TIME FOR JAPANESE MEDIA TO AWAKEN TO REAL THREATS FACING JAPAN
While the world around us ominously lurches from one unsettling incident to another, the nation’s media are still single-mindedly focused on the “Moritomo” scandal here at home. (Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie are alleged to have been involved in the discount sale of government-owned land to a school operator.)
As America slides further towards isolationism and gradually retreats from its global commitments, we are seeing an unprecedented movement toward exclusionary policies in areas around the world.
In the 15 months since Donald Trump took office, there have been a series of unexpected developments, leaving members of the international community more than a little unsure about America’s credibility in their wake. As a specific example, let us look at the latest Syrian situation.
On April 7, the Syrian city of Douma near Damascus was attacked by chemical weapons, killing at least 40 civilians. From the conditions of the victims, doctors immediately suspected the use of chlorine gas. Who other than Bashar al-Assad’s government would have launched so egregious an attack against its own people?
After a similar gas attack about this time last year, Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired into a Syrian base as a warning to Assad. What will Trump do this time around?
Four days before Assad launched his latest chemical attack, on April 3, Trump told a news conference that he wanted to withdraw US troops from Syria as early as possible. At present, 2,000 American troops, including special forces, are stationed there assisting Kurd forces. On the other hand, Russia and Iran support Assad while Turkey is allied with the anti-Assad forces.
The power relationships involving Syria are quite complicated, but Trump assumes the position that America has eliminated terrorist forces, including ISIS, and says he is eager to withdraw the US forces as soon as he can, allowing them to rejoin their families back home.
There is a problem, however. There are many within the administration and the Republican Party, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, who fear that Assad’s forces would easily dominate the Kurd forces if the US were to effectively forsake them now. But Trump is the one who in the end calls the shots. Let us now take a closer look at his “America first” doctrine.
Let’s Go Back to America Now
Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan is one of the original proponents of Trump’s “America First” policy. In his book Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2015? (Thomas Dunn Books; 2011), the ultimate isolationist stresses:
“In the new post-post Cold War world, America needs to look beyond the ideas and institutions of globalist ideology and start looking out again, as we should have done, two decades ago, for our own country and our own people first.”
Buchanan also asserts that America should wash its hands of external problems and “come home now.” One assumes this is what Trump is trying to implement in the Middle East.
America’s withdrawal would change the Syrian situation remarkably, leading to a significant structural change in the power relationships of the entire Middle East. However, from Trump’s perspective, “America foolishly wasted 7 trillion dollars in the Middle East in the last 17 years, but we’ve gotten nothing.”
Neither Trump nor Buchanan feels that America should be committed to helping democracy take root globally under the traditional American banner of good causes or expects it to be a force promoting values based on freedom and justice in support of the global community. When speaking of “my country first,” Trump’s calculus inevitably turns to money. Under such a doctrine, I think it important to realize what he treasures as the real gains and losses for America.
On the other hand, senior Republican senator John McCain had this to say about the Syrian situation: “President Trump should demonstrate that Assad will pay a price for his war crimes. “
McCain holds Trump accountable for allowing Assad to turn to reckless chemical attacks. He asserts that Trump’s open statement that he would withdraw American troops from Syria early has “emboldened” Syria and Russia, convincing them that America will be resigned to inaction.
McCain views the US as a superpower committed to protecting global freedom and democracy, but Trump nonchalantly talks about America pulling out of Syria and leaving it to “the other nations,” which presumably include Russia and Iran.
Russia will no doubt exercise enormous influence in the Middle East without the US. Even though the nations left to fall under Russia’s sway are not without interest to the US, one suspects that by leaving Syria to “the other nations” Trump means America does not consider them worth the sacrifice or investment necessary to protect them.
Buchanan has this to say about Russia: “In the coming decades, Russia is almost certain to lose land and people in the Caucasus and the Far East to China…There is nothing we can do about this…”
Albright’s Warning Against Rightwing Administrations
The world situation will undergo a sea change if America pursues isolationism further. Although the future prospects of the Korean Peninsula are difficult to predict, one must consider the possibility that Trump may decide to leave the peninsula to “another nation”—specifically China—if the threats to the US are eliminated with the possible removal of nuclear weapons and missiles from North Korea.
Of course, it is difficult to imagine an early pullout of US forces from the Korean Peninsula in light of the enormous merits the stationing of the US forces has to that region. But one would be wise to consider all possibilities at a time when the world situation is changing more rapidly than ever before.
Useful as a reference in this vein is a recent New York Times article by Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, titled “Will We Stop Trump Before It’s Too Late?” (April 6, 2018). She sternly warns against the rightwing administrations that are coming to the fore in various countries.
Believing that the US would be able to resolve the nuclear issue through talks with the North Koreans, Albright flew to Pyongyang towards the end of the Clinton administration in 2000 to prepare for a US-North Korea summit between Bill Clinton and Kim Jong-il. But her trip ended in failure.
A staunch democrat advocating liberal thinking, Albright pointed out in the article that “fascism—and the tendencies that lead toward fascism—poses a more serious threat now than at any time since the end of World War II.” Below is how she views this threat:
–In the Hungarian general election on April 8, populist president Viktor Orban and his political party “Fidesz-Hungary Civic Union” scored a landslide victory by setting up an anti-immigration policy and uncompromisingly denouncing the United Nations and the European Union (EU);
–East European nations that have joined the EU following the collapse of the Soviet Union, including Poland and the Czech Republic, are now expressing increasingly strong desires to break away from the union as they turn their backs on its immigration policy; and,
–The Philippines, Turkey, China, Russia, Venezuela, and African nations are all leaning towards autocratic dictatorships. Noting that rightwing political parties are coming to the forefront in Germany as well, Albright says she is deeply concerned about the future of democracy and globalism, wondering what the new world order will be like.
This I believe is the question that Albright is also asking us Japanese.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 799 in the April 19, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)