Japan Must Back U.S. Strike

September 16th, 2002

The world has changed since 9/11. It is premature, however, to assess the change because it will change even more if Iraq is attacked. Sept. 11 has transformed public opinion in the United States, the de facto world dictator throughout the 20th century. America at the beginning of the 20th century was already the most powerful nation in the world in terms of resources, but it did not necessarily exercise effective global leadership because its foreign policy, particularly its public opinion, lacked consistency.

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was an imperialist who Japan could get along with; he winked at Japan’s annexation of Korea while America took over the Philippines. Not so President Woodrow Wilson, a proponent of racial self-determination. He argued that international disputes should be settled under the rule of law centering on the League of Nations. He caused the Anglo-Japanese alliancee to be scrapped, saying that maintaining a balance of power through alliances was a bad practice left over from the Old World.

However, America then retreated into isolationism, as Congress failed to ratify the League of Nations covenant. World War II forced America to assume the responsibility of keeping international order, but the Vietnam War again prompted it to retreat. In the late 20th century, America was ready to accept a halfhearted role in international peacekeeping on condition that its military suffered zero casualties.

But 9/11 seems to have metamorphosed U.S. public opinion. Internally, patriotism and camaraderie have become dominant trends; externally, positivism, or active interventionism, have become a leitmotif of U.S. foreign policy. How long this will last is anyone’s guess. But even if it lasts a long time, it won’t be a bad thing for the world.

The Roman Empire in its early history dispatched its own soldiers, not foreign mercenaries, as far as Britain to keep order on its frontiers. That was when Pax Romana prevailed, an age in which the world enjoyed exceptional peace and happiness. Now America seems poised to become a global empire.

President George W. Bush spoke of the “balance of power” soon after taking office–the first time in a century that a U.S. president had publicly uttered the word positively. Then Sept. 11 taught the U.S. that not even centers of American power were safe from attack unless America ruled far and wide. Thus America has entered a new age, or so it seems.

The question is what will happen if an attack on Iraq succeeds–that is, if a democratically oriented pro-American regime is established in Baghdad? No doubt such a development will have a tremendous impact on international politics. In particular, it will deal a political shock to the Palestinians, Iran and nations of the Persian Gulf, while tremendously increasing American prestige and freedom of action in the Middle East.

Elsewhere in the world, Russia’s tilt toward the U.S. will become even more firmly established. North Korea, faced with a seemingly unavoidable U.S. ultimatum, will be forced to make compromises. China will be more careful about challenging U.S. hegemony.

Conversely, if the attack fails, U.S. prestige will collapse, at least temporarily. As a result, the Middle East will return to the state of uncertain future prospects. Russia will lose its sense of direction; Western Europe and Japan will see a resurgence of anti-American leftist-oriented liberals; and China will again become arrogant.

Although truth is said to lie somewhere between two extremes, in the case of an Iraqi attack there is probably no middle ground. Therefore, the Bush administration has no choice but to strike Baghdad, and do everything in its power to ensure success. There seems to be at least a 70 to 80 percent chance of success.

What should Japan do? Given that an anti-Iraq operation is very likely to succeed, common sense tells us that betting on the winning side is in the national interest. Other nations around the world, for all their critical talk now, will eventually back the winning horse.

At present, Saudi Arabia and others are taking a noncooperative stance toward an anti-Iraq mission. But they must be well aware of the consequences of losing the bet. So it seems unlikely that they will perssist on this course for long For Japan, however, the question is not one of just winning or losing the bet. Ally America is reaching the point of no return in preparations aimed at making the mission a success. At such a crucial time, it is only natural that Japan support America as a friend.

Moreover, a successful anti-Iraq campaign will change the international situation in favor of Japan. For example, it will help improve Japan’s position vis-a-vis North Korea in the normalization talks. From this point of view, it also serves Japan’s interests to cooperate with America to ensure a successful operation. The world will likely enter a turbulent period in the next several months. What is important in such times is to keep sight of the big picture without being swayed by minor details. The ultimate objective of Japan’s foreign policy is to secure the safety and prosperity of its people. To that end, Japan has no choice but to maintain and strengthen its alliance with the U.S.

Certainly Japan has many domestic constraints in cooperating with the U.S. operation in Iraq. However, the Americans probably understand that Japan is barred at this stage from doing certain specific things. What is more important for Japan now is to leave no doubt about its political stance that it understands and supports U.S. policy as a solid ally.