Ishiba will fight on, with Fukuda’s help

Far from abandoning Defense Minister Ishiba Shigeru to his critics, Prime Minister Fukuda made clear today that he stands with Mr. Ishiba in emphasizing the need for fundamental reform of the Defense Ministry. The Atago incident, instead of spelling the end of Mr. Ishiba’s second tour of duty in Ichigaya, may end up bolstering it and clearing the way to make substantial progress on reforming the ministry.

Speaking Friday morning at an informal gathering of cabinet ministers, Mr. Fukuda said, “I think that it’s also a systemic problem of the Defense Ministry. The organization must be reconsidered from the foundation.”

In short, Mr. Fukuda has given Mr. Ishiba his blessing, in the process providing Mr. Ishiba with a powerful ally in the fight against his opponents within the ministry, the armed services, and the LDP.

Mr. Ishiba responded by announcing the creation of a team to promote reform of the ministry, a group comprised of six ministry bureaucrats and nine JSDF members.

I expect that Mr. Fukuda’s move will halt the DPJ’s talk of censuring Mr. Ishiba in a bid to force his resignation. In this case, the DPJ is going after the wrong person. There is no one within the LDP who will go about the much-needed reform of the Defense Ministry with greater gusto and sincerity than Mr. Ishiba — the LDP’s “Mr. Defense.” Considering that the alternative to Mr. Ishiba could be a defense minister in the Kyuma Fumio vein, this is one area in which the DPJ should reject “the worse the better” logic and embrace Mr. Ishiba as an ally in advancing necessary reforms in the face of opposition from members of his own party.

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