Hatoyama will now make it difficult for even potentially sympathetic Americans to view him with anything but distrust.
I have no problem with a DPJ government saying no to the US from time to time. I have no problem with the idea of more distance from the US, which might make for a healthier alliance in the long run. But to an audience not steeped in Japanese debates about capitalism and globalization — to an audience not aware, for example, that the incumbent prime minister has also railed about “market fundamentalism” — Hatoyama looks less like the leader in waiting of one of the world’s second largest economy and more like, say, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (who, incidentally, has long looked to Japan for leadership in standing up to the west).
Earlier this week, Hatoyama said that he wanted to meet with President Barack Obama while in the US for the opening of the UN General Assembly. He expressed his confidence that if he were to sit down with Obama and talk frankly about two issues of concern — the matter of Futenma and the matter of the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan by the US — the president would see things Hatoyama’s way. While this scenario was far-fetched before, what kind of reception will Hatoyama get now? What kind of reception should he get now?
Does the DPJ not realize how much it has lucked out in the transition from the Bush administration to the Obama administration? The latter has exhibited an openness to the possibility of a DPJ government and not overreacted at, say, Ozawa Ichiro’s remarks on the US military presence even as most of the Japan policy community piled on Ozawa for his alleged anti-Americanism. Does the DPJ not realize just how skeptical many Americans are of the DPJ, and that there is a difference between being Washington’s lackey and showing a degree of courtesy by, say, not having the party leader’s incoherent opinions about “fraternity” and US-led globalization splashed across the pages of the New York Times?
Earlier this week I suggested that the DPJ’s leaders should not talk so much about a sensitive matter like the alliance before the party actually takes power and forms a government. This episode, I think, qualifies as talking too much.
I hope that someone senior in the DPJ will be meeting as soon as possible with newly arrived Ambassador John Roos to put Hatoyama’s remarks in proper context.
Meanwhile, I am no less convinced that Hatoyama as prime minister will be the single greatest weakness of a DPJ government.