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Listen, Mr. Cheney

Instead of snubbing critics while in Japan, he should seek out their views on Iraq.

February 20, 2007|Philip J. Cunningham | PHILIP J. CUNNINGHAM is a professor in the social studies department at Doshisha University in Kyoto.

WHEN Shinzo Abe meets Dick Cheney in Japan this week, a special kind of chemistry will be in effect. The hawkish Japanese prime minister and the bellicose U.S. vice president, self-described friends, have more in common than declining poll numbers. They both have war on their minds.

What we have on the one side is Abe, a historical revisionist, glorifying the losers of the last world war to reshape the past. On the other side you have Cheney, a hard-line unilateralist who has been one of the biggest planners and defenders of the American-led war in Iraq.

Cheney is visiting Japan this week, according to the White House, to thank officials there for "their efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan." Japan has sent noncombat troops to Iraq and has supplied logistical support in Afghanistan. But even as backing for the Iraq war continues to slip at home, Cheney will arrive in a Japan roiled by its own debate about rising militarism.

The latest example came when Japanese Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma suggested last month that the war in Iraq was a mistake. He was criticized roundly by Abe's people. Now, apparently as a punishment, the Bush administration asked Japan not to schedule a meeting between Cheney and Kyuma during this week's visit.

Thus, Cheney will snub the defense chief, the very person he would be expected to talk to in a visit focusing on defense and security issues. The message seems to be: Friends don't criticize friends. Japan, historically the bully of Asia, instinctively understands such threatening behavior.

There was no rational reason for Japan to get entangled in Iraq, and there's even less reason to become involved in Iran. However, Cheney appears bent on whipping up support for a reluctant Japan to continue to follow the Bush administration's lead in the war-torn Mideast. In refusing to meet with the defense minister, Cheney seems to be saying, in effect, that a silent nod to the wise is sufficient.

But the Japanese can say no, and why shouldn't they? What does the long-term Japan-U.S. relationship get out of this temporary subservience? Is it really in the interest of the Japanese people to bind their fate to the declining fortunes of the Bush-Cheney team?

Or might this be a good time, as opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa belatedly suggested a few weeks ago, to point out the obvious folly of U.S. ways, as a friend would, helping a friend?

Japan has yet to finish apologizing for the mess it made the last time it went to war, so why drag it into a new one?

The U.S. occupation of post-World War II Japan, with the attendant promulgation of a unique "peace constitution," was designed to make a former warrior nation allergic to war, and it largely succeeded. It is not only Japan's neighbors who get upset when Japanese pols visit the Yasukuni war shrine, which honors Japanese war criminals among the war dead; in fact, more than half of those polled in Japan are against such visits as well. From time to time, veteran U.S. voices, such as former Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), remind us that official visits to a shrine that makes a mockery of such events as Pearl Harbor and Nanjing do not serve U.S.-Japan interests either.

Likewise, Japan should listen carefully to what other American statesmen are saying about Tokyo's whitewash of critical history questions. A motion by Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) calling for an apology on the oft-denied issue of Imperial Japan's "sex slaves" and other wartime injustices is not anti-Japan bullying but a nudge, from a friend to a friend, saying we need to agree on basic facts for the relationship to go forward.

The widespread Japanese commitment to peace, after the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, extends to an understandable abhorrence of nuclear weapons. Yet military analysts say that U.S. ships armed with nuclear weapons routinely pull into Japanese ports such as Yokosuka and Okinawa -- making a sham of Japan's "three nonnuclear principles" (not possessing, producing or permitting nuclear weapons into the country).

Cheney is scheduled to have a photo-op aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk during his visit -- an insensitive move that might well come to be regretted as a "mission accomplished" moment for the vice president. Tokyo's flamboyant mayor, Shintaro Ishihara, has already primed the public by asserting -- without apparent evidence -- that the Kitty Hawk is nuclear-equipped.

Instead of posing on the carrier, Cheney should take the time to hear what Kyuma and other Japanese critics of the Iraq war have to say.

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