The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Obama rejects senators’ new Japan plan for U.S. forces

President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan had a message today for three senators who want to rethink the plan to reorganize U.S. troop presence in Japan: Thanks, but no thanks. Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA), Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) called for an entirely new plan for basing U.S. troops in ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan had a message today for three senators who want to rethink the plan to reorganize U.S. troop presence in Japan: Thanks, but no thanks.

Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA), Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) called for an entirely new plan for basing U.S. troops in East Asia on May 11, arguing that the current plans were no longer feasible or cost effective. They proposed halting the realignment of U.S. troops in South Korea, scaling back the plan to drastically increase the U.S.  military presence on Guam, and changing the plan to relocate the controversial Futenma Air Base on Okinawa to a new facility elsewhere on the island.

President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan had a message today for three senators who want to rethink the plan to reorganize U.S. troop presence in Japan: Thanks, but no thanks.

Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA), Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) called for an entirely new plan for basing U.S. troops in East Asia on May 11, arguing that the current plans were no longer feasible or cost effective. They proposed halting the realignment of U.S. troops in South Korea, scaling back the plan to drastically increase the U.S.  military presence on Guam, and changing the plan to relocate the controversial Futenma Air Base on Okinawa to a new facility elsewhere on the island.

It’s the Futenma piece of the puzzle that is most problematic for the Japanese. The plan to relocate Futenma to Camp Schwab, in northeastern Okinawa, was originally proposed in 1996 and the details were agreed to in 2006. However, no progress has been made, because the Okinawan government objected strenuously to the idea. The Futenma issue even became a major irritant in the relationship between Obama and Kan’s predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama.

On Thursday, the three senators touted a new GAO report they said supports their contention that the current plan is unworkable. "DOD is transforming the facilities and infrastructure that support its posture in Asia without the benefit of comprehensive cost information or an analysis of alternatives that are essential to conducting affordability analysis," the report stated.

"The GAO report underscores our concerns," Levin said in a statement.  "Certain projects in Korea, Japan and Guam have gotten to the point that it is clearly in the best interests of our countries, and in the best interests of sustaining and furthering our strong alliances, to re-examine these plans and adjust them to fiscal, political and strategic realities."

But when it comes Futenma, Obama and Kan announced today after their meeting in France that they would stick to what the two countries have agreed to — period.

"The two leaders agreed that it’s important for Japan to continue its efforts to follow through on the agreement of last May to implement the realignment road map on Okinawa in order to ensure that the U.S.-Japan alliance and the basing arrangements are on a solid footing as we continue to work to enhance, revitalize and modernize our alliance," NSC Senior Director Dan Russel said after the meeting.

"The Okinawa issue is very challenging, but I hope Japan can make progress through cooperation with the United States," Kan said.

Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper reported that Obama echoed Kan’s remarks and said that, while he is aware of political difficulties over the base, he wants to improve the stability of the Japan-U.S. alliance over the medium- and long-term.

One administration official told The Cable that there’s just no appetite to reopen this can of worms, and there’s a lot of sensitivity inside the U.S. government about causing domestic political problems for Kan, who is struggling to keep power. Plus, the senators’ plan, which would relocate Futenma to a base called Kadena, is just as likely to be unpopular with the Okinawans, the official said.

Kan also accepted Obama’s offer for an "official" visit to Washington in September, but it’s unlikely that Kan will get a "state visit" with a "state dinner," as did Chinese President Hu Jintao.

"I think we have yet to work out the fine points of what it will entail as a practical matter, but that he would come for an official visit in his capacity as prime minister — not just a quick hop to Washington," Russel said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

More from Foreign Policy

The Pentagon is seen from the air over Washington, D.C., on Aug. 25, 2013.

The Pentagon’s Office Culture Is Stuck in 1968

The U.S. national security bureaucracy needs a severe upgrade.

The Azerbaijani army patrols the streets of Shusha on Sept. 25 under a sign that reads: "Dear Shusha, you are free. Dear Shusha, we are back. Dear Shusha, we will resurrect you. Shusha is ours."

From the Ruins of War, a Tourist Resort Emerges

Shusha was the key to the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Now Baku wants to turn the fabled fortress town into a resort.

Frances Pugh in 2019's Midsommar.

Scandinavia’s Horror Renaissance and the Global Appeal of ‘Fakelore’

“Midsommar” and “The Ritual” are steeped in Scandinavian folklore. Or are they?