Will the real Ozawa please stand up?

I will be the first to admit that I haven’t been easy on Ozawa Ichiro in the months since the DPJ won the HC election, not least in published articles.
But I just read Mr. Ozawa’s poorly titled Ozawashugi — kokorozashi wo motte, nihonjin (Ozawaism: Have ambition, Japanese), in which Mr. Ozawa presents himself as the visionary reformer of the early 1990s, the upstart who won the admiration of Japanese and Americans with Blueprint for a New Japan, split from the LDP, and engineered a non-LDP coalition government. In this latest book, written just before he was elected DPJ president in April 2006, Mr. Ozawa presents an ambitious vision for why and how Japan needs to change in order to succeed in the twenty-first century.

At the same time, however, he leavens this vision with a healthy dose of skepticism, recognizing that what’s needed is not simply new policies: the Japanese people need to change how they relate with their leaders, Japan needs to cultivate a new breed of leaders, and the Japanese need to develop a sense of independence not just in foreign affairs, but at home, in their own lives. Mr. Ozawa also has an admirable respect for and belief in the power of democracy, emphasizing repeatedly that a politician who disregards elections and the public is a poor politician indeed. (At one point he argues passionately on behalf of revising Japan’s election laws to permit candidates to go door-to-door during election campaigns so that they’re able to communicate with voters directly — standing outside train stations isn’t good enough.)

Why am I mentioning this book? Because it illustrates the crux of the problem with Mr. Ozawa.

In short there are two Ozawa Ichiros. One is the sincere reformer who clearly cares deeply about the future of his country and is willing to sacrifice himself for Japan, much as his heroes Okubo Toshimichi and Hara Takashi did. (Given the decline in Mr. Ozawa’s health in recent years, this comparison is not inappropriate.) The other, however, is the political wheeler-dealer, Tanaka Kakuei’s political son, creator and destroyer of the 1993-94 non-LDP coalition, troublesome coalition partner in the Obuchi government, and now the restless head of the DPJ. It’s not always clear which Ozawa has the upper hand, and admittedly the line between these two personalities isn’t entirely clear. Great reformers sometimes need to use underhanded or brutal means to get their way. Mr. Ozawa undoubtedly believes that his political schemes, like the ill-fated grand coalition plan, are necessary steps in order to realize broad-reaching reforms. He may be right, but the costs to his reputation have been severe — something Hillary Clinton surely appreciates — and it is no surprise that his position at the helm of the DPJ has been considerably more vulnerable since his fall meetings with Fukuda Yasuo.

There is another point worth noting about Mr. Ozawa’s book. Foreign policy is not Mr. Ozawa’s strong suit. The focus of his foreign policy chapter in this book is on the creation of a standing UN army that will enable Japanese forces to contribute to world peace. Given that this arrangement is highly implausible for the foreseeable future, it is foolish to devote as much attention to it as Mr. Ozawa does, especially in place of more concrete proposals for Japan’s foreign policy. It’s a convenient way for him to avoid tackling the constitutional dilemma head on. That said, he correctly diagnoses the problem with the US-Japan alliance, an approach that seems to be the foundation for the DPJ’s current thinking on the alliance. He wrote:

Since Japan, during the half century of the postwar period, has been protected under America’s umbrella, our beliefs and philosophies have not been questioned.

However, twenty-first century Japan must not do this. As an “independent state,” what can we do in the world? — this is being asked. We must stop taking the easy road of “It’s okay if we curry favor with America.” I think that now we must consider, “What can Japan do for the world?”

Ultimately, this book provides a complete look at the multi-faceted persona of the man who just might become prime minister, both his strengths — his unquestionable commitment to reform — and his weaknesses, most notably his willingness to let ends justify means.

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