Editorial: Yukio Hatoyama, R.I.P.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Today is the day the Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama betrayed his last remaining supporters.

Meeting in Okinawa with Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, the prime minister announced that it would be "impossible" to move most of the functions of the US Marine base at Futenma off the island of Okinawa.

During last year's election campaign, he had pledged to move the Marines out, and DPJ candidates swept the elections on that policy platform. Hatoyama's lame apologies are not likely to go very far in assuaging opinion in Japan's southernmost prefecture for what can only be described as a betrayal of the public trust.

A recent Okinawa Times poll indicated that almost 90% of the Okinawan public wants the US Marines off their island. Public opinion doesn't get much clearer than that.

It would seem, however, that the Pentagon's opinion is ranked higher than the Japanese people's opinion -- at least according to the leading policymakers in Tokyo.

By no means is the matter of the US bases settled, as the months ahead will clearly reveal.

For Hatoyama, however, the end will come much sooner.

Rarely does a national leader come along with poorer political instincts than those evidenced by Mr. Hatoyama. He seems to completely lack genuine leadership skills or even the basic ability to anticipate responses to his words and actions.

We were among those who wished him well at the outset and wanted to see him succeed. After decades of stale one-party rule, the sweeping victory of the DPJ was a breath of fresh air, and a real opportunity for major change.

The hostility to change evidenced by Washington and the Japanese conservatives does them no credit, but it was, in the course of things, entirely to be expected.

Hatoyama, however, never seemed to grasp that point. He apparently expected that US policymakers would simply embrace him and trust in his goodwill, and that they wouldn't fight to preserve their dominance over Japanese diplomatic and security policy.

Hatoyama was never Washington's man, and he should have understood that many of the old alliance managers were only too eager to stick a knife in him. There is little that the DPJ could have done -- short of jettisoning all pretenses to an independent foreign policy -- that would have satisfied the DC crowd.

On the other hand, the landslide victory of the DPJ last August was indeed a mandate for change, and Hatoyama initially had all the resources he needed in order to overcome the conservative resistance both at home and abroad.

We cannot, therefore, lay the main responsibility for the failure of the Hatoyama administration at the feet of the US government so much as in the utter incapacity of the prime minister himself.

He has shown himself to be entirely unequal to the task before him.

Today's reversal on the relocation of the Futenma airbase within Okinawa is the last straw. Which constituency now supports the prime minister? Who trusts Hatoyama to fight for their interests?

Having betrayed the Japanese left, having always been hated by the Japanese right, and having made an awful public spectacle of indecisiveness for months, Yukio Hatoyama now has nowhere to turn -- except into retirement.

And may he rest in peace.

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