Yukio Hatoyama’s political career is dead, and Washington’s fingerprints are all over the murder weapon.
The Japanese prime minister announced yesterday that he’s resigning and taking his number 2, the head of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Ichiro Ozawa, with him.
The press has made a big thing about Japan’s political instability, that Hatoyama is the fourth prime minister to step down in four years. But this was a resignation that could have been avoided.
The Obama administration never warmed to Hatoyama. Washington didn’t like his critique of American-led globalization. His calls for a more equal partnership with the United States fell on deaf ears.
But it was the Okinawa base issue that sealed the deal. The Japanese prime minister had the temerity to call for a renegotiation of the 2006 deal that would close the Futenma Marine Corps base in Okinawa, shift thousands of Marines to Guam, and build a new base elsewhere in Okinawa for the remainder. The Obama administration went into overdrive in its efforts to persuade Hatoyama and his upstart DPJ to change their minds.
It wasn’t just a matter of convincing the prime minister or his party. The DPJ’s ruling coalition partners were against the relocation plan. And the vast majority of Okinawans rejected the 2006 plan. Tens of thousands of protestors gathered in a mass demonstration in April. Another 17,000 formed a human chain around Futenma in May.
So, Hatoyama was in a quandary. He couldn’t afford to piss off Washington. And he couldn’t afford to alienate his own constituencies. So, he committed political suicide by accepting the fiat from Washington and then resigning.
“Hatoyama’s popularity collapsed, in large measure, because he could not make up his mind,” writes Blaine Harden in The Washington Post.
That’s not exactly true. The prime minister was flawed in many ways. He was inexperienced. There were some shady financial dealings in his political circles.
But he couldn’t make up his mind because he was in an impossible position, a position that the United States forced him into. In my opinion, Washington used the Okinawa base as a weapon against a politician that it didn’t fundamentally trust.
Japanese voters wanted a big change when they supported the Democratic Party of Japan last August. They didn’t realize that the U.S. government was not interested in big change in Japan, not if it challenged U.S. interests in the region.
Japanese voters can still make new leaders. But the United States reserves the right to break them.