Saturday, January 13, 2007

Dick's Turning Japanese

Ironic that I just music blogged this song for next week, but I noticed this story in Reuters this morning and couldn't resist a "foreplay":
OKYO (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney may visit Japan for talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, possibly as early as next month, a Japanese daily reported on Saturday.

Quoting U.S and Japanese diplomatic sources, the Asahi Shimbun daily said that Cheney would visit Japan to explain Washington's plan to send an additional 21,000 troops to Iraq.

[...]Abe told Bush in a phone call earlier this week that he strongly expected U.S. efforts to stabilize and rebuild Iraq would proceed in an effective manner and bring about good results, according to a statement.
You'd be correct to ask, "Why Japan? Why do they care? Are they even IN Iraq?"

Yes, they are...about 600 humanitarian workers sent by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. And even those aide workers are causing a deep divide in Japanese public opinion:
And Japan has not “re-upped” yet, though news reports Friday said the Japanese government was considering extending a special law that authorizes the deployment of its 600-member humanitarian mission for another year.

Japan’s military involvement has been unpopular with the public. Some say it violates the nation’s pacifist constitution and makes Japan a terrorist target.

“I feel like it’s going to go in the same direction as the Vietnam War,” said Yoshikazu Nagashima, 57, who runs a trading company in Tokyo. “Japan should withdraw from Iraq. There is no benefit in staying.”
The Coalition of the Bribed Willing is falling apart quite rapidly, in fact:
The Italians have left, and the Slovaks are about to. Britons want to start getting out, and so do Danes and South Koreans.[...]

In the months after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the multinational force peaked at about 300,000 soldiers from 38 countries — 250,000 from the United States, about 40,000 from Britain, and the rest ranging from 2,000 Australians to 70 Albanians.[...]

Italy, once the third-largest partner with 3,000 troops in southern Iraq, brought the last of its soldiers home last month.
Now Britain, America’s chief ally, hopes to cut its 7,000-member force in the southern city of Basra by several thousand in the first half of the year. Prime Minister Tony Blair is preparing to announce a withdrawal of about 2,600 soldiers, the Financial Times reported Friday.[...]

South Korea, the current No. three contributor, plans to halve its 2,300-member contingent in the northern city of Irbil by April, and is under pressure from parliament to devise a plan for a complete withdrawal by year’s end.[...]

Although Britain welcomed Bush’s announcement that more U.S. troops would be deployed, it has ruled out sending in any additional forces. Australia, with 1,300 troops in and around Iraq, also is “unlikely” to chip in more, Prime Minister John Howard said this week.

Poland has extended the mission of its 900 troops through the end of 2007. But most of the other coalition members that have extended their commitments are small, mostly symbolic contributors. They include the Czech Republic, which has 100 military police in Iraq; Armenia, with 46 peacekeepers under Polish command, and the 40 Estonian infantry serving with U.S. forces in Baghdad.

Latvia also has agreed to keep its 120 infantry in Iraq until year’s end, and Lithuania has hinted it may extend into 2008.

In Romania, however, continued involvement has touched off a bitter squabble between Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu, who wants the 860 troops home, and staunchly pro-U.S. President Traian Basescu, who refuses to cut and run.

Denmark is also trying to scale back its 470-troop contingent serving near the southern city of Basra. Six Danish soldiers have been killed since the 2003 deployment, and recent surveys show six in 10 Danes want out of Iraq.

Ordinary citizens in Slovakia, which is bringing home its 103 soldiers early next month, know the feeling.

“It’s an American war, and we have nothing to do with it,” said Mikulas Krkolak, a bartender in Bratislava, summing up the souring mood in many coalition countries.
Uh oh. So basically it will be us, some shires of England, and the Republic of Palau...

So given that, what's the focus on Japan? Why is Cheney taking great pains to visit there, and not Australia, which has committed far more troops, or Romania, or Denmark?

I'm going to take an educated guess by tying in one other piece of information to this story: on January 7, the Treasury department held its most recent T-bill auction and was forced to raise short-term interest rates on them in order to attract enough bidders to finance the deficit.

Japan is the second largest buyer of American debt. Granted, they'd be fairly happy getting a better return on their investment, but this also signals that America is perceived as substantially weaker because of its involvement in the war, particularly as it becomes more and more drawn out.

Why aren't you reading more about this? Mostly because the war is being funded "off the books", so to speak. Bush has been waging this war thru a series of "emergency supplemental appropriations," which don't get counted against the deficit, believe it or not. So when a Republican tells you the deficit is down, remind him that most of the costs of Iraq, something along the lines of $500 billion dollars, have not been included.

And yet, it is money that we owe. To Japan. And England. And China. And Saudi Arabia. And many other countries.

It seems that the Democrats have decided to dig in their heels, finally:
Democrats in Congress plan to crank up pressure on President Bush by voting this month on a resolution opposing his plan to send 21,500 more troops into Iraq and following up quickly with efforts to pass tough restrictions on future war funding.

Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., an influential member of the Appropriations Committee and top ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, warned Friday that he might seek to close the controversial U.S. prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba as a condition of approving more money for the war.

"If he wants to veto the bill, he won't have any money" for the war, Murtha said at a forum of anti-war Democrats.[...]

(House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi, D-San Francisco, is under pressure from her party's most liberal members to cut off all funding for the war unless the money is tied to a withdrawal of U.S. forces. For now, the speaker is opting for a more cautious strategy of first pushing a nonbinding resolution that would serve as a rebuke of Bush's planned increase in the number of troops.
Even if they tie it up for a while, Cheney's trip to Japan becomes all the more clear.

He's there to ask Japan to fund the war effort, at least until they can break Congress.

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