Obama and the emperor: was he really bowing to Okinawa?

Nov 17th, 2009 | By | Category: In Brief
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko look on as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bows towards them during the memorial service for the war dead of World War II at Nippon Budokan Hall, August 15, 2007, in Tokyo, Japan.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko look on as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bows towards them during the memorial service for the war dead of World War II at Nippon Budokan Hall, August 15, 2007, in Tokyo, Japan.

The usual suspects inside the USA today are complaining about President Barack Obama, again. This time it’s over his bowing to the emperor of Japan this past weekend.

“‘Maybe he thought it would play well in Japan. But it’s not appropriate for an American president to bow to a foreign one,’ said conservative pundit William Kristol speaking on the Fox News Sunday program, adding that the gesture bespoke a United States that has become weak and overly-deferential under Obama..”

The president has also had his defenders. According to Mark Stephens at news-press.com in Fort Myers, Florida: “The flap over President Obama’s deep bow Saturday [November 14] to the emperor of Japan is a silly mix of partisanship and macho bluster … Obama was showing respect, not submissiveness…Those who equate the two are the real weaklings…Obama’s critics need to develop a more mature view of diplomacy. Japan is an ally.”

Another supportive comment we especially like ourselves came  from reader “MP” in the Los Angeles Times: “Whatever happened to the good old days when we could count on a Republican in the White House to puke on foreign dignitaries?”

What at least no one we’ve so far discovered seems to have done is link the president’s respectful deep bow to the emperor (and, as it were, to the Japanese people) with a desire to smooth  ruffled feelings over the lingering thorny question of the large numbers of US forces that still remain on the island of Okinawa — in the wake of the Second World War that ended 64 years ago.

The eminent California political scientist Chalmers Johnson has recently written about the “American military personnel who regularly rape Japanese women (at the rate of about two per month) and make life miserable for whoever lives near the 38 US bases on Okinawa.” Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, promised to reduce the US military presence in Japan during his successful election campaign. (And this would of course give the United States itself more money for US health care, education, and public infrastructure too.)

Fans of US president in city of Obama, Japan.

Fans of US president in city of Obama, Japan.

Today in fact, “Japan and the United States will hold the first meeting of a working group to tackle a row over a US military base … days after a visit by US President Barack Obama to revitalise ties … The row broke out after Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama promised ahead of his August election win to have the Futenma Marine base moved off the southern island of Okinawa, contradicting an agreement Washington reached with a previous government.”

Just last month “US defence secretary, Robert Gates, urged Japan’s new government to honour promises on the basing of American troops on its soil, in the first important disagreement between the administrations of Barack Obama and Yukio Hatoyama.” If bowing politely to the Japanese emperor rubs some diplomatic salve on this disagreement, it’s no doubt well worth any machismatic discomfort that may be felt by William Kristol and the Fox News Sunday program. (Er sorry, Keith Olbermann: we meant to say Fox Noise.)

Tags: ,


Leave Comment