Sunday, March 14, 2010

DPJ sees weapon of mass persuasion in LDP support of Iraq

Offense is the best defense, as the DPJ is learning from the LDP's playbook.

The "lies" of the 50-odd years of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party rule remain a popular topic for DPJ lawmakers. In part, the Democratic Party of Japan came into power rightfully promising to pursue the issue of a democratic government’s transparency. But the temptation to keep alive the memory of “LDP perfidy” in front of the voters has been hard for the party to resist, particularly with the Hatoyama cabinet’s popularity sharply eroding in the polls.

Last week, the establishment of an investigatory panel to examine recent LDP foreign and security policy decisions, followed the conclusion of one confirming old state secrets and deals with the United States. This time the focus is the Koizumi government’s decision to send troops to Iraq in support Washington’s request for “boots on the ground.”

At the same time, poll numbers here have continued to show that public support for the Hatoyama Cabinet is rapidly eroding and now in the 30-40% range. The Asahi reports that Cabinet support now at 37%, and may soon slip below 30%, traditionally a danger zone for previous governments that soon toppled afterward. Jiji Press surveys find support at 30.9 pct in March, down 4.8 percentage points from the previous month. The disapproval rate rose 3.8 points to 48.5%, according to the Jiji poll released on March 12th. Public support for the Hatoyama cabinet has dropped to half the level when it took office September 16,, 2008.

On Tuesday, March 9, a Hatoyama government panel released its
report confirming the existence of a secret Cold War deal allowing the transit of nuclear-armed US vessels through its ports. This ended decades of official denial, although the existence of the pact was an open secret since the U.S. government had declassified relevant documents years ago, and a number of scholarly works on the subject have since been written. (See also Nautilus report, Japan Under the US Nuclear Umbrella.)

The panel also confirmed the existence of other pacts, more like memorandums of understanding, relating to the use of US military bases in Okinawa in the case of an emergency on the Korean peninsula and to the cost of the 1972 reversion of Okinawa from US to Japanese control. For historical reasons, it was important for Japan to search its archives for documents comparable to the ones in the US long ago released to the public.

Foreign Minister Okada’s explanation of the investigative process as historical and not political have helped, but the strong image left behind from the DPJ’s campaign rhetoric and subsequent charges against the LDP is that previous governments deliberately lied to the public about something they knew to be true.

A new phase of LDP bashing may now be about to start. On March 13, NHK TV reported that Upper House DPJ lawmakers launched a working group in the party’s policy deliberative council (seisaku shingikai) to probe into the propriety of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s decision following the initial ending of US-led military actions in Iraq to support the reconstruction of that country by sending Self-Defense Forces.

The Ground Self-Defense Force sent troops to Samawah, Iraq for local-assistance projects, such as repairs and water-supply purification, and an Air Self-Defense Force was sent to Kuwait to airlift goods and personnel, mainly US troops, into Baghdad. Both efforts ended in 2008 without casualties or incidents.

The legislator’s panel was formed, according to NHK, because of deep doubts about the Constitutional legality of the SDF missions in Iraq. The SDF was sent under a
2003 Special Measures Law for Iraq ordered by Koizumi. The Cabinet Legislation Bureau, the government's constitutional watchdog, never challenged the law.

One of the reasons then cited for Japan's supporting the war was the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction, later proven untrue due to false intelligence reports. The DPJ would like to prove that justification for the missions based on such assumptions was improper. The panel will summon experts, as well as relevant officials from the Foreign and Defense ministries to present their views of the decision-making process and rationale.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada may have prompted the formation of the panel on March 10 when asked in the Diet about Koizumi's decision to send troops. He responded “I am keenly aware that he too easily made the decision, and I would like at some point to look comprehensively into how the government was involved, for the sake of the future.”

With the conclusion of the Hatoyama government's probe into secret nuclear pacts between Japan and the US coinciding with a decline of voter confidence in the ruling DPJ, the need to discredit the LDP remains. The logic in the DPJ seems to be that voters still need to be reminded as to how the LDP treated them with condescension and contempt.

The Koizumi decisions on supporting Iraq’s reconstruction by sending troops, never popular with the public but tolerated, appear to be a good new way to again beat up on the LDP.

Dr. William Brooks
APP Senior Fellow

Ms. Mindy Kotler
APP Director

Photo: President Richard Nixon and Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato meeting at the Western White House in San Clemente, California in January 1972. Nixon and Sato worked out the final details of the Okinawa reversion agreement during these meetings. [Source: Collection RN-WHPO: White House Photo Office Collection (Nixon Administration), 01/20/1969 - 08/09/1974; Richard Nixon Library - College Park, College Park, MD]

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