Monday, March 25, 2013

A Habibie Reprise

Fifteen years ago B. J. Habibie received a great deal of grief for his acronym for his predecessor. Habibie, who took over control of Indonesia following lethal rioting and the resignation of President Suharto, would call Suharto "S-G-S" -- both to his face and when talking about the former general in the third person.

"S-G-S" stood for "Super Genius Suharto."

Whether the grief was well-earned, in fair condemnation of Habibie's obsequiousness, or ignorant, overlooking a cunning deployment of self-deprecation, I do not know. Perhaps someone could ask Habibie, if he is still compos mentes, what his game was. Habibie, who was neither general, nor business leader nor nor a great scholar, had to find some way to survive inside Suharto's hot house regime of low-grade brutality, unspeakable corruption and U.C. Berkeley Ph.D.s. I am willing to accept the possibility that calling Suharto "S-G-S" created a space for Habibie to not just survive but thrive.

I was reminded of Habibie's gambit and "S-G-S" while I read a pair of articles from The Yomiuri Shimbun. The goal of these articles was to educate me as to the wonders of Abe Shinzo's management of government affairs. What they taught me instead was to not trust the Yomiuri Shimbun's take on whatever is going on inside the administration.
Abe exercises personal governing style / Utilizes 'control tower' approach to hammer out policy details, streamline political process

Tetsuya Ennyu and Hiroyuki Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers

In the three months since his inauguration, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has adopted a "control tower" approach to government, letting Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga handle important issues with relevant ministers after presenting a basic plan of action.

However, many difficult tasks still await the Abe administration, such as the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture.

In a speech delivered Saturday in Tokyo, Suga said, "We'll make progress one issue at a time while making good on our promises, such as the appointment of a new Bank of Japan governor, the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] free trade agreement, and an application for land reclamation in the Henoko district [of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture]."

"We're not going to 'play it safe' until the next House of Councillors election. We're going to do what we need to do," Suga said.

Each of the issues mentioned by Suga are tasks that previous administrations have struggled to resolve. In that regard, Suga has approached each task in line with Abe's intentions...

If you normally do not click through on links, I would recommend foregoing of your usual reticence. The formatting of the article, with the artful use of an appropriate image of Abe as commander, transmits far more of the message than the words do.

In the same vein, and indeed dealing with some of the same issues, is this YSO article, again on Abe's brilliant management of the bureaucracy:
Govt-bureaucrat relations transformed
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe does not allow bureaucrats to attend meetings to make policy decisions, they are given free rein in implementing them, highlighting a distinct change in the relationship between the government and bureaucrats since the Democratic Party of Japan was in power.

For example, when the government applied to the Okinawa prefectural government for permission to conduct landfill work for the planned relocation of functions of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in the prefecture, Abe asked the Defense Ministry to "choose a day less likely to cause a fuss, even though it's inevitable that many residents of Okinawa Prefecture will oppose the plan," according to government sources.

After the government received a report that "Friday would be appropriate" from the ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau, Abe approved the date...

According to the Yomiuri, I am supposed to get excited by Abe Shinzo's

1) Running the affairs of government one step removed, giving broad discretionary powers to his Chief Cabinet Secretary

2) Asking for suggestions from the responsible ministries, receiving recommendations and following the bureaucracy's advice

Great, wonderful, super...except of course that every other prime minister, with the possible exception of Kan Naoto, has run his government in exactly the same way.

The Yomiuri is asking us to (take solace in/clap wildly for) that which is mundane.

I know that the leadership of Pravda-By-The-Palace is beside itself with joy that its old friends, or what it takes to be its old friends, are back in charge of the Prime Minister's Residence.

However, there is no tang of mischievousness in talk of "Super Genius Abe Shinzo." The phrase tastes bitter, with nothing to savor -- just the black/white flavors of abject sycophancy versus dull sardony.

I do find interesting the revelation in the second article of someone's tasking himself with watching over Abe Shinzo:
Given Abe's past health problems, Imai has emphasized careful management of Abe's health and taken such measures as restricting Abe's attendance at night meetings.

This situation has caused concern among some members of the Liberal Democratic Party, with one saying, "Imai is responsible for making it difficult for us to make an appointment with the prime minister."
Good to see someone's keeping tabs on the human being inside the phenomenon.

Not that my tub thumping about this issue the last time around would have reached the ears of anyone inside Abe's circle, of course.

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