So there you have it. Yukio Hatoyama, once dubbed the “Japanese Obama” by supporters and the press, has resigned due to the collapse of his coalition over his failure to remove American bases off of Okinawa. The irony is Obama was the one who sealed his Japanese counterpart’s fate by playing hardball at Hatoyama’s repeated attempts to move American forces to bases in mainland Japan.
I often joked that it was Hatoyama’s tacky choice of fashion, and his nutty wife as the cause for his downfall, but I was just joking. Despite being in power for barely 8 months, Hatoyama proved that the opposition can again break the hard conservative, nationalist Liberal Democratic Party’s stranglehold on government and give people a sense of empowerment in their country’s fate. Moreover, he was able to cultivate ties with his regional neighbours that brought about improved trade and badly needed diplomatic influence.
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(photo credit: Office of the Prime Minister, Government of Japan)
Japan Prime Minister and Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Hatoyama, whose amazing electoral victory last year unseating the long dominant Liberal Democratic Party, has announced that he is stepping down from his position for failing to deliver on a key campaign promise to the Japanese people about moving the US Marine Futenma Air Station off of Okinawa.
I will be arriving in Tokyo tomorrow (on Thursday) and will be in Naha, Okinawa this next Monday.
Hatoyama could not withstand the pressure from Obama — who gave Hatoyama the kind of icy treatment that the White House has also been trying to give Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The problem is Hatoyama wilted, and Netanyahu seems to be thriving.
I recently wrote a piece on the odd dynamic between President Obama and two different Prime Ministers — Netanyahu and Hatoyama — for the Kyodo News Service. It has already run in Japanese, but I post the entire English language version here:
While Israel is given free rein by Obama to shoot up unarmed activists who were bringing in-kind aid to a ravaged part of Palestine in Gaza, the Japanese Prime Minister is told to pick up Obama’s poop when he needed to move bases to protect his coalition government and regain support from his electorate. I really don’t know what Obama is doing by burning bridges with his Japanese Obama while allowing a right-wing Zionist to do as he pleases with pro-Palestine activists.
Of Presidents & Prime Ministers in the Age of Obama
by Steve Clemons
Jan ken pon. Scissors cut paper. Paper covers Rock. Rock smashes scissors. There is an interesting drama playing out between several world leaders today that reminds of this game.
President Barack Obama seems to be smashing the political fortunes of Japan Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. On the other hand, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been rebuffing and constraining Obama. Obama and China’s Hu Jintao seem to be stalemated, playing jan ken pon over and over and over again.
Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation is right. Obama is pissing on his Japanese lackey when he won’t play ball while giving Israel a free pass for all the wrong reasons (some people say it’s due to Liberal Christian American guilt for allowing the Holocaust to happen and for turning away countless Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi-ravaged Europe).
He is also right about Obama and Hu struggle in a locked battle over global influence; America relies on Chinese funds to support its debt-fueled recovery while China depends on American assets to develop its world influence. To be frank, America’s obscene debt and notable human rights violations has made it very difficult for Obama to even criticise China for their gross corruption, economic inequality and human rights violations. This is especially the case given America’s War of Terror in Iraq, the existence of Guantanamo Bay detention centres, and inability to stop an oil spill from killing the Gulf of Mexico.
“Defining challenges” for leaders and nations are those that represent the highest stakes wins and potential losses. The United States, for example, invested enormous blood and treasure in triggering change in Iraq and the broader Middle East and thus the Middle East today is a self-chosen defining challenge for the country. For Barack Obama, there were other defining challenges that he promised to stand by – including closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, “stopping” climate change, ending the war in Iraq, achieving Israel-Palestine peace and delivering the opportunity of universal health care coverage to American citizens.
So far, Obama has done nothing to stop the problems noted above and the best he has done is maintain the status quo and making too many concessions for nominal party unity.
1. Guantanamo Bay detention centres are here to stay. Sure, prisoners might be allowed a fair trial but not really. America bitches about China having prison camps that arbitrarily arrest people without due process, yet it is not too different in Guantanamo Bay and possibly worse since many of those prisoners are there as a result of racial or religious profiling. FAIL
2. Climate change is not going to be stopped. Obama basically caved in at the Copenhagen Summit per China’s concerns and nothing is done. His administration has done nothing to fight off fringe claims that Climate Change is a conspiracy or fabricated because of some faulty data and emails from academics in a third-rate university. FAIL
3. Ending the War in Iraq. The War of Terror is still a go despite Obama’s claims of gradual troop reductions. For all intents and purposes, Iraq is a failed state and American troops are the only thing keeping the country from 1) breaking up, 2) becoming a pro-Iran client state, and 3) becoming an haven for terrorists. The current Iraqi government is simply going to play along with Obama’s agenda until all American troops leave their country. After that they will do as they see fit even if it goes completely against the American-imposed reforms or undoes all progress that was somehow achieved in the American War of Terror. NOT FAIL
4. Israel inspires with its handling of the Gaza peace activists. Obama unconditionally supports Israel and their version of the crisis despite criticism from the rest of the world. Way to go Obama for rewarding bad behaviour and acting as an objective, honest broker in the Israel-Palestine peace process. No wonder Brazil is making inroads with Israel and the rest of the Middle East while America is viewed as a biased bully. FAIL
5. Health Care reforms have changed nothing. The only major change is that the IRS can now fine American taxpayers who refuse to buy any form of health insurance. I know for a fact nothing has changed for me. My insurance companies still make lame excuses to not cover certain treatments and they will go about making it difficult for insurers and doctors to get their claims processed. What about the Public Option? Well guys, the Public Option is pretty much dead like Gary Coleman, Dennis Hopper and the Gulf of Mexico. FAIL
Obama’s equation for moving Middle East peace forward was just too quaint and simple. Even though Israel is completely dependent on American security guarantees and aid and is genuinely a client state of the United States, the pugnacious prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, flamboyantly rebuffed Obama’s call to stop settlements. Obama, with some twisting and modification of his position, has essentially forfeited the match to Netanyahu.
During the early part of the John F. Kennedy administration, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev beat Kennedy in similar challenges and began to doubt Kennedy’s resolve and strategic temperament – leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today, Netanyahu has become the Khrushchev of the Obama administration – and one wonders if a crisis lies ahead in which Obama will have to reassert his primacy lest the world think that Israel runs the United States and the Obama presidency.
Yep, basically the writer suggests Obama is weak leader, which I agree. It’s hard to believe that the world’s sole superpower is being pushed around by a non-oil producing Middle Eastern client state. Obama is a weak leader as seen by his inability to keep Congress from dicking around with healthcare and finance reforms, by his reluctance to get involved with the oil spill crisis that BP created, and by his unwavering support of Israel’s handling of the unfolding Gaza crisis.
But while the Israeli Prime Minister is beating Obama, Obama is clearly smashing the legacy and political position of Japan Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
Hatoyama is conceding on a key campaign promise to move Futenma Marine Air Station off of the heavily US-base covered island of Okinawa. Now, some minor functions of Futenma will be transferred off island, but the bulk of the facility will simply be moved to another section of Okinawa.
Barack Obama put huge pressure on Hatoyama, asking him “Can I trust you?” He has maintained an icy posture towards Hatoyama, hardly communicating with him or agreeing to meetings – making the Prime Minister “lose face.” Contrasting this with the invitation to former Prime Minister Taro Aso to be the first official head of government to visit the White House and Secetary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to make Tokyo her first foreign destination, one can see that while America seems unable to muster pressure to achieve a “win” with Israel, it is more than able to do so with the leader of a rich nation of 128 million people.
Hatoyama may survive this rebuke of the United States and this policy reversal that has made him appear weak and indecisive before Japan’s citizens, but Obama has been unfair in this standoff with Japan’s prime minister.
Basically a weak leader will simply bully an even weaker leader to appear strong. In this case, Barry H. Obama decided to pick on the Japanese Obama in a sad attempt to prove American strength in East Asia. While he managed to strong-arm Hatoyama into allowing America to maintain its base in Okinawa, he also managed to lose long-term support from a like-minded world leader and progressive. Looking at the bigger picture, Obama may have undone potential reform that the DPJ was trying to carry out after working tirelessly to break the LDP’ and the bureaucracy’s dominance in government. Well it looks like Obama’s treatment of Hatoyama is a boon for the old boys network, business leaders, and corrupt officials in Japan.
Obama himself promised to close Guantanamo Bay within one year of his presidency. This was a major commitment, and the administration failed to achieve it. But the US is not a parliamentary democracy where executive leadership can rise and fall over a single issue at any time. Presidents get a time period to stack up their wins and their losses so that when re-election comes around, they are measured on a combination of issues. But Hatoyama’s government could fall over just this issue – and Obama did little to help the new Prime Minister stack up some wins with the US and the international system before crushing him on Futenma.
Japan, despite all of its considerable strengths and what could have been exciting, visionary new leadership from Hatoyama and his Democratic Party colleagues, is still a vassal of the United States – whereas the United States appears more and more a vassal of Israel’s interest – and on China, we’ll just have to wait and see how history tilts.
Obama is really a weak leader and operates under a broken government with too many loopholes that have undermined the “checks and balances” in the American government. Not only is he a weak leader of a broken government, he has also managed to destroy a progressive government for the sake of stacking up minor victories for his own administration. In any event, I agree that Japan will only move towards a new era of progress if it is able to end its client state relationship with America.