Koizumi's headache over token dispatch of SDF

Tuesday, November 02 2004 @ 10:26 AM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

As of writing, 11 p.m., November 2 JST, it's still anybody's guess whether or not the incumbent President, alleged by Michael Moore to have hijacked the White House four years ago, will be able to hold on to his post for four more years. So Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will have a sleepless night fretting about the final result.

On October 26 a militant group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi took hostage a Japanese backpacker by the name of Shosei Koda. Their message posted on a website demanded that Koizumi pull out in 48 hours his Self Defense Forces deployed in Samawah.

The PM's offhand answer to the demand was nothing but automatic and banal. We heard him use the same old rhetoric he'd borrowed from Bush: "We will never give in to the terrorists". But to him, never giving in to the terrorists is one thing and negotiating with them, most probably dangling a handsome amount of ransom, is another. That's why the Japanese government was once again looking desperately for a Muslim cleric who was willing to mediate. But unfortunately al-Zarqawi was not in the mood of striking a deal this time.

When the beheaded body of the 24-year-old backpacker was found abandoned on the roadside of Tikrit, Nobutaka Machimura, Koizumi's new appointee as the Foreign Minister, told reporters to the effect that this is totally unforgivable and that Japan has renewed its resolve to fight terrorism.

To be honest, however, the entire ordeal the 24-year-old, his bereaved family members and the Japanese government had to go through was as farcical as it was tragic. Some have already started to voice their critical views of Shohei Koda's reckless behavior. The victim of the beheading didn't go there for any specific purposes. According to the Daily Yomiuri, he had told one of his close friends it was going to be a "journey for self-discovery" immediately prior to his departure for Iraq by way of New Zealand and Jordan. I cannot but hope the young guy could eventually discover his self, albeit in the hardest possible way.

Likewise on the part of the Japanese government, no one has ever been able to make clear what on earth these plumbers, carpenters, doctors and electricians all disguised in khaki were doing there in the Samawah camp. Contrary to Machimura's empty rhetoric about fighting terrorists, it is only when Koizumi could fully convince the Japanese people Samawah was a "non-combat zone" that more than 600 SDF troops were dispatched there. At any rate it cannot be that these soldiers are fighting against anyone or anything.

Perhaps they are posted there to discover their selves just like the beheaded backpacker. Jiei-tai, or the SDF, has its origin in keisatsu yobi-tai, or the National Police Reserve, created by General Douglas MacArthur in 1950. Since then it had been renamed twice, in the course of immunizing the war-wary people, until it became a full-fledged armed forces with some 250,000 conventionally-armed personnel. Even today it's disguised as something else than the military in deference to war-renouncing Article 9 of the pacifist Constitution as well as the nagging East Asian countries, especially China. So it was as bright an idea for the SDF, as for the reckless backpacker, to go on a journey for self-discovery.

By December 14 Koizumi has to take a big decision on whether to extend the SDF mission in Iraq. The growing likelihood that the Dutch contingent will not stay on there beyond next spring means the Japan's toothless army might have to be exposed to the insurgents and terrorists unprotected. That has already been a Koizumi's headache.

On top of that Koizumi has now learned at long last that the SDF personnel, who cannot even defend themselves from possible attacks by insurgents and terrorists, won't be able to protect their compatriots such as Koda, let alone help Iraqi citizens reconstruct their war- and terror-torn nation at the height of social turbulence.

Tonight he must be having a sleepless night perhaps praying for John Kerry's victory. If Kerry wins, Koizumi will most probably opt for the pullout because since the very onset the SDF has been deployed in Iraq just as a token of the Bush-Koizumi alliance.

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