Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Is Middle East Democratization a Neocon Plot?

As debates on Iraq get intensified, some war opponents argue that the idea of Middle East democratization is a plot by neoconservatives and oil industry. Apparently, this is wrong. Regardless of pro or con to the Iraq War, American policymakers have been exploring to promote democracy in the Middle East. Not only neocons but also liberals, centrists, and other ideological sects, are working hard for this endeavor. Furthermore, Europeans are tackling for this issue, either with Americans or by themselves.

Nor does this idea symbolize American belligerence. People are liable to associate Middle East democratization with the War on terror and the Iraq War. Certainly, defeating terrorists and dictators constitutes an important agenda in this policy. However, policymakers discuss non-military aspects, such as political freedom, socio-economic equality, gender, education, development, civil society, and empowerment as well. Quite often, the media and experts dismiss this point, whether deliberately or unintentionally.

Therefore, it is utterly wrong to label the endeavor for Middle East democracy to be a neocon driven unilateralist plot. Let me review some policy researches related to this issue, conducted on both sides of the Atlantic.

Centrist analysts are not totally in agreement with the Bush administration’s plan for regime change in Iraq. Thomas Carothers, Director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has been conducting researches for promoting democracy in the Middle East, although he is critical to the plan for regime change in Iraq. Just before the Iraq War, he published a policy brief, entitled “Democratic Mirage in the Middle East” in October 2002. In this essay, he criticized the idea of quick promotion of democracy throughout the Middle East, simply by overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Despite this, he welcomes American commitment to Middle East democracy after the post Cold War. Carothers laments meager involvement by the Unites States during the Cold War to spread democracy in the Middle East. Thomas Carothers endorses modest and long term commitment, rather than quick and domino effect changes.

The media and our grassroots focus on non-Arab nations like Iran and Afghanistan, and Arab nations, including Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine. The Arab Reform Bulletin, published by the Carnegie Endowment presents policy recommendation and analysis on democratization throughout the Arab world. In the most recent Bulletin, published in this July, Moataz El Fegiery, Program Director at the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies, analyze governmental repression to freedom of opinion and expression in the Arab world. Dina Bishara, Assistant Editor of the Bulletin, advocates that the United States refrain from providing aid to specific parties in Arab nations.

Center for American Progress, an anti-Bush liberal think tank, has also been publishing articles on Middle East democratization. Mara Rudman, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress concludes the United States needs to make sure its investment in democracy whoever runs Palestine, in “Vote Reaffirms Need for America to Invest in Democracy” (Forward, February 6, 2006). On December 20, 2005, the Center held an event to discuss the next step to support democracy in Iraq after the first election since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Europeans are no less enthusiastic to Middle East democracy initiatives than Americans. The Arab Reform Initiative was launched on December 27, 2005, is constituted by top institutions from Europe and the Arab world. This consortium explores policy researches to promote democratic reform by Arab, European, and American partners. It is noteworthy that continental think tanks join this initiative. Despite the rift before the Iraq War, Europeans pursue common agendas with Americans.

In Iran, civil societies grow without relying substantially on Western governments and NGOs. Blog talks are popular, although the authority arrested some bloggers. Progressive journalists and bloggers in Iran establish an online community in English, called Persian Journal. With strong civil movements, Ex-Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi advocates a Ukrainian style Orange Revolution, instead of war, in order to achieve regime change. Lionel Beehner, Staff Writer at, insists that the US government should promote dialogues between Iranian and Western civil societies and business communities, but not directly involved in these interactions. Iranians see campaigns sponsored by the US government negatively, Beehner says.

It is no use to bash neoconservatives and oil business. Rather, I would recommend further understanding regarding the genesis of Middle East democratization initiatives. Even before 9-11 attacks, policymakers in America talked about Middle East reform. As I mentioned in a previous post, “Pro or Con on American Attack against Iraq before the War”, invasion to Iraq has been a crucial agenda since the Clinton era. This is beyond party politics. Promotion of democracy is the key agenda in American foreign policy. This is beyond the Iraq debate at the Hill. Also, the end of the Cold War has changed the notion of security. Civil society based approaches are becoming increasingly important, whether attacking the target or not. The United States used force in Iraq, but not in Ukraine. Middle East democratization is a vital step toward world peace.

Middle East reform is a critical agenda not only for neocons but also for liberals, Europeans, and Middle Eastern citizens.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Warning Flashes between Japan and America: Comfort Women and Atomic Bomb

Currently, Japan reconsiders postwar pacifism, and steps toward more active role in the world. As stated in twice-published Armitage Report, the United States is willing to accommodate Japan’s aspiration for becoming a “normal country”, being able to use power and join collective security arrangements with other US allies. However, recent recommendation on Korean comfort women at US House and a remark on atomic bomb by Japanese Defense Minister Akio Kyuma have outburst hidden sentiment among Japanese people regarding World War Ⅱ. I am afraid trend like this will have some negative impacts on the US-Japanese strategic partnership.

As Japan is exploring self assertive foreign policy, revisionism rises moderately. Generally speaking, Japanese people accept liberal democracy after the war. Actually, prewar Japanese public explored their own freedom during the Taisho Democracy. However, some Japanese, particularly conservatives feel that Japanese behavior during the war is criticized unfairly. They regard it is time that Japan restored its honor in the world. Disputes on wartime history between Japan and Asian neighbors, notably China and both Korea, illustrates this emotion. Now, similar disputes are coming up between Japan and the United States, the most important alliance in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Comfort Women agenda was submitted to the Foreign Relations Committee at the House by Democratic Congressman Mike Honda. As broadly known, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Japanese conservative argued that the Japanese military did not impose Korean women to provide sex service for their soldiers. In the eyes of American, or more broadly, Western policymakers, it appeared as if Japanese leaders had been defending wartime fascism.

Apparently, Japanese leaders were reckless to provoke negative feelings among the American public. It is necessary to re-emphasize that Japan and Germany are the crown jewel of US-led regime change, and this endeavor is in the process of prevailing in the Middle East. Not only American neoconservatives, but also liberals and Europeans are conducting researches for Middle East democracy. Therefore, Japanese leaders should not give misunderstandings to the global community that they believe in fascist ideology.

On the other hand, I regret that the US House did not give sufficient consideration to the consequence of this vote to the state-to-state relationship. Members of the House of Representatives tend to be much closer to the electorate than the executive branch, and there is no doubt that Asian minority lobbies exerted strong influence on them. But whoever says anything, Japan and the United States are not supposed to bicker on World War Ⅱ. The strategic partnership between both countries should focus on post Cold War security, and this is the policy priority.

Japanese public response to Defense Minister Kyuma’s comment on atomic bomb attack to Hiroshima and Nagasaki has illustrated hidden sentiments to the United States. When Kyuma said that the United States could not help dropping the bomb, in order to finish the war quickly and stop Soviet expansion in the Far East, Japanese media and bloggers were outraged. His remark sounded like he thought light of atomic bomb victims, they said. As history disputes with Asians are becoming serious, Japanese grassroots, from conservatives to centrists, are beginning to insist that Allied Forces’ behavior must be questioned severely as much as that of Japanese Forces’.

Certainly, Kyuma was too careless to provoke anti-nuclear public opinion. However, there is no reason for Japanese media and citizens to demand him to resign simply because he made a mistake. In 1950s or 1960s, he could have stayed in the cabinet. During the era of rapid reconstruction, America had been the role model for the Japanese public. It is well-known that quality control system, which contributed to Japan’s postwar economic miracle, was imported from the United States. Japanese learned to become more American than Americans through importing management skills and technologies. But hysteric response to Kyuma’s remark indicates that this sentiment is changing. Interactions between Japan and the United States could turn more delicate than they were in the past.

In my view, two cases are extremely odd. Why does Japan have to quarrel with the United States over World War Ⅱ? The Cold War has gone. We are in the era of new kind of threats. Of course, American lawmakers should focus more on state-to-state strategic interests rather than accommodating requests from Asian minority lobby. However, the most problematic are Japanese revisionists. They do not understand how the history of Japan and the word is evolving. More seriously, their quibble on wartime history undermines Japan’s position in the world. In any case, it is no use to waste much energy for problems in the past. The rise of revisionism in Japan is a serious concern, and I am afraid that this might turn history backward. Americans should not provoke this sentiment by questioning Japan’s wartime policy too much in depth. But more importantly, Japanese rightists must understand that Japan’s pride lies in its status as a role model of regime change. Don’t forget this!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

NHK TV Program "Japan at the Crossroads": Reconsider the Pacifist Constitution

In the forthcoming NHK (Nihon Hoso Kyokai or Japan Broadcasting Corporation; Japanese BBC) TV series of “Japan at the Crossroads” on August 15, a forum on the pacifist constitution will be held. They want participation in to this debate from various backgrounds, and more replies to their questionnaire. This is why I received an e-mail from the director of NHK to ask my opinio0n about the forthcoming program on the pacifist constitution. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe considers changing this constitution, in order to shed the postwar mindset, and regain national dignity of Japanese people. According to the director, NHK project team found this blog through net surfing.

I met the director at NHK Broadcasting Center in Shibuya, Tokyo on Monday this week. Prior to this appointment, I replied to the questionnaire through the net, and I had to write a lot to answer every question. As readers expect, I am pro-change, or more precisely, I think the pacifist clause should be abolished completely.

There are 10 questions in the questionnaire. Among them, we talked a lot about my answer to question 2, regarding historical role of Article 9, and why I evaluate it positively. I commented as the following.

The pacifist clause of Article 9 played a crucial role to screen out fascism and punish wartime militarism. But no punishments are eternal. Just as an ex-criminal who has completed one’s prison term and is spending one’s life as a good citizen, should be accepted to the society, Japan which has established a reputation as one of top industrialized democracies, is eligible to restore the right of national defense.

In question 6, I agree with the use of force when Japanese troops are sent overseas to join multinational operations from the following reason.

International politics is a Hobbesian world dominated by the rule of power. It is not a Kantian world dominated by the rule of reason and law. Constitution defines human rights and governmental structure, but not national security policy. It is no use to bind necessary actions of the state with constitution which does not go with the reality of international politics. No one can accept one’s country destroyed simply because leaders abide by the constitution blindly.

Japan has done well to rebuild the nation through regime change, and I insisted that Japan get involved actively with global regime change in the next phase. In my view, abolition of Article 9 is a certificate to assure Japan’s position as a member of chief executive of the Western industrialized democracies.

Also, I mentioned Japan’s national foundation through “Dastu A Nyu Oh” (get out of Asian backwardness and join civilized Western nation club) and modernization since the Opium War. Particularly, I am disappointed with Japanese conservatives who do not take pride in the evolution from coercive enlightenment in the Meiji era to the Taisho Democracy driven by grassroots initiatives.

We talked about broad range of global and national security issues, including US-Japanese relations, Chinese and North Korean threats, “blind followership” to the United States, commitment to global democracy, and so forth. Some of them are not necessarily related to Japanese constitution, but very important to think of Japanese and world security.

We talked over 2 hours, and it was a very good time to discuss wide ranges of issues in detail. I do not even remember some parts of the discussion, and the director asked tough questions occasionally. He says that NHK wants to talk with as many people as possible regarding the pacifist clause. They look for some citizens who can participate in the live forum when they broadcast the program.

I shall appreciate your reply to NHK questionnaire from this link. Let’s watch the program, and think of the future of Japanese security.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Review of the Economist’s Assessment on American Hegemony

It is the Independence Day today. I would like to talk about the Economist’s review on challenges to American leadership in the world and the consequence of the Iraq War to US foreign policy. I mention two articles in June 28 issue. Despite bitter fights with insurgents in Iraq, American primacy has not been eroded. Among rivals, China will pose the most critical challenge to American supremacy.

In the article of “Still No.1”, the Economist mentions so many disturbances to America’s predominance in the world. Currently, the United States is at war with Islamic radicals in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the world. China emerges as a potential rival to American preeminence. Russia is returning toward authoritarian nationalism. North Korea and Iran are defiant to non-proliferation demands.

Also, relations between the United States its allies are turbulent. Kantian Europe and Hobbesian America are often at odds with the way to deal with global threats like terrorists and rogue regimes. Arab allies are reluctant to accept US initiatives for democracy in the Middle East. In addition, I have to mention Japan, which craves for becoming a normal country, is willing to act on its own. Defense Minister Akio Kyuma’s remark to accept US Atomic bomb attack to Hiroshima and Nagasaki has infuriated the Japanese public.

Despite these difficulties, American hard and soft power is not eroding. Hardships in Iraq come from wrong strategies designed by Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as often pointed out. He sent too few troops for the regime change in Iraq. Moreover, he disbanded the Iraqi Army. The Economist is critical to the Bush administration regarding these points, and comments that future American administrations will not repeat the same mistake when they pursue regime change.

On the other hand the Economist refutes Democrats’ viewpoint that President George W. Bush has undermined American supremacy. Iran and North Korea have been antagonistic to the United States for decades. People around the world complain that the spread of American pop culture endangers their identity and traditions. Ironically, due to America’s overwhelming hard power, both its allies and citizens think light of threat they face. Only the United States can prevent Iran and North Korea from committing to adventurism behavior. From Palestine Peace Talks to global warming, the world needs America. As to soft power, the Economist criticizes mistreatment of prisoners at Guantánamo and restriction of immigrants, because they have damaged American ideal of freedom and openness.

Overall, the Economist evaluates America “a stock to buy”, because the Bush administration shifts toward multilateralism. The United States succeeded in bouncing back from Vietnam damages. However buoyant Chinese economy may be, its politics are fragile.

In the other article, “The Hobbled Hegemon”, the Economist assesses American power further in detail by using four charts. Six year war on terror poses more strains to the army and marines, because of longer deployments overseas while shorter dwelling time at home. Andrew Krepinevich, President of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, warns that American forces are like dead “canaries in the mineshaft.” The outgoing military chief, General Peter Pace worries that American response to a series of conflicts, from Korea, Taiwan, Cuba, to Iran, would be slower and bloodier. They are concerned that US forces are too small for sweeping operations. The United States has the most sophisticated high-tech military power, and as shown in Chart 1 and 2, its military budget is by far the largest.

Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Zbignew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor under the Carter administration, warn of American decline. However, strategists wonder whether the Iraq War has damaged American supremacy so much as they say.

Rumsfeld’s idea of speedy, stealthy, and accurate army was inappropriate in Iraq. In his article to Armed Forces Journal, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling denounces this strategy, and compares hardships in Iraq and Vietnam. Currently, the US military is adapting itself to guerrilla warfare in Iraq. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announces the decision to expand ground forces. The air force and navy can deter rogue regimes, but not enough to stop their nuclear programs and overthrowing those governments.

Among America’s rivals, the Economist focuses extensively on China, because Russia and India are not serious challengers. Russia is becoming increasingly authoritarian nationalist, and initiating energy diplomacy. However, Andrew Krepinevich points out Russian oil and gas production is declining. Despite huge possession of nuclear weapons, its conventional forces are ill-equipped to project power globally. India is more willing to become a strategic partner to the United States rather than a challenger. On the other hand, China causes some critical concerns.

At present, China explores regional dominance. However, its defense spending increases rapidly as the economy grows. Quoting GDP forecast by Goldman Sachs in Chart 3, the Economist warns that China could overtake the United States by 2027. Apparently, China is ambitious of rivaling US military supremacy. It develops long range anti-ship missiles against US aircraft carriers, anti-satellite missiles, and so forth. Moreover, I would like to mention that the Chinese government conducts international press conferences in Chinese, instead of English.

Regarding soft power, the Economist comments that the United States could boast success in prevailing its open culture and liberal democracy for two years after toppling Saddam Hussein. American influence spread widely throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine was spectacular. However, instability in Iraq undermines American credibility. Multilateralism as shown in negotiations with North Korea and Iran can be one of the ways to manage this difficulty. But more importantly, I quote a comment by one senior marine, “Will America stay strong? Yes. But can it use its power? That's a different question.”

In my view, whether the United States can renew its leadership depends on its relations with allies. The media do not to mention misery that anti Iraq War leaders in Europe, such as Jacques Chirac, Dominique de Villepain, and Gerhard Schröder, failed to exert influence but simply damaged their relationship with America. The transatlantic rift is repairing. Just as it happened in the Iraq War, missile defense highlighted disagreements between the US-UK-New Europe Group and the Franco-German-Old Europe Group. But both groups reached an agreement to deploy anti-nuclear missile systems at NATO defense ministers meeting last time.

Transpacific relations seem more worrisome, and I feel it pity that the Economist does not mention Pacific allies, notably Japan and Australia. Currently, Japan is re-asserting its national identity, and more equal relationship with the United States. Recent outburst against Defense Minister Kyuma’s remark on atomic bomb illustrates deep-rooted sentiments among Japanese people: Americans should repent their wartime deeds as much as Japanese do. Right or wrong, I worry that failure to deal with this emotion might damage US-Japanese relations in the future.

In conclusion, I agree to the comment by Robert Kagan, Senior Associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “A superpower can lose a war—in Vietnam or in Iraq—without ceasing to be a superpower, so long as the American public continues to support American predominance, and so long as potential challengers inspire more fear than sympathy among their neighbors.” As shown in Chart 4, US defense spending is just 4% of its GDP. This is because Niall Ferguson, Professor of Harvard University, says the United States does not suffer from imperial overstretch.