Japan’s Declining Sympathy for U.S. Forces


Something is up in Asia. North Korea finally, overtly acknowledges it has nuclear warheads — and Japan announces it wants to cut what it spends supporting U.S. forces on its islands.
Japan apparently plans to tell the U.S. that intends to cut its omoiyari yosan (its so-called “sympathy budget,” meaning — as Chalmers Johnson once put it, “sympathy for the poor Americans who cannot afford their foreign policy”).
George Bush can’t seem to give a press conference without mentioning his buddy Prime Minister of Japan Junichiro Koizumi and the miracle of Japan’s democracy, but even that does not seem to be enough to keep the Japanese government from pulling back some of its support of America’s globally sprawling military superstructure.
Part of the truth is that the United States nearly always asks for an increase in the “sympathy budget” and Japan always seems to lobby Washington with its intentions that the amount will be decreased, since Japan seems to want to get permission from the White House that the decrease is ok. So much for Japanese sovereignty.
But there is something else more important going on. Unfortunately, I cannot attribute the following quote to the individual who said it because of the non-attribution rules of the Council on Foreign Relations. But let’s just say that this statement was made by a very senior international policy hand, way high up in Democratic circles. Gender makes the person a he. This person said:
Even the most ferocious neoconservatives today would admit that America’s Afghan and Iraq operations have pushed the nation to its military and economic limits.
He then went on to argue that there would be no way that we would trip into an Iran incursion because it was logistically impossible to do. I argued with him a bit on that as I see no evidence that the neocons have any sense at all of the constraints of the moment. I take that back, they did call for 25,000 more troops a year — but rephrased, I haven’t seen an acknowledgement by any neocons (other than Francis Fukuyama) that we are at the limits of our capacity and ought not to ride off to fight other wars right now.
The essential truth of the moment is that we are at our limits. And our friends will not count on America stretched as thin as we are. And our enemies will maximize their situations when we can do little about it.
Iran and North Korea know that America’s bark is loud but bite is probably pretty soft right now. And the Europeans are doing their best to take on a global strategic dilemma — their very first — without the U.S. in the lead.
And the Japanese want to spend more funds on their own forces, which they can count on, rather than America’s about which they have increasing doubts.
— Steve Clemons
P.S. — I wonder whether any American media will refer to these Japanese funds for U.S. forces by their correct name — the “sympathy budget”?