Tokyo: Out of the ‘Baby Pool’?
Japan has answered Bush’s call for help…
The Israeli prime minister is sprucing up for his meetings with Bush, but those on the ground don’t see real change.
Our Men in Business Casual
Rumsfeld’s push to privatize the armed forces could be more expensive for taxpayers and more dangerous for our troops.
Tokyo: Out of the Baby Pool?
Ending nearly a half a century of pacifism, Japan responded to Washington’s call for help on Saturday by passing a special measure to overlook Tokyo’s war-renouncing Constitution. Japan’s Parliament passed a bill calling for the deployment of Japan’s military, the Self Defense Force, to Iraq on a peacekeeping mission to aid in reconstruction of the war-ravaged country. As a result of the bill, nearly 1000 Japanese troops may be sent to Iraq as early as November and a reconnaissance mission may even be ready to leave for Iraq next month. The special measures bill was being pushed by Prime Minister Junichor Koizumi, of the dominant Liberal Democratic Party. The new law, which critics say runs counter to Japan’s Constitution, passed — but not without a fight.
The new piece of legislation passed by parliament marks the first time in Japan’s history since World War II that Japan will deploy troops to a foreign country sans a UN mandate.
Japan’s decision to push the bill was heavily influenced by pressure from the U.S. and by Tokyo’s desire to to stop “splashing about in the international arena’s baby pool”, writes Japanese weekly newspaper Asahi Shimbun:
“Japan considered two alternatives to allow the SDF to support efforts of U.S. and British troops in Iraq to eliminate the last vestiges of the Baathist regime and help reconstruction.
One choice was to wait for a request from an international organization to allow the SDF to offer humanitarian assistance under the U.N. peacekeeping operations law. Instead, they took the other route and opted to push through a new special measures law, a decision heavily influenced by a U.S. desire to see Japanese ‘boots on the ground.'”
Opposition lawmakers fought tooth and nail on Saturday to delay the bill which they claim pushes Japan towards a state of remilitarization. The dizzying 11-hour filibuster included various censure motions, a no-confidence vote against the Prime Minister, and an “ox-walk” (meaning a tactic where Japanese politicians walk extremely slowly towards the ballot box). None of the tactics were successful and the opposition, in a final attempt to block the new law, got desperate. The New York Times’ Eric Schmitt reports:
“Yelling and scrambling opposition lawmakers surrounded the committee chairman dealing with the Iraq motion but were unable to stop the passage of the bill by the committee and a later plenary session.”
After the Parliament’s vote, Prime Minister Koizumi, who backed the US-led invasion of Iraq, said, “This law will benefit Japan in the long run.” Koizumi also insists that the SDF will only carry out non-combat activities like supplying water, transportation, and rebuilding infrastructures. These non-combat activities, he claims, will only be executed in “safe areas.”
But the opposition isn’t buying it. They argue that the bill clearly violates Japan’s Constitution created in 1947. Under article nine of its constitution, Japan rejects the use of force to settle international disputes. The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts notes that as US casualties escalate, the majority of Japanese don’t want to send troops to Iraq. But Koizumi desperately wants to be an active US ally, even if that means sweeping article nine under the rug:
“Polls suggest that the deployment is opposed by more than half of the Japanese public. Support has eroded as US casualty figures have grown. Newspapers carry anxious front-page reports about the continued attacks and deaths in Iraq.
But Mr Koizumi and his predecessors have steadily eroded the significance of this document [the post-World War II Constitution] to allow the SDF to serve as a more active ally to the US.
In recognition of increased risks in Iraq, the government has raised the compensation for soldiers killed in action from 70m yen (£365,00) to 100m yen.”
Critics also argue that there is no way to deploy troops in “safe areas” because there are virtually no areas in Iraq that are free from risk. Counter Punch’s Gary Leupp quotes a lawmaker who claims that it’s impossible to tell what is safe and what is not:
“Okada Katsuya, senior legislator in the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), calls the bill ‘reckless.’ ‘With no way to distinguish combat zones from noncombat zones, there is every possibility the Self-Defense Force will end up in the fighting in violation of the constitution.’ But maybe that’s the whole point.”
Leupp repeats that the primary question for Tokyo is whether it will risk its pacifist status:
“The question is, will the new Japanese militarists, with appreciative support from the neocons, successfully capitalize on the new world disorder produced by Bushite unilateralism and preemptive imperialism to chuck MacArthur’s no-war constitution so warmly embraced by the Japanese left, and instead build momentum to a constitutional amendment clearly validating the Japanese military? Or will the Japanese people recognize that unquestioning support of the dominant imperialist power, and return to military ‘normality’ as a nation, will only in the long run damage their own status in an increasingly bloody, militaristic world?”
More Roadmap Roadblocks
While packing his bags for Washington, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, took a few gingerly steps towards real progress on the roadmap. He packed his bags and dismantled a few checkpoints as a final touch to put him on good terms with President Bush for their Tuesday meeting.
After much debate within the Israeli Knesset, Sharon convinced fellow lawmakers to release about 500 Palestinian prisoners — including the hotly contested Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners. Israeli security officials developed a list of criteria for releasing the prisoners. They assured lawmakers that no one would be released who had “blood on their hands.”
After securing the prisoner release Sharon set himself up for major brownie points in Washington by closing several checkpoints in the West Bank and allowing Palestinian workers in Gaza to travel to job in Israel. Both the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post reported that joyful Palestinians praised the removals as they drove down paved roads instead on having to climb over barricades and be searched by Israeli soldiers. The Los Angeles Times story notes that the removal of these few checkpoints inside the West Bank will now allow tens of thousands of Palestinians to travel to school, work, relatives’ homes and doctors’ offices. Although many Palestinians are relieved that they will not have to endlessly wait at checkpoints– at least for the time they are closed — much of the Western media failed to mention that the vast majority of these patrol points remain in full effect.
It isn’t even clear how many checkpoints have been closed in the past few days. The Los Angeles Times cites 10, the Washington Post names three, the Associated Press, and the Israeli daily Ha’aretz fail to mention the number of checkpoints removed.
While the western media is making a lot of these removals, many in the West Bank and in the Arab world see this latest move as nothing more than cosmetics, as Prime Minister Sharon travels to the US. The Palestine Media Center, a publication of the Palestinian National Authority, reports that the majority of checkpoints — they name 150 “major roadblocks” — are still controlling the movement of Palestinian communities. Ahmad Qure’i, the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council said, “peanuts measures will not help in an agreement upon the implementation of roadmap.”
Many in the Arab world seem to agree that Sharon’s latest efforts to address Palestinian concerns are not genuine concessions, but shrewd maneuvers that may not be upheld once Sharon returns from his trip. Arab News Online — a daily out of Saudi Arabia — editorializes that Sharon is trying to prolong an interim agreement:
“What Sharon appears to want is a protracted interim agreement during which Israel will make minimal concessions to the Palestinians. His reluctance to implement the road map suggests that he will not act unless forced by American pressure. But few commentators expect much in the way of results from his meeting in Washington. Is Bush — whose administration faces growing problems in Iraq and is preparing for an election whose outcome is by no means certain — in any position to pressure Sharon into faithful implementation? One need not wait until tomorrow for the answer.
The point of Bush’s meetings with both leaders appears less to shore up the road map than to underline his continued involvement in the peace process. The most that can be expected from these talks is therefore more image and less substance.”
The “more image and less substance” thesis was not uncommon in Arab and even Israeli papers on Monday. Musa Keilani agrees Sunday in his piece in The Jordan Times that thus far Sharon’s actions look good in theory but not as good in practice:
“What Sharon has offered is mostly cosmetic so far; it is an affront to anyone concerned with the peace process that Sharon wants to pass off as a sign of his commitment to peace the fact that he has ordered a crackdown on ‘illegal’ settlement outposts in the West Bank, since few people live in such outposts that are nothing but a couple of condemned mobile homes placed on hillsides. Sharon wants the world to accept that the Israeli army had ‘withdrawn’ from parts of the Gaza Strip, whereas the reality is that the soldiers have only been moved back and continue to keep the areas under siege.”
Even Danny Rubinstein of Ha’aretz agrees with the dismal analysis. He notes that at every negotiation session Palestinians bring up the same issues, and the lack of progress is starting to look vaguely like the beginning of the current Intifada:
“The statements are highlighted at every Palestinian-Israeli meeting and are published daily in the Palestinian press, which is full of claims that if there is no progress in the process — meaning if the Israeli government and army don’t release prisoners, lift checkpoints, freeze settlements and halt the construction of the separation fence — the fire will be ignited again.
The situation now is amazingly similar to the one that existed in the summer of 2000. The Fatah and other movements, together with the Palestinian Authority, are organizing demonstrations, sit-in strikes and parades all over the territories, demanding prisoner releases.
The Palestinian protests now are about the checkpoints, the constraints on worshiping at Al Aqsa and a long list of other issues. And it’s all being done against the background of a clear warning: If there’s no obvious change in Israeli policies, it will all come to an end. There won’t be any hudna, and certainly no calm.
More than a deliberate Palestinian threat, this is a proper reading of the mood in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians in the territories really and truly cannot bear the daily distress and humiliations, and Israel must take genuine steps in all the well-known areas — prisoner releases, checkpoints and freezing settlements. It’s not gestures or favors that are needed, but a genuine improvement in the lives of the people of the West Bank and Gaza. Without such a genuine change, in a few weeks’ time the routine of bloodshed and conflict will resume.”
If the analysts are right, then it is clearly not a time for Sharon and Abbas to be playing round-robin in Washington, as with each failed negotiation the tension increases. Just this past Monday, a group of foreign activists with the International Solidarity Movement was shot at as they tried to dismantle a portion of the separation fence being built in the West Bank.
Sharon and Abbas might have something to learn from a group of Palestinian and Israeli peace activists who are re-opening a historic radio station that promotes co-existence. The Hebrew and Arabic station is being modeled after a pirate radio station that closed in 1993 just as the Oslo process was getting underway. But with the violence of the last three years it seems the station’s slogan needs to be heard once again, “From somewhere in the Mediterranean, we are the Voice of Peace.”
Our Men in Business Casual
Part of America’s first contribution to help resolve the bloody conflict in Liberia, fittingly, was a $10 million logistics contract with L.A.-based defense contractor Pacific Architects and Engineers. Not a big surprise, given that Donald Rumsfeld said last year he would like to “move people in uniform out of things that don’t require uniformed people to be doing them.” He has largely gotten his wish, and today’s military is more reliant on contractors than ever before. Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution, author of Corporate Warriors, observes:
- “Perhaps nothing better illustrates the [private military] industry’s growing role than the campaign against Iraq. Private employees worked on everything from feeding and housing coalition troops to maintaining weapons systems like the B-2 bomber. Indeed, there was roughly one private military worker in the region for every 10 soldiers fighting the war (as opposed to one for every 100 troops in the 1991 gulf war).”
Even after a swift military victory, the Iraq campaign is now raising doubts about the effectiveness of contractors. Singer continues:
- “This mix of profit motive with the fog of war raises several concerns. First, the good of private companies may not always be to the public good. All the normal worries one has with contractors (overcharging, overbilling hours, poorly trained workers, quality assurance) raise their ugly head; but in this case one is not dealing with a new plumber Ñ lives are at stake. For example, a former DynCorp employee has accused the company of cutting costs by hiring former waiters and security guards to work as mechanics on Army helicopters.”
Retired military officer Ralph Peters, in the New York Post writes that contractors are hurting operations:
- “[Rumsfeld’s] cherished contractors are lagging badly — to the outrage of our military in Baghdad. Underpaid, overworked soldiers are picking up the slack for Bechtel, Halliburton and the rest of the corporate vultures.
Yesterday, a friend quietly forwarded a letter written by a senior contractor in Iraq. Alternating between self-praise and self-pity, this big-bucks huckster whined that he and his employees sometimes had to eat military rations and even had to sleep on the floor a couple of times.
Want to know how far off the rails things have slid at the Pentagon? Recently, the Army wanted to tally up how much money it had been forced to divert to private contractors as part of Rumsfeld’s rush to privatize military tasks. The Rummycrats forbid it. They refused to let the Army balance its own books — because the privatization mafia knew what they would find: Contractors cost more, not less, than soldiers.
When honest budget managers in the services calculate the transition of any uniformed job to a private contractor, their working assumption is that the contract employee will cost the Pentagon $100,000 a year. A sergeant barely makes a quarter of that, and a private hardly a fifth — including benefits.
You, the taxpayer, are being cheated outrageously in the name of an ideologically driven crusade to reduce the size of government. This is corporate welfare that has nothing to do with the welfare of our troops. And guess what? Most of those contractors disappear when the bullets start flying.”
Dan Baum, reporting for the New York Times Magazine, found a troubling lack of transparency among contractors in Iraq.
- “From the public’s point of view, the increasing use of contractors makes it harder to know what the military is really doing. The Pentagon has lots of maddening rules that citizens have to follow if they want information, but while the Pentagon has secrets, it also fundamentally recognizes that it is a public institution. Not so the contractors, whose first allegiance is to their shareholders and who have little incentive to share information about how they operate. Take salaries. An Army sergeant with four years’ service earns $48,292.03 a year, a captain with two years’ service earns $60,500.47 and a lieutenant colonel with six years’ service earns $87,299.81; the salaries are even posted on the Internet. But when I asked a KBR spokeswoman how much her people were earning for their hard, beerless months in the desert, she said, ‘We absolutely don’t discuss salaries.’
‘Why not?’ I asked. ‘You’re paying them with taxpayer money.’
‘We absolutely don’t discuss salaries,’ she repeated. (Later, a KBR manager told me on the sly that because he and his colleagues have all their expenses paid by KBR and Americans abroad pay no income tax on the first $80,000 they earn annually, they expect to net $120,000.)”
If the outsourcing actually costs taxpayers more than keeping things in-house, then what’s the attraction? Some guess that it offers cover from bad publicity (a dead contractor doesn’t evoke the emotion and outcry that a dead soldier does). Regardless, as it stands, there seems to be increasing evidence that taxpayers are footing the bill for overpriced but politically powerful defense contractors, while our soldiers pay an even heavier price.