Wednesday, March 10, 2010

That Dog Does Not Hunt

Many thanks to Martha Duenas for forwarding me this interview with Richard P. Lawless, former deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Defense in charge of Asia-Pacific affairs. Anyone who doubts the seriousness of Japan's reluctance to agree to move the Futenma base from Okinawa should really read this article.

"This is not about a Marine air base," says Lawless, "it's about the United States' ability to sustain a critical military presence in Japan."

The interviewer astutely points out to Lawless at one point in the interview that he appears to be more hard-line than the Obama administration... to which Lawless responds "My views are my own, but they are informed by eight years of determined work trying to make the alliance better and sustainable. My comments are further informed by active dialogue with senior serving U.S. officials... Frustration with Japan is broad and deep."

"On the flexibility of the Obama administration," he goes on to say, "the suggestion here seems to be that the U.S. must now find a way to compromise on this issue to accommodate Japanese domestic politics, and that once flexible, we will be on our way to a better alliance relationship. As we say back in Illinois, 'That dog does not hunt.'"

In reading this interview, and other coverage of the US-Japan alliance, I am continually struck by how the fundamental premise always seems to be fear - one of the basest and least constructive of human emotions.

"Is there any evidence that the reduction of our capabilities in Japan and the weakening of the alliance, which will happen, in any way increases security for Japan?" asks Lawless. "The actual result will be different. It will embolden China. And it will embolden any country, such as North Korea, that wants to pick a fight or do something negative related to Japan."

In other words - if we don't flex our muscles, spend a staggering amount of money on weapons we can't afford, and destroy an irreplaceable coral reef and entire species in order to have some runways for our military aircraft, someone else might do something bad to our 'friends' in Japan. (Who, by the way, are trying to politely say they'd like us to leave.) Something about this just doesn't add up. And it isn't just the US federal deficit I'm thinking about.

Clearly, simply shutting down the base and leaving is not enough. We have to do something - maybe even spend a tiny fraction of the $6 billion earmarked for the Okinawa move - to build trust and peace in the region. But agreeing to simply shut down the base sounds, to me, like a really good start.

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