league of champions of democracy gives a moral savor to what is in truth selfish hedging behavior on Japan's part.

With no two-thirds majority in the House of Councillors and lacking all political and personal skills necessary to cobble one together, Abe Shinzō will not be the PM who will preside over a revision of the Constitution.

However, due to his personal and familial identification with constitutional revision--and despite his loss of stature in July--Abe Shinzō has not abandoned hope of leading such a revision. He would scarcely have a reason to stay on as Prime Minister otherwise.

Hence his embarrassing flogging of the dead horse of democracy promotion. For Abe, it is the moral imperative permitting, even forgiving constitutional revision. Without an "arc of Asian democracies" as a cover, Abe would have to defend a revision on naked national interest grounds--a thought that sends his heart sinking into his shoes.

He would have to face the fact that the jig is up.

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