Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Brief Review of US Defense and the Budget

In view of the forthcoming conflict over the fiscal cliff, the budget and defense issue is a critical problem for the United States to fulfill the role of world policeman. Numerous nations around the globe live in a liberal world order under American hegemony. I would like to discuss the problem of defense and the budget later on, but let me mention some useful references.


Does the United States overspend on the military? Defending Defense Project, jointly run by the American Enterprise Institute, the Foreign Policy Initiative, and the Heritage Foundation, released a basic guidebook entitled “Defense Spending 101”. America has not overstretched because defense spending in terms of GDP percentage has declined since the Cold War era. In addition, the United States faces multiple security challenges today, and the American economy can prosper in a stable liberal world order. Therefore, American defense capability should be maintained. Quite importantly, off shore balance is no substitute for forward presence, due to weaker deterrence in the region and lower trust from allies.

Regarding fiscal cliff, Mackenzie Eaglen, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute  comments “A common denominator in all these scenarios is that averting the fiscal cliff does not mean that things would automatically improve. The only silver bullet remains a comprehensive debt reduction deal” (“The fiscal cliff's threat to nationalsecurity”; US News and World Report; November 1, 2012).

The budget conflict is not the only reason for defense cut. Danielle Pletka, President of the AEI, concludes “There are others who hide behind fiscal responsibility in order to further their isolationist ideals. Plenty on the left. Plenty on the Ron Paul right (“Beefjerky and the nation’s defense”; American Enterprise Institute; November 15;2012).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Forgotten War in Iraq

In the presidential election this year, foreign policy was not a primary agenda, and both Obama and Romney hardly talked about Iraq and Afghanistan. However, stability in Iraq has direct influences on Iran and Syria. Also, it is necessary to keep an eye on resurgence of Al Qaeda, in view of the Benghazi attack in Libya. Not only those security challenges that matter. The regime change in Iraq has inspired youngsters in the Middle East, which led to the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Iraq was expected to turn into a show window of democracy as Japan and Germany are. America has not forgotten both allies. Why was Iraq such a small issue in the presidential election? Although the Obama administration has withdrawn troops from there, the War on Terror and security management in this country will have significant influence on the Middle East and even Sahel Africa. Fragile security in the Middle East will ruin Obama’s strategy of the pivot to Asia. Therefore, we must not dismiss what happens in Iraq after the pull out of the Western coalition.


To begin with, I would like to talk about current security environment around Iraq. Unlike President Barack Obama’s declaration as “sovereign, stable, and self reliant Iraq” when US forces withdrew from this country last December, things go the opposite. Frederick Kagan, Director at the American Enterprise Institute, and Kimberly Kagan, President at the Institute of the Study of War, point out that the Obama administration fails to make Iraq a reliable security partner (“Losing Iraq”; National Review; October 15, 2012). After the withdrawal, only 150 US military personnel stay in Iraq, but they are not engaged neither in training nor combat missions with Iraqi forces. As a result, US-Iraqi counterterrorism cooperation dwindled precipitously, and Al Qaeda revives. Violence increased since the withdrawal, particularly by the Islamic State of Iraq which is a frontline organization of Al Qaeda Iraq. Since they are Sunni, sectarian battles against Shiite militia led by Moqtada al-Sadr are being intensified.

In addition, Iranian influence is growing. Iran uses Iraqi air space to supply military equipments for the Assad regime in Syria. Iraqi air force is too weak to expel Iranian air intrusion without staunch security partnership with the United States. Iranian influence penetrates into the Iraqi authority. After the United States handed over Shiite extremists to the Maliki administration, Iraqi court decided to release them without disbanding their militias required by Iraqi law.

Strong US military presence in Iraq could have checked Al Qaeda and Iran as envisioned in the Strategic Partnership Agreement of 2008. However, the Obama administration refused the Maliki administration’s request for US deterrence in Iraq. It is a common security interest for both the United States and Iraq to stop Al Qaeda from building their bases in this country. Obama’s reluctance for defense involvement in Iraq is utterly strange, and it appears to me that he does not learn the lesson of 9-11, that is, America’s low attention to terrorist heaven in Afghanistan led to the attacks. Remember the Benghazi attack was done by Al Qaeda. The success in killing Osama bin Laden does not guarantee the end of the War on Terror.

If the Obama administration is so reluctant to deepen military commitment in Iraq, and wants to shift resource and manpower to Asia, then, the United States needs to use more diplomatic measures to keep Iraq close. Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, mentions communication gaps in US-Iraqi diplomatic channels. On the American side, few diplomats sent to Baghdad speak Arabic fluently.  It appears to me that things are somewhat similar to the case of the Iranian revolution. Just before the fall of the shah, there were not sufficient Farsi speaking US diplomats and CIA agents in Iran. Consequently, the Carter administration failed to act adequately. Will the Obama administration make the same mistake?

On the Iraqi side, they have not founded reliable diplomatic channels in Washington. America is a typical country of pluralistic democracy. Therefore, diplomacy with the United States needs informal gateways through the media, think tank, and the Congress, in addition to formal ones through the State Department, Pentagon, and the White House. Since Iraq has not founded such gateways, Washington policymakers pay little attention to Iraqi voices in dealing with Syria, Iran, and Al Qaeda (“Iraqidiplomacy has no voice in Washington”;Al Aalem; November 1, 2012). Rubin argues this just a problem on the Iraqi side, but I think that the American side needs to help Iraq found informal diplomacy network in the United States. That is because every communication is mutual.

As the only senator voted against the Iraq War, President Obama may want to this war swept way into oblivion. However, foreign policy needs national consistency, regardless of power rotation. Drastic contraction of US commitment to Iraq will undermine long awaited vision of Middle East democratization, while aspiration for freedom is rising in this region. Historically, Bagdad had been a center of the Arab world, from the era of the Abbassid caliphate to British rule after the Ottoman Empire. Considering regional impacts,         the Obama administration must reconsider the Iraq policy. No Middle East stability, no pivot to Asia.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Japanese Conservatives Must Affirm the Postwar Regime Change

As the Noda administration appears increasingly lame duck, LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) leader Shinzo Abe is likely to become the next prime minister in Japan. Along with Abe and other LDP politicians, conservative voices are rising in the “third pole” led by ultra-nationalist Shintaro Ishihara and populist Toru Hashimoto. Quite a large portion of the above conservative politicians advocate a “reconsideration of the postwar regime”, and many of them openly criticize “imposed” democratization by the United States. It is critically concerned that such a remark will send a wrong message to the global community that Japan is moving toward prewar nationalism.


Rather, I would propose that Japan affirm the postwar regime change for much more active role in the Western alliance. Remember that all LDP leaders since the Koizumi administration supported regime changes in Iraq and Afghanistan led by the United States, both of which are modeled after postwar Japan and Germany. Logically, it does not make sense to support Middle East democratization, while denouncing “imposed” reforms in the postwar era by US led occupational forces. Ever since Junnichiro Koizumi, LDP prime ministers endorsed regime changes to win the War on Terror and stop nuclear proliferation, particularly to terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda. I have no doubt in their sincerity to stand with American forces to overthrow Saddam Hussein and Taliban. Koizumi’s successors were in his cabinet when both wars broke out. Taro Aso advocated the Arch of Freedom and Prosperity, which was in line with the Bush administration’s initiatives. Though the Obama administration decided to withdraw troops from both countries while terrorism is still strong, the global community explores to help their reconstruction and train their security forces, including Iraq war opponents like France and Germany. Japan has hosted the International Conference on the Reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Therefore, instead of quibbling over US occupational rule in the past, Japan should act as a role model of model of regime change from the Middle East to China, including Tibet, East Turkistan. That is, Japan can show the successful step toward democracy, and persuade citizens in those countries to follow the same path. This will bolster Japan’s position on the global stage. Remember that there is nothing wring with Japan’s support for regime changes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Japanese leaders should be more confident of it.

I have no objection to changing obsolete and dysfunctional systems, regardless of ideology. DPJ (Democratic Party Japan) liberals like Yukio Hatoyama, Naoto Kan, and Katsuya Okada also insisted on reviewing postwar Japanese politics with regard to the US-Japanese alliance and Kasumigaseki bureaucracy, which simply resulted in paralyzing Japanese domestic politics and worsening relations with the United StatesWhoever the next prime minister is, such horrible mistake should not be repeated.It is quite worrisome that the global public will misinterpret the “Reconsideration of the Postwar Regime” as a complete denial of regime changes and democratization in both Japan and Germany. Furthermore, Japan would be isolated from both Asia and the West if such misinterpretation prevails.

Let me talk about US-Japanese relations. Japan handlers in Washington political corridor may be generous to Japanese conservative aspiration to “independence” as long as they are sincere to develop security partnership against threats in East Asia like China and North Korea, and those on the global stage like Al Qaeda, Iran, and so forth. However, not all Americans share such mindsets. Some media may cast doubt on inconsistency to advocate close US-Japanese alliance and collective security against autocracies while denouncing an "imposed" regime change by Douglas McArthur. In other words, a "Reconsideration of the Postwar Regime" can be interpreted immature anti-Americanism, if it does not mean clearly. This can lead Japan to be isolated from democratic partners both in Asia and the West. The core of postwar regime change is the pacifist constitution. It has already accomplished a historical role to impress Japanese regime change to the global community, and that role is over as global security environment has changed. Therefore, I am in full support of changing the constitution.

It is understandable that not everything of postwar occupational rule was good. Also, not everything of prewar Japan was bad. The Taisho democracy was a marvelous achievement. While Meiji reforms are heavily dependent on Western thoughts introduced by elites, Taisho movements are initiated entirely by Japanese grassroots. It was beyond universal suffrage. Women and burakumin (social outcastes) stood up to improve their social position. People’s demand for freedom and equality spread nation wide. Had the Taisho democracy been successful, Japan could have democratized Prussian styled Meiji constitution without any foreign intervention. Regretfully, the Taisho democracy was destroyed by itself, just as the Weimar democracy in Germany did, which gave way to militarism. That is why we have to review the prewar political culture critically.

Currently, Shinzo Abe is most likely to succeed Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. In view of the lost 20 years, obsolete and dysfunctional systems should be dismantled. But whoever the next prime minister is, or whatever the leader’s ideological standpoint is, it is necessary to clarify the meaning of a “Reconsideration of the Postwar Regime”, in order to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings both globally and domestically. Along with Germany, Japan is a role model to prevail democracy throughout the world, and this is the vital point to for Japan to deepen the alliance with the United States, develop strategic partnership with free nations of the West and Asia, and enhance its presence on the global stage. Remember Japan’s contribution to Iraq and Afghanistan! Historical revisionism simply ruins what Japan has achieved on the global stage.