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A silent revolution in Japan?
Tue, 09/01/2009 - 12:45pm
People like me have been spilling a lot of ink (and blogspace) over events in out-of-the-way places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and the like, and I'm not going to apologize for it. But I sometimes think this illustrates the tendency for humans to focus on what is urgent or vivid instead of what's important. People dying and things getting blown up rivet our attention, but sometimes the calm workings of a democratic process might be of greater long-term significance.
Consider the recent Japanese election. I'm far from being an expert on Japanese politics, but I do know there are good reasons to think that genuine reform will be as difficult to enact there as it is here in the United States. (Among other things, entrenched bureaucrats in powerful ministries will be hard to weaken or dislodge.) Nonetheless, if the defeat of the LDP and the emergence of the more populist Democratic Party of Japan leads to the emergence of a genuine two-party system, makes Japanese political institutions more accountable, and generally opens up a set of sclerotic policies, the impact could be far-reaching.
After all, Japan is still the world's second largest economy. Its military spending ranks fifth in the world. It has a highly educated populations and many advanced industries and scientific establishments (including the potential to get nuclear weapons very quickly if it wished). It is the location of several key U.S. military bases, and is bound to Washington by a long-standing security treaty.
All this means that if Japanese economic and foreign policy were to change significantly, the effects would be quite far-reaching. I'm not saying they will, but I am planning to spend a bit more time keeping an eye on events there.
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images
Stephen M. Walt | Permalink | | 2 comments
( filed under:
* Area studies | East Asia | Elections | International Relations | Japan
Wish I'd said that
Tue, 09/01/2009 - 12:29pm
Riffing on Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan nails it:
Late empires are known for several things: a self-obsessed, self-serving governing class, small over-reaching wars that bankrupt the Treasury, debt that balloons until retreat from global power becomes not a choice but a necessity, and a polity unable to address reasonably any of these questions -- or how the increasing corruption of the media enables them all.
Obama is, in some ways, a test-case.
He was elected on a clear platform of reform and change; and yet the only real achievement Washington has allowed him so far is a massive stimulus package to prevent a Second Great Depression (and even on that emergency measure, no Republicans would support him). On that he succeeded. But that wasn't reform; it was a crash landing after one of the worst administrations in America's history.
Real reform -- tackling health care costs and access, finding a way to head off massive changes in the world's climate, ending torture as the lynchpin of the war on terror, getting out of Iraq, preventing an Israeli-led Third World War in the Middle East, and reforming entitlements and defense spending to prevent 21st century America from becoming 17th Century Spain: these are being resisted by those who have power and do not want to relinquish it -- except to their own families and cronies.
Nepotism is part of the problem; media corruption is also part; the total uselessness of the Democratic party and the nihilism of the Republicans doesn't help. But something is rotten in America at this moment in time; and those of us who supported Obama to try and change this decay and decline should use this fall to get off our butts and fight for change."
Wish I'd said that. And it makes me wonder: would Obama agree with the above (meaning he is a reluctant prisoner of well-entrenched interests), or is he is part of the problem too?