Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe so far has defied predictions of his imminent political demise. Refusing to take the traditional Japanese path and accept responsibility for his party’s crushing defeat in parliamentary elections last month, he has instead forged a new cabinet of the leading politicians in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). His bold tactic, however, may well make it even harder for him to govern, thus hastening the end of his premiership.
Abe’s party lost the last election due in no small part to scandals among his ministers. Today’s news brings word of yet two more resignations, these from a Cabinet not two weeks old. Abe’s tactic was to turn around his team and forge ahead on important domestic and foreign issues, but the opposition party will certainly push as hard as possible for early elections that would likely further weaken the LDP.
Most importantly, the presence of LDP heavyweights, including former foreign and defense ministers, has the potential both to dilute policy-making and neutralize Abe’s primacy. He will have to navigate among a group of experienced, equally ambitious leaders, who have been brought in precisely because Abe couldn’t deliver the first time around. Former Foreign Minister Taro Aso, moved from the Foreign Ministry to Secretary General of the LDP, has already made clear his intent to try to succeed Abe. The tendency toward lowest-common-denominator politics after the roller coaster years of Koizumi and the first Abe cabinet may naturally assert itself.
The summer trailers are about to end. This week, after several production delays, The Candidate, starring Fred Thompson, will open at a theater near you.
Senator Thompson faces stiff challenges, from a late entry to disappointing fund-raising figures to the fact that he has spent time recently outside the world of politics. The other candidates have been at this for a while now, honing their messages and building organizations. They are a debate-tested and impressive—if far from invincible—group. Thompson has almost no opportunity for a learning curve and very little margin for error. He’s got to be good, very good, right from the start.
At the same time, Senator Thompson has some advantages. At the start of the summer, he was considered one of four top-tier candidates; at the end of the summer, he’s one of three (McCain having dropped like a stone in the sea). Nationally, Thompson is running second to Giuliani and is doing well in some key early states.
Austria’s Chancellor, Alfred Gusenbauer, issued a stern warning to Iran while on a visit to Israel. According to the Associated Press, he said: “Iran must not only slow down its uranium enrichment activities, but stop it completely.” Gusenbauer continued, rather cryptically: “we have to track closely the sanctions on Iran, and even move beyond them.”
It’s not clear what “moving beyond sanctions” means, in practice. Austria’s energy giant, OMV, has just recently signed a deal with the Iranian government worth $18 billion. The deal is part of the Nabucco pipeline project, an ambitious attempt to diversify EU energy supplies—where Iran will supply the lion’s share. If all goes well, Iran’s gas fields will be linked all the way to Austria sometime early in the next decade. At which point, the meaning of “going beyond sanctions” will probably become clearer: letting business partnerships with Iran dictate European attitudes on the country’s nuclearization program.
Yesterday, North Korea, after talks with the United States in Geneva, said that Washington had decided to take it off the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Today, Washington denied that it had agreed to do so. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Washington’s chief negotiator in the six-party disarmament negotiations, stated: “Getting off the list will depend on further denuclearization.”
Hill must have misspoken. The State Department does not maintain a list of states possessing nuclear weapons, but of states that sponsor terrorism. Inclusion on the list depends, simply, on sponsorship or non-sponsorship of terrorism. There is evidence suggesting that North Korea should be on the list. But its possession of nukes should not be a factor.
Pyongyang wants to be taken off the list, and Washington obviously is using this matter as a bargaining chip in the long and agonized negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear programs. This may be smart diplomacy in the short run, but it’s a fundamental mistake nonetheless. Cynical maneuvering should not define our approach to diplomacy. Veteran diplomats may laugh at that statement, but maintaining our global reputation for fair dealing will eliminate many of the problems we face today—and make the remaining ones easier to solve.
Back in June, the Democratic-controlled Congress was reported by Aviation Week to be planning to cut funding for the Airborne Laser (ABL), an essential element in American efforts to develop a shield against missile attacks. I wrote at the time in Anti- Anti- Anti- Missile Defense that “if the U.S. or one of its allies falls victim to a nuclear-missile attack that we are unable to avert, it will be much too late for finger-pointing at the people responsible for delaying–or killing–our defensive capabilities. It is better to do the finger-pointing now.”
The good news now is that prudence has prevailed and the program continues fully funded.
The even better news is that on August 31 the Airborne Laser completed one of its most significant test to date. A Boeing-747 was rigged up with a low-power laser and used to detect, track, and then engage a target–in this case, another aircraft.
The Washington Post gave front-page play last week to a leaked version of a draft Government Accountability Office report, claiming “Report Finds Little Progress on Iraq Goals.” Bill Kristol has already pointed out some of the report’s flaws—namely that it measures whether the Iraqis have “completed” (as opposed to simply made progress on) many irrelevant “benchmarks” mandated by Congress in an attempt to embarrass the Bush administration.
But I was still left wondering about one part of the Post’s front-page piece: “While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced.” The Post article goes on about the GAO report: “While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged.”
How can it be, I wondered, that GAO claims that the level of violence in Iraq is unchanged when every observer who has returned recently from Iraq says otherwise? I put that question to a friend of mine, an officer currently serving in Baghdad. As he explains below in this email (see below the jump), the problem is that GAO is citing suspect statistics. The figures he presents—generated by the U.S. military using procedures that have remained consistent and are generally accepted throughout the U.S. government—paint a picture of impressive progress since the surge began. (I’ve added a few explanations of acronyms.)