Japanese Commitment to Iraq Unnoticed in the US
John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM; Japan Fellow, Stanford University)
Here in the United States, Iraq dominates every media outlet. In any given newspaper, a minimum of two full pages is dedicated to the situation in Iraq leaving precious little space for other world news. Over the past two weeks for example, news on Japan has only appeared in article form less than five times in papers such as the New York Times and Washington Post. In major regional papers, such as the San Francisco Chronicle, Japan is hardly written about. The issues that were taken up on Japan during this time period have been limited to accounts of what the New York Times has described as "the three-day sex romp at a luxury hotel in the southern city of Zhuhai". Other than that, there were a few brief artilces on the earthquake in Hokkaido and the state of Japan's economy.
Despite Prime Minister Koizumi's concerted attempts to raise the Japanese flag in Iraq by pledging military assistance, his efforts are hardly being noticed here in the US. Apart from a few officials in the State Department and the White House, the majority are oblivious to the sacrifice Japan is willing to make and have no idea about the historical significance a SDF dispatch to Iraq would have. While Koizumi may only be concerned about catching the attention of the powerful Republican elite, developments in Iraq are making the campaign increasingly unpopular at all levels of society and significantly, Bush' fate seems inextricably tied to the situation in Iraq, both through American deaths and casualties and the tremendous economic burden that the war is placing on the US economy.
Over the past two weeks, the $87 billion budget for reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan has claimed the headlines. Now there is talk of giving Iraq a $20.3 billion dollar grant. Proponents of the grant, argue that it would be unethical to burden a war-torn country such as Iraq with more debt. Although Bush's proposed budget is likely to be passed by Congress, reaction on the street and in the news media has been overwhelmingly negative. Most question why American tax-payer money should go to fund public-works projects in Iraq when many such programs in the US are heavily under funded.
Simultaneously, papers such as the New York Times continue to print news items that document White House 'insiders' getting rich as a result of the invasion of Iraq. In addition to the $500 million dollar contract handed out to Kellogg, Brown & Root (a subsidiary of Haliburton, formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney) without competitive bidding, new consulting firms selling their ties to the White House and the Pentagon are popping up on a daily basis. The latest is called New Bridge Strategies (www.newbridgestrategies.com). This firm is headed by Joe M. Allbaugh who was George W. Bush's presidential campaign manager in 2000 and director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency until March (appointed by Bush). This Texan was also Bush JR's chief of staff while he was Governor of Texas. The company's Vice President, Edward M. Rogers Jr., is equally well linked to the Republican elite. He is Vice Chairman of Barbour Griffith & Rogers, one of the best connected Republican lobbying firms in the capital according to the New York Times. Others include John Howland (New Bridge Strategies President), who no doubt stands to profit handsomely from investments in Iraq as the former President of American Rice, once a major exporter to Iraq.
The message received by most voters in America is that the administration is draining tax-payer money to lavish his friends with riches. In the meantime, the war has become exponentially costly in both human and financial terms.
According to President Bush and the likes of Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage, this is where Japan fits in. Lets face it, the 1,000 or so SDF troops in Iraq will not make much of a physical or material difference. Only a hefty financial pledge by Japan at the October 23 Iraqi donors conference in Madrid will make a difference. If Koizumi expects to reap rewards from Japan's contribution and get noticed, he needs to promise something close to the $14 billion given by Japan in the 1991 Gulf War. The problem with this is that Japan cannot afford to give that much money.
Three months from now, after the SDF has spent some time in Iraq, Koizumi will likely find himself having to deal with a situation where Japanese forces are facing armed resistance in Iraq (potentially leading to Japanese casualties and deaths), mounting fiscal pressures as a result of inflating Iraqi "reconstruction" figures, an unhappy populace and an American administration and public ignorant of and eventually unsatisfied with Japan's level of contribution to the US mission in Iraq. Prime Minister Koizumi and supporters of Japan's involvement in Iraq cite recognition by the US as the prime motive behind Japan's military, political and economic pledge to cooperate in Iraq. The irony is that, after making an unprecedented contribution, Japan could go unnoticed. Worse yet, additional strains will be placed on the economy and Japanese casualties may result. Furthermore, considering the fact that Iraq is a net importer of oil today, promises that Iraq will emerge as a stable source of oil, are unlikely to be fulfilled within the next year or two. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to see what Koizumi and Japan could gain from joining the US led campaign in Iraq as it is. Instead, Japan would be well served if it pushed to strengthen the international presence in the country led by the United Nations and worked to restore Iraqi sovereignty at the earliest date. Unfortunately, the tide seems to be headed in the opposite direction.