Yukio, we hardly knew ye
Should Americans feel sorry for Yukio Hatoyama? After just eight lousy months on the job, Japan’s prime minister has resigned, joining the ranks of such ignominious predecessors as Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda, and Taro Aso, all of whom similarly stepped down after less than a year in office. Hatoyama’s resignation follows a string of spectacularly ...
Should Americans feel sorry for Yukio Hatoyama?
After just eight lousy months on the job, Japan’s prime minister has resigned, joining the ranks of such ignominious predecessors as Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda, and Taro Aso, all of whom similarly stepped down after less than a year in office.
Hatoyama’s resignation follows a string of spectacularly bad political moves, most notably his months-long dithering over the fate of a hugely controversial plan to relocate a U.S. Marine air base within Okinawa … followed by a sudden announcement last month that he would go along with the 2006 agreement between the United States and Japan after all.
As Japan expert Tobias Harris puts it, "In the nine months since he took office, he has failed as a manager of his cabinet, as the head of the DPJ, and as the leader of his country. Unable to make up his mind, he groped from blunder to blunder, before finally making a controversial decision on Futenma without doing any of the work to convince a skeptical public of its merits." Ouch.
U.S. officials likely won’t be shedding any tears. Al Kamen, the consummate Washington insider, channeled the view of many in a biting April column when he described Hatoyama as "loopy" — prompting a rather sad protest from the Japanese cabinet secretary (and a failed attempt at self-deprecating humor by the PM himself).
Still, one has to wonder at the treatment of a major U.S. ally. Not only was there continual anonymous sniping at Hatoyama in the press, but President Obama himself notably snubbed Japan during the April nuclear security summit — denying the prime minister a bilateral meeting in favor of the likes of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, and South Africa.
Then there was Defense Secretary Bob Gates’s October trip to Tokyo, when he exhibited zero flexibility on the Futenma issue, or even any willingness to offer Hatoyama any political cover. "They’re really, as far as we’re concerned, are no alternatives to the arrangement that was negotiated," he told reporters on the plane ride from Haiwaii. The Japanese media savaged Gates, who showed little patience with Hatoyama’s loose talk of reconsidering the strategic paradigm in Asia.
I understand why U.S. diplomats weren’t enthused about Hatoyama. He was clearly not ready for prime time. But long after he’s been forgotten, I imagine many in Japan will still resent their country being treated like a colony of the United States.