Thursday, February 21, 2013

Listening to Abe

On Friday afternoon in the basement of CSIS, the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe will give a presentation (Webcast). He will have just come from lunch and talks with US President Barack Obama.

It will not the first time that Abe has given a speech in Washington. And it is likely he will deliver it in English. At the recent Davos conclave, he sent in an English-language message to the attendees. He observed that "democracy is on the wax among assin' nations."

Abe is again getting public relations advice from Tomohiko Taniguchi who was recently appointed Naikaku Shingikan (Cabinet Councillor) for Public Relations. In the first Abe Administration, Taniguchi was Deputy Press Secretary for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A former Nikkei reporter, Taniguchi has spent the last few years as an adviser to the head of JR Central Kasai and the company's magazine The Wedge. In 2006, Taniguchi gave a presentation on Abe's foreign policy at The Brookings Institution where he described Abe as "one of the most relaxed lawmakers, a very much approachable figure, thereby winning bi-partisan support."

Abe has spoken publicly a number of times in Washington: AEI (2004), Brookings (2005 and 2009), and Hudson (2010). At times he startles his audience with awkward references to American literature or values.

In 2004, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), he explained that Japan needed to change its Constitution and rid itself of the "mind control" imposed by the Americans.
Perhaps it was because of the trauma of defeat that postwar Japan looked upon its Constitution as an immutable code of laws. In this climate, the dominant sentiment was one that claimed that the Constitution should not be touched or changed in any way. In a sense, the whole nation was victim to a form of mind control. I believe that these tendencies must definitely be abolished.
Abe relaunched his political career at The Brookings Institution on April 17, 2009* with a speech entitled A New Era Requires a New Political Will.
Last time I gave a speech here was four years ago in 2005.  To end that speech, I quoted from Miles to Go, a book by Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  That quote went like this:  “Politics is almost always in some measure an argument about the future and persons claiming to be knowledgeable in this regard will almost always find an audience among politicians.”  For me, this quote means that you must have the courage to swallow bitter medicine if it is from someone really knowledgeable.  I am engaged in politics only to build a better future for Japan and for the world.

Most Americans would interpret that passage as a warning to be wary of those who claim to know the future as the only ones who believe them are politicians looking for a quick fix.

Still, he ended his speech identifying himself as a statesman, a topic that came up several times in his remarks.
In democracies, statesmen are a critical part of the system. They hear the vox populi, and do what ought to be  done, though it may be bitter, rather than easy to digest. Therefore, the strong wills of the statesmen count most. That is what I tell myself, every day when I wake up.
At the Hudson Institute in October 2010, Abe failed to understand that the founder of the Institute Herman Kahn was a proponent of thermo-nuclear warfare. He opened his luncheon speech by noting his “deep admiration for Dr. Herman Kahn, the founder of the Hudson Institute.” He said
The phrase that he coined, ‘thinking the unthinkable,’ has provided me much food for thought throughout my career as a member of the Diet. My own interpretation of the phrase 'thinking the unthinkable' is as follows: 'to provide hope for the future, based on a clear understanding of the past and an accurate perception of the present.'
The audience, which included Herman Kahn's daughter, wondered how the thought of surviving a thermal-nuclear war had provided Abe with “hope”?

*1996: Japan and the United States signed the “Joint Declaration of the Japan-US security”

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