Editorial: Washington Exacts Its Price

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Clinton-Maehara Meeting

In old America, mafia bosses ruled their neighborhoods by offering "protection" in return for "favors." The last week has revealed that the US-Japan "alliance" functions in much the same manner.

Reports emerged today that the Inpex Corporation would be withdrawing from its final 10% share in Iran's massive Azadegan oil field, less than 24 hours after the first reports that Washington had made such a request.

Lest anyone make the mistake of believing that this was the independent decision of a private company, it should be noted that the largest shareholder in Inpex is the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

This was a very poor business decision. Inpex has been involved in Azadegan for over a decade and has invested more than 12.4 billion yen (about US$147 million) of its own money in a project that will now produce precisely nothing for the company. METI's energy strategy of having 40% of Japan's oil produced by domestic companies is now in shambles, and Tokyo's well-earned reputation as being unable to operate outside of the leash granted to it by Washington is strongly reinforced.

And all of these substantial Japanese losses for what? Fundamentally, only to appease their American allies who are deeply invested in an international anti-Iran campaign of dubious justification and utility.

So why is the Kan administration going along with a policy that doesn't serve Japanese interests in so many ways?

Here, we strongly suspect, we are seeing an aftereffect of the recent Japan-China clash over the Senkaku Islands.

In the final days before Tokyo released the Chinese trawler captain, the Obama administration offered clear support for the Japanese position. When Prime Minister Naoto Kan met US President Barack Obama on the 23rd, the headlines said that they "reaffirmed the importance of the US-Japan security alliance," without elaborating on what that might mean in practical terms.

Meanwhile, in the meeting the same day between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and new Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, Clinton confirmed that the United States would defend Japan in the event that a military conflict erupted over the Senkaku Islands. Maehara renewed his pledge to carry out the plan to build a new US Marine airbase at Henoko and, according to the State Department spokesman, "they talked about North Korea, they talked about Iran, talked about Afghanistan."

Although we don't know exactly what American and Japanese leaders have been saying in private about Iran, the broad strokes are perfectly visible: Washington wants Tokyo to cut as many of its links with Iran as possible and, step by step, the Japanese government is accepting these demands.

In this context, it is not too much of a stretch to assume that today's decision to pull out of Azadegan is part of the bargain (whether explicit or implicit) when Washington recently piped up and announced that it would "fulfill its alliance responsibilities" toward Japan, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates put it.

In other words, you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

Unless one believes that the United States always acts for the good and is never anything other than a fully responsible leader of the international community, then the degree of obedience that Tokyo shows to Washington ought to be cause for alarm.

How long can Japan pretend that its national interests are virtually identical to those of the United States? (Indeed, one may seriously doubt that Washington's anti-Iran campaign really serves overall US national interests either, but that's another story.) How can a nation describe itself as sovereign if it is so pathetically unwilling to make its own investigations and exercise its own judgment in vital matters of energy security?

Japanese rightists are wrong about most of they say, but on at least one point they are dead on the mark: Japan is a nation with a defeatist mentality that needs to stand up and believe in itself again.

The withdrawal from Azadegan is yet another symptom of a nation in decay.

PanOrient News

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