Dubious prospects for the MSDF mission

With the MSDF’s refueling ships set to leave the Indian Ocean later this week, the fight in the Diet and in the court of public opinion over a new law authorizing the MSDF mission continues to run against the government, in that public support for the new law, insofar as it exists, is tepid at best and unlikely to be strongly in favor of the government’s using its Lower House supermajority to override the Upper House.

I think Michael Penn of the Shingetsu Institute gets it exactly right in his latest newsletter: “[The LDP’s leaders] are nowhere near where they need to be politically in order to strong-arm passage of the bill in the near term, and I have little doubt that the main reason they haven’t given up already is because they don’t want to offend the US embassy and Washington just before the scheduled November 16th meeting of Prime Minister Fukuda and President Bush.”

Ambassador Schieffer’s repeated remarks about Japan’s pulling out of the war on terror (an argument taken up, not surprisingly, by Gordan Chang at Contentions) may ultimately have an impact opposite of that hoped for by the ambassador. He may have conveniently provided Mr. Fukuda with cover for ending the mission, especially if the prime minister’s meeting with President Bush in November is frosty, as it could very well be. Now that the ambassador has shifted from criticizing the DPJ to criticizing Japan as a whole, the government could make like the Indian communists and criticize the US for interfering with Japanese democracy, necessitating the withdrawal of the law from public consideration. Given that the feud over the abductions issue has now gone public, it is quite plausible that Mr. Fukuda would enjoy the support of the LDP’s conservatives for a move like this, and it would conveniently allow the government to end the refueling mission on its own terms while undermining efforts by the DPJ to spin withdrawal as a victory for its side.

Should the LDP decide to persist, however, it still faces an uphill battle, as LDP secretary-general Ibuki Bunmei admitted on Sunday, suggesting that although the government wants to deal with the issue within the bounds of the session, it may be unable to avoid extending the special session so to send the bill to the Upper House, daring the DPJ to reject it. I’m sure the DPJ will have no problem doing just that, and it may also pass a censure motion against Defense Minister Ishiba, as both Hatoyama Yukio, DPJ secretary-general, and Yamaoka Kenji, the DPJ’s Kokutai chairman, have suggested. Beyond its impact on the debate over the refueling mission, a successful censure motion against Mr. Ishiba raises an interesting question for the rules of the game in the divided Diet. Should Mr. Ishiba resign, despite a censure motion being non-binding? Is it right that the DPJ can use its control of the Upper House to force members of the cabinet to resign at will?

Meanwhile, I’m amazed at how little energy the government appears to have put into fighting for its new law; it’s no surprise that public support is lukewarm. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe the government is just looking for a way to make the whole issue disappear and find a scapegoat to blame for Japan’s “pulling out of the war on terror.” (Words that will undoubtedly haunt the alliance for years to come.) In which case, with the US bullying Japan on this issue, the Fukuda government now has its scapegoat — the challenge now for Mr. Fukuda could be how to spin a legislative defeat into a moral victory and prolong his government so that he can turn his attention to matters domestic.

One thought on “Dubious prospects for the MSDF mission

  1. I realize that the US/Japan alliance, and Japanese military policy, is an important issue to many Japanese people, and in Japanese politics in general.That said, I would certainly like to see a lot more coverage of Japan\’s domestic political issues in this blog, as those are the issues about which it is most difficult to find articles in major English-language newspapers.


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