March 8, 2010

Prime Minister Hatoyama Meets the Godfather

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the American-Japanese conflict over Okinawa. To review, the Japanese government wants the US military out of Okinawa. The presence of American troops has never been popular there, as locals have a long history of being victimized by GIs. The most well-known example of this occurred in 1995 when three American soldiers assaulted and gang-raped a twelve-year-old Japanese girl.

As Chalmers Johnson writes, “Other incidents of bodily harm, intimidation and death continue in Okinawa on an almost daily basis, including hit-and-run collisions between American troops and Okinawans on foot or on auto bikes, robberies and assaults, bar brawls and drunken and disorderly conduct.”

The long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) continually ignored the wishes of Okinawans and instead acquiesced to Washington’s demands. But last summer, Japanese voters kicked out the LDP and voted in the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which had campaigned that it would renegotiate a 2006 deal with the US and move US Marine Futenma Air Base out of Okinawa.

Now this shouldn’t been an issue. The people of Okinawa want us out. The government of Okinawa wants us out. And now the national government wants us out. So we should get out. It’s not like the Japanese want the Marines to vacate, say, Camp Pendleton in San Diego. They just want us out of Okinawa, and, given that it’s their country and all, I think we should oblige them.

But shortly after the DPJ came into power, spokesmen from the Pentagon and State Department made it clear that the US isn’t going anywhere. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates “reiterated his stance on the Futenma base issue, saying the current plan is the only one that can be achieved and it should be implemented as soon as possible under the current agreement.”

And now it looks like Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has backed down. As the New York Times reports, far from making demands, the Japanese government is now merely “proposing” that the Futenma base be “smaller and have a diminished impact on local residents and the environment.” Japanese officials, the Times continues, are currently attempting to “sound out whether the plan might be acceptable to the United States.”

Let me repeat that last sentence. Japanese officials are attempting to “sound out whether the plan [to keep but downsize the Futenma base in Okinawa] might be acceptable to the United States.” It’s clear that this plan isn’t acceptable to the Okinawans, but that doesn’t matter.

Because, as these newly-elected Japanese officials have come to realize, the United States is not an ally. The United States is not an equal in the community of nations. The United States is the Godfather, and you don’t fuck with the Godfather. It took Hatoyama and his boys a few months to get it. I imagine Don Obama made the prime minister an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Or perhaps the Godfather simply “reasoned” with Hatoyama, convincing him that all those Marines are there to protect Japan from North Korea. Of course, Japan is perfectly capable of defending itself from Kim Jong-il’s army. Japan has one of the strongest militaries in the world, and its annual defense budget is nine times larger than North Korea’s.

Anyway, I really had hope that the Okinawans were going to win this one. I suppose Avatar made me unrealistically optimistic. Stupid me, what was I thinking? We’re not the Sec-Ops and Okinawans aren’t the Na’vi. We’re Don Corleone and they’re Jack Woltz, you know, the movie producer who snubbed the Don’s nephew. And you remember what happened to Jack Woltz, don’t you?

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