Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Hi, My Name Is Tanaka Naoki And I Do Not Know Anything

It was cruel. It was theater.

On the one side was Koike Yuriko, the Iron Butterfly, attack dog of the Liberal Democratic Party in the non-Japanese media.

On the other was Tanaka Naoki, the Minister of Defense, about whom not much of substance can be said.

Koike - "What is the strategic goal of 'AirSea Battle'"?

Tanaka - "We welcome the new strategy of the United States...but as far as what has been said so far, I don't really understand it."

Koike - " Uhhh...I am at a loss for words...but seriously, in the ABCs of defense, this is 'A'."
(Link - J)

What was he thinking? The "he" in this case being Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, who plucked Tanaka out from well-deserved obscurity to take over for the disastrous Ichikawa Yasuo, he of the "I am an amateur in defense matters...but this is the very essence of civilian control [of the military]" fame. The guy who did not know about the 1995 child rape case that set off the frantic rounds of Japan-U.S. discussions resulting in the plan to move Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko. The guy who was censured by the House of Councillors for his embarrassing lack of knowledge of defense matters.

Noda should have known the knives would be out for his next minister of defense. He should have known he would have to pick a sharpie to meet the onslaught from the opposition.

So what does the PM do? He picks his new minister of defense based on the number of times the man in question has been elected to the House of Councillors...because the cabinet needs to have a balance of members from the House of Representatives and from the House of Councillors.

It has been a raining snafus ever since.

- The promise to "begin construction at the Henoko site by the end of the year." Huh? Anyone tell the governor of Okinawa about this? (E)

- Confusing the weapons usage restrictions placed on Self Defense Forces members when they are assigned to peace-keeping operations with Japan's three principles on arms exports. (E)

- Upon visiting the city of Ginowan, where the operations of helicopters in and out of the Futenma base are viewed as a threat, particularly since one fell on a nearby university in 2004, Tanaka remarked to his aide, "There don't seem to be so many [helicopters flying about]." (E)

- When asked what country's forces will be cooperating with SDF personnel in a PKO in South Sudan, Tanaka responds, "That has not been decided yet." His senior vice minister pipes up, "The request has been put to a Bangladeshi construction battalion." Tanaka is forced to apologize. (E)

- Leaving the committee room from the same questioning session without informing the chair, Tanaka brings the session to a halt. When he returns 15 minutes later to cries of "Where have you been?" he apologizes for disappearing, saying that since his nose had been running uncontrollably he had gone to his office to get some cold medicine. (J)

- So frustrating the LDP's Sato Masahisa with his answers that the former SDF colonel and commander of Japan's forces in Iraq blurts out, "Gibberish! Trying to debate policy with an unqualified individual like you just drives one out of one's mind!" (J)

In an essay published by the East Asian Forum last week, I described Defense Minister Tanaka Naoki as a defense naïf. In my first draft, I had used the phrase "defense ignoramus." On the advice of friends, I softened my remark.

Possibly a bad instance of self-censorship.

The irony in all this? Prime Minister Noda's father was a career SDF man...a fact not lost on former colonel Sato:

"Prime Minister Noda's father was an SDF soldier. In his heart, the PM must be thinking, 'I would hate to have had my father working under this man.'" (ibid - J)


Maxamillian said...

As a comedian and regular reader of Japanese news, I don't know quite what to say. I couldn't stop laughing throughout this blog post.

Sincere commiserations to the people actually having to deal with this man though, obviously.

Ed said...

For a moment I thought you were talking about the comedian from Gaki no Tsukai.