Spain's Electorate Pose Important Question for Japan
John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM; Japan Fellow, Stanford University)
The Socialist's victory in Spain on Sunday and its long held pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq has forced supporters and members of the Bush administration to scramble franticly in order to prevent its coalition in Iraq from collapsing. The strategy taken by the U.S. government has been to discredit Spanish electoral results as a reactionary decision taken by a Spanish public that was shocked and deterred by the tragic terrorist attacks of 3/11. The main warning U.S. officials are giving to its allies has been to criticize Spain's support for Prime Minister elect Rodriguez Zapatero's promise to withdraw troops from Iraq by claiming that it is sending the wrong message to terrorists. That message being that democracies are weak in the face of terror.
When asked the question of whether U.S. voters would react similarly in the event of a massive attack days before an election, government representatives and media commentators were quick to reject any such notion. They characterized the outcome in Spain as equivalent to bowing to the demands of terrorists. U.S. administration officials widely supported the suggestion made by the March 17 editorial in Florida's St. Petersburg Times that Spain was making a "grave mistake by changing course"in Iraq.
Japanese government representatives have been quick to reassure the United States that it will remain in the coalition by stating that its basic position to "assist Iraq for its stability and reconstruction will not be swayed"by the outcome of the Spanish election (AFX News, March 16). Prime Minister Koizumi has tried to calm fears in Japan that his country is in danger of being targeted by insisting that al-Qaeda has yet to be definitively linked to the attacks in Madrid and by trying to differentiate between Japan's "humanitarian"role in Iraq from Spain's law enforcing activities. Yoriko Kawaguchi, Japan's foreign minister, has rather pathetically made the point that Japan has been "acting independently"from the U.S. with regard to Iraq, which most recognize is not true.
The Japanese government will likely have no success convincing its population with these arguments. Al-Qaeda has already issued threats against Japan and despite experience with terrorism on the train, Japan remains extremely vulnerable to attack, particularly on its commuter trains and in its train stations. Although Japanese authorities responsible for security have announced that they have stepped up their activity level, making sure that a public place like Tokyo's Shinjuku station where 3.5 million people pass every day remains safe is an extremely demanding task. As to whether or not terrorists will differentiate between Japan and countries such as Spain based on humanitarian versus law enforcement activities is concerned, al-Qaeda's specific threat issued to Japan after it supported the U.S. led invasion and pledged troops to Iraq makes clear that there is no distinction. Japan's provision of a large amount of aid to the U.S. led occupation also annuls this distinction.
If Japan's military and financial contribution to Iraq is part of the "war on terror”, the question that Japanese need to ask themselves is whether or not their involvement in Iraq will help combat terrorism and make the world a safer place. The answer, as I see it, is no. Iraq never should have been part of the "war on terror”. Ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were non-existent. The tremendous allocation of manpower and resources to the occupation has also made Iraq a drain on the fight against terrorism. It has shifted the focus away from places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan and in the process has created another breeding ground for anger and resistance.
Voters in Spain asked themselves this question before they went to the poles on Sunday and the answer was that Spain's contribution to the occupation of Iraq is not serving to contain international terrorism. They rejected prime minister Aznar's policy of aligning with Bush because they felt Bush's approach to the battle against terrorism was ineffective and wrong. Instead of eliminating terrorism, Bush's policies have proliferated it. Furthermore, that no weapons of mass destruction have been found added to Aznar's list of lies, which he repeated in the face of massive opposition.
The March 17th editorial to the Asahi Shimbun put Spain's decision in proper context. "The Spanish people have neither succumbed to terrorists nor refused to fight against them. All they have done is question whether outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar embarked on the right course to defeat terrorism. Their decision to unseat Aznar's conservative government should be seen as a manifestation of their doubts and criticism of Aznar's policy."(Asahi, "Change in Spain”, March 17)
As Japan prepares to send the remaining contingent of troops to Iraq, its government and people should reflect on the same question. Considering the mounting death toll, both inside and outside of Iraq as a result of terrorism, the answer reached by the Japanese populace will likely be the same as that arrived in Spain. The next step will be to join Spain, France and Germany in promoting an effective alternative to combating terror, something Bush has obviously failed to deliver.