Friday, December 21, 2007

The secret to His success

A few weeks ago I offered the proposition that neither Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo nor LDP leader Ozawa Ichirō was stupid. After a few days I admitted that while not fundamentally stupid, Ozawa had done a stupid thing.

Now it is the Prime Minister's turn.

The continuing dispatch of supply ships to the Indian Ocean dispatch was a safe and convenient way to keep Japan involved in the "War on Terror." Gassing up and providing water to ships may not sound valorous but it kept Washington happy--and nothing seems to be quite as important as keeping Washington happy.

The smarter puppies in Nagatachō, Kasumigaseki and the commentariat were understandably appalled at Ozawa Ichiro's determination to follow through on his party's campaign threat to prevent further renewals of the dispatch legislation. "Does the great toad not comprehend what a great deal this is?" the habitués wondered with mounting stupefaction.

So the smart puppies published and spoke, whispered and presented, cajoled and declaimed, hoping beyond hope that Ozawa and his crew would see reason.

All of which would have been fine (the greatest thing about the assertion that the dispatch was in Japan's national interest was that it was) except that Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo made it clear he took the dispatch seriously.

He should never have done that.

True, he had been one of the dispatch's chief architects, pulling the elements together at the request of Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō in the wake of 9/11.

Still, seeing what the dispatch's impending demise had triggered in Abe's case, Fukuda should have known to not commit himself too deeply to the dispatch legislation's renewal.

When the PM came on in relief of the indisposed Abe Shinzō, he did affect an affable, absent-minded cheeriness about the dispatch legislation. He did not seem to worry much about it--making Ozawa's hard-faced opposition look overwrought. That the prime minister seemed so genial--and that Ozawa's alternative was sending Japanese citizens to Afghanistan--encouraged everyone to give the legislation a second look, even after Ambassador Thomas Schieffer had made an utter hash of things.

At some point around the time of the visit to the United States, however, Fukuda's public position hardened. He did not just express hope regarding the renewal legislation's passage, he became committed to its renewal. He promised the U.S. president that he would see the legislation through to passage--the same pledge that Abe had made.

By visibly committing himself to the renewal no matter what, Fukuda became Ozawa's mirror opposite and co-conspirator. The contest between them--which at first seemed an impromptu discussion between an abashed, somewhat disoriented grandpa and an illogical fanatic--shifted into a battle of wills between two stubborn old men and their self-interested parties.

Again, Fukuda's commitment to the passage of the renewal legislation--the reason for the extension of the extraordinary Diet session--is logical. The Indian Ocean refueling mission is a safe and low cost way to build up a tremendous store of international goodwill.

Nevertheless, the decision to commit to the renewal was a major blunder. Public support for the mission has dropped. Support for the DPJ's characterization of the mission has risen.

* * *

In every struggle, you need a Plan B--for those times when Plan A either will not work or will take far more time than anyone expected. Having a Plan C and a Plan D are often helpful, as backups to Plan B.

Koizumi Jun'ichirō and his followers were the masters of switching to Plan B. If you go back through the Koizumi promises of 2001 and then over actual achievements of his term in offices, you will find that much of what was promised never ever got going until at least 2003 or was just dropped. The master plan of breaking up the Post Office and thereby smashing the traditional powers inside the LDP was not achieved until late 2005, four years in. The plans to balance the budget through spending cuts and flagelate the banks into shape proved unworkable and were abandoned.

Rather than getting hung up on these "policy failures" (that is the way the foreign commentariat, particularly the financial press, portrayed them) the Koizumi Korps always had something else ready and raring to go. Whenever Plan A ran up against a roadblock, the team piled out, got into Plan B, and drove off, leaving Plan A for more auspicious times.

By contrast, the Abe Cabinet was "All Plan A, All The Time. " Abe had six years of rule mapped out, a step-by-step rebuilding of the Japanese state and population from the ground up.

Until May 2007, the implementation of The Plan proceeded like clockwork. The constitutional referendum bill prepared the way for the revision of Article 9. The education reform bill established the substructure for an education system nurturing a tougher, more patriotic, more obedient, more self-sacrificial youth.

All for The Plan. The Plan to Save Japan.

That the laborious, single-minded effort was only possible due to the Diet majorities left behind by the improvisational wizard Koizumi Jun'ichirō was ignored.

Following the suicide of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Matsuoka Toshikatsu and the exposure of the pensions debacle, however, the revolution's wheels fell off. The loss of control of the House of Councillors sealed The Plan's fate--and it became apparent that the Abe Clique had no Plan B. While the reactionaries had a step-by-step blueprint for reviving a version of the Meiji State, they had no plan to run modern, post-1945 Japan--not surprising really, since they HATED post-1945 Japan.

However, with Ozawa Ichirō calling the shots in the House of Councillors, Abe had an imperative to chuck whatever Plan A may have been and figure out how to humor the Destroyer. Abe found he could not and subsequently imploded.

Fukuda had an imperative to chuck Plan A too--in this case, the plan to force the passage of the Indian Ocean renewal legislation at the earliest possible moment. He needed to hang on to that more flexible, more Koizumiesque manner, the ability to muse, "If it happens today, it happens. If it doesn't happen today, there's always tomorrow. Or sometime. Or never. Whatever. We'll get there."-- and proceed to Plan B.

To their despair, Abe and Fukuda found it impossible, when the chips were down, to emulate the one person who found a way to rule this unruly archipelago.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

It seems everyone in Japan puts a lot of store in the importance, symbolic and actual, of the refueling mission.

What is the composition of the fleet anyway? One tanker? A couple of destroyer escorts? How much fuel are they pumping? My guess is it about as much as the US navy spills in the Indian ocean every day.

Which leads me to say the Americans really cannot afford to get too wound up about whether Japan is going to be somewhere in the motley crew known as the coalition of the willing. Sure they twisted arms to get a commitment and they don't want Japan to hightail it out of Dodge, but the Bushies are too busy trying to shore up their sandcastles in Iraq and Afghanistan to turn their ire on the Japanese. After all the Japanese will be running after a whole bunch of Spaniards, Brits, Poles,....

Onto your comment about Koizumi and his ability to get somethings (one or two) done through improvisation and deft footwork. I guess that is a talent in successful politicians everywhere. In fact I remember Koizumi pulling the carpet out from under (name does not rise up above the murk of my brain) concerning the privatization of the highways saying "If this happens there will be no role for politicians!"

Abe and Fukuda and Ozawa are ideologues. Old cranky men unwilling to bend or shift like old cranky men throughout time.