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Michael Ubaldi, November 5, 2003.

The White House, stuck between a rock and a hard place with North Korea, still hasn't lost its spirit:

The United States and its key allies agreed Wednesday to suspend construction of two nuclear power plants in North Korea, saying that the energy-starved communist state won't get them unless it gives up its nuclear weapons program.

...The four-member executive board of the KEDO met in New York on Monday and Tuesday and discussed suspending the project. The board said it would make its final announcement before Nov. 21 after consulting with the member nations' governments.

Halting the project looked inevitable Wednesday, as all four board members favored pulling out hundreds of workers, many of them South Koreans, who have been digging and pouring concrete to build the reactors in the isolated northeastern corner of North Korea.

Washington says it sees "no future" for the project.

Only one step towards knocking Kim Jong-Il and his merry band of murderers out of power, but it's in exactly the right direction.

BY THE WAY: The title is from "My Name is Jonas," off of Weezer's blue album. I'm sure you've noticed that those shady spamware-and-popup-window companies appear to have amassed the lyrics for thousands of popular songs on scores of different websites. So here's the real question: does it creep you out as much as it does me?

Michael Ubaldi, November 5, 2003.

Since the days of the indomitable Shigeru Yoshida*, whose staggered terms in the late Forties and early Fifties as Japanese Prime Minister often proved to be a match of wills for even Douglas MacArthur, the Liberal Democratic Party has enjoyed as uninterrupted a reign as any national political force could hope for. In the postwar period, politics in Japan have been observed as "the game across the street," where a combination of strict election laws and institutionalized special interests has distanced the political class from the general public - resulting in a powerful establishment executing sedentary policies for a somewhat ambivalent electorate. A series of corruption scandals shattered the LDP's Diet majority in 1993, but the party quickly recovered and has assumed a strong position in every coalition since.

In late September, Junichiro Koizumi was reelected by his majority as Prime Minister and vowed to proceed with implementing promised market reforms - badly needed by Japan's stammering economy.

Which makes this development all the more intriguing:

Nobody expects Japan's main opposition party to dethrone Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democrats in elections this weekend. But they might pull within range of another elusive goal -- the creation of a viable two-party system.

Capitalizing on voter frustration with government waste, a long stagnant economy and successive scandals under the Liberal Democratic Party, the opposition Democrats are putting up the most serious challenge to the ruling bloc in years.

"This election is also about whether we can create a new Japanese democracy," Democratic leader Naoto Kan has told voters. "Whether we can build a two-party system depends on the outcome of this election."

My knowledge of parliamentary governing systems in limited, but I'm fairly sure that two-party systems are generally difficult to maintain within them - unlike our own, which strongly reinforces bipolar competition. Some pundits are skeptical about potential gains by the reform-minded Democratic Party of Japan, but the challenge itself is sure to breathe some life into elections. If the DPJ is even partially successful by building leverage in the Diet, Koizumi and his LDP may finally be forced to give serious review to their party's ponderous, antiquated economic policies.

* Or Yoshida Shigeru; I went surname-first this time.

Michael Ubaldi, October 31, 2003.

Colin Powell may not have sipped champagne with Kim Jong Il, but the White House has spent the last year in endless deliberation about what to do with the nuke-tipped pariah state of North Korea. Oh, there have been talks but they are just that: talks. Though President Bush would never have called North Korea out as a member of the Axis of Evil if the DPRK weren't embroiled in the same markets and politics of terror as Iraq and Iran, Saddam Hussein lost power first in part because the DPRK had one thing Ba'athists lacked - fully researched nuclear weapons.

The deterrent is an unimaginably powerful one - hence Bush's warnings against allowing the threat of atomics in Baghdad to mature - and it strips the American playbook against Pyongyang to only a few pages. With political capital, brave lives and domestic resources invested in Iraq, a North Korean solution seems to benefit from the biding of America's time - without being treaty-suckered - for at least a year or two. Steven Den Beste settled on a frighteningly skeptical assessment of the free world's options, but offers this relatively comforting thought:

What the Chinese have been trying to do until now was to finesse the situation so that we (the US) would solve it by giving in to NK's demands. If only the US would cave, placate NK, and more or less resume the terms of the 1994 agreement as implemented. Which is to say, we would ship grain and oil to NK and not insist that NK live up to any part of the bargain. Then tension would subside and everyone could heave a sigh of relief and stop worrying about it, for a few years anyway.

That wouldn't actually solve anything, in the long run, but it would defer the problem, and that's good enough. But after the utter failure of the 1994 agreement, and in light of the current international political situation, the Bush administration is not going to do any such thing. Bush is looking for a real resolution to the problem rather than a way of deferring it again.

I think we've been trying to convince the Chinese that the problem has to be solved soon and solved for real, but the Chinese have been hoping that we weren't serious, and have been hoping they could put us into a position where we felt forced to buy off NK. The Bush administration seems to understand that it had to be patient, and let the Chinese try subtleness and finesse in order to prove to itself that it won't work, either on us or on NK.

Personally, I had hoped to see a noose gradually tightened around Kim Jong Il's neck. A United Nations disarmament order would bind Kim to the cocktail party that is international law - as in Iraq, a confusing mess for both the accuser and the accused, but one in which a determined American leader could navigate through diplomacy and ambivalence to judgment.

At the outset, setting Kim Jong Il's oppression and aggression under the spotlight would draw new statements of condemnation from responsible democratic countries and at least partially disrupt illicit trade and deals with Pyongyang from unscrupulous ones. With South Korea and Japan as staging grounds similar to Kuwait and Qatar, a force like the one occupying Iraq could be assembled for the inevitable demolition of North Korea's brutal regime.

Would weapons of mass destruction be used? Saddam didn't use his, and it becomes more apparent by the day that he destroyed evidence of standby research programs and stashed whatever was functional. Though the White House is therefore knee-deep in opportunists who'd rather believe Saddam to be the honest broker, a political problem is far preferable to one made of ricin, VX or anthrax. Yet no one knows for certain what Pyongyang would do, and that's why Kim Jong Il's nationwide concentration camp still runs.

Even if tossing the hot-potato around with China and agreeing with Pyongyang on a framework du jour averts the appearance of disaster, Steven and others rightly acknowledge that North Korea's active weapons black market could very easily cause the same holocaust we fear in the Pacific to occur on our shores via terrorists. There's a touch of Munich Agreement in every treaty signed with dictators.

Now, we dither. And wait. Just as important as the safety of the world from the DPRK, however, is the plight of those who suffer under the Stalinist regime. What good is a fragile peace when it is at the expense of others?

Michael Ubaldi, October 23, 2003.

Taiwan has every reason to doubt China's motives, even when they publicly aspire to such an admirable feat as sending a man to the moon:

To the Taiwanese government, it was as if China's historic space mission did not happen.

While China was flooded with congratulatory messages from all over the world, the island's leaders chose to say nothing or as little as possible about the manned mission.

..."We welcome any efforts to develop space technology which can help promote the living and scientific standards of mankind," [Cabinet spokesman Lin Chia-lung] told The Straits Times.

"But what we don't want to see is the use of the technology for non-peaceful purposes, including staging an arms race that would destabilise the Asia-Pacific region."

Taiwan is taking a sensible position. Remember that the arms race never stopped - just because China has been surreptitiously advancing its military and related telecommunications technologies doesn't mean that it does so with any less speed or intent. Satellites and global, pinpoint-location devices are among the most potent weapons in our arsenal as well as those of our most technologically advanced allies; obtaining similar orbital assets will allow China to compete nearer to our level.

Like any military real estate, mastery is decided by combat. The ability to control low orbit by destroying the communications networks of enemies and rivals would give any nation a powerful - even crippling - advantage. Land, sea, air, space: war can and will be waged there.

Should every prospective space launch from any country be viewed with suspicion? Perhaps, only in the sense that it's absurd to think a nation could ignore opportunities for military technology unlocked by even rudimentary space travel; we could be sure a head of state making grandiose statements of exploration and galactic wonderment would be telling only half the story. But more importantly are the intended uses for such potential. If China were a liberal democracy, the situation would be much, much different. With a century of dictators and their carnage in the industrial age directly behind us, we ought to know better.

Michael Ubaldi, October 21, 2003.

Koorosh Afshar's latest is on the miraculous awarding of the Nobel peace prize to Iranian activist Dr. Shireen Ebadi. A few tones of Jeffersonian secularism in this one:

It was a good tiding for us that a woman from amongst our compatriots, Dr.Shireen Ebadi, won the Noble peace prize. We sincerely hope that this will bolster secularization of our mindset and bring about meaningful and substratal change in our country. And it will have to, after all, for there is no other way for the future of our nation. Let us not forget that talk about reforms so long as the militant Islamists are in power, is simply futile. The first and foremost task for a person like Dr. Ebadi is to help represent the Iranian nationalist psyche and identity in the world. In that regard, her religion (whether compatible or at odds with the basic human rights) is quite impertinent as religion is merely a private matter and it must not and will not have any place in the future political system of Iran.

Historians know full well that whenever a state gets subjugated under a particular religion, the very first that occurs is the violation of human rights. You can not speak of individuality as, at the same time, the state takes side with one specific celestial ideology; the product of such a system will soon be a branding where citizens as categorized as either insiders or outsiders. Those peers of mine who poured into the streets of Tehran having nothing but clenched fists and slogans, had completely given up on "reform" and do not aspire to produce a milder version of the current ochlocracy. A fundamental change is what we are seeking.

...We are not so much for the freedom of religion as we are for the religion of freedom.

The few Shiites in Iraq who in thrall to extremist clerics - and blindly protest for a nation as nightmarish as Saddam Hussein's old rule because of it - would do well to understand the experiences of people who have lived in a theocratic society all their lives - and want to reject it. Koorosh quotes Thomas Paine and, as is to be expected, Paine is right: religious oppression is just another face of evil.

Michael Ubaldi, October 15, 2003.

Christopher Hitchens gets it right again. He recently interviewed the grandson of infamous theocrat Ayatollah Khomeni; the young man is a cleric himself, and an upstart enemy of the extremist religious establishment in Iran - so a natural ally to our cause of liberation. He knows what he wants:

It's not strictly necessary to speak to Hossein Khomeini to appreciate the latter point: Every visitor to Iran confirms it, and a large majority of the Iranians themselves have voted for anti-theocratic candidates. The entrenched and reactionary regime can negate these results up to a certain point; the only question is how long can they do so? Young Khomeini is convinced that the coming upheaval will depend principally on those who once supported his grandfather and have now become disillusioned. I asked him what he would like to see happen, and his reply this time was very terse and did not require any Quranic scriptural authority or explication. The best outcome, he thought, would be a very swift and immediate American invasion of Iran.

It hurt me somewhat to have to tell him that there was scant chance of deliverance coming by this means. He took the news pretty stoically (and I hardly think I was telling him anything he did not know). But I was thinking, wow, this is what happens if you live long enough. You'll hear the ayatollah's grandson saying, not even "Send in the Marines" but "Bring in the 82nd Airborne." I think it was the matter-of-factness of the reply that impressed me the most: He spoke as if talking of the obvious and the uncontroversial.

In the months where we daily read of lies and distortions about weapons of mass destruction leveled against the administration, or the inability of the free world to keep Saddam Hussein - not President Bush - yoked with the burden of proof, Hitchens has something to offer. Though Khomeini's ideals are delightful to see now and anticipate as principles held by Iran's future democratic leaders, we ought to remain focused on the confidence in purpose necessary to actually reach that outcome:

The arguments about genocide, terrorism, and WMD—in all of which I believe the Bush administration had (and has) considerable right on its side—are all essentially secondary to the overarching question: Does there exist in the Middle East a real constituency for pluralism and against theocracy and dictatorship. And can the exercise of outside force hope to release and encourage these elements?

When freedom lives in that region, terrorism dies. All else falls away.

Michael Ubaldi, October 5, 2003.

The Dow Jones isn't the only market to be riding a steady, upward slope:

Asian stocks rose this week, with benchmarks in Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Australia having their biggest gains in at least six weeks.

Mizuho Financial Group Inc led Japanese banks to their biggest weekly rally in 13 years after a Japanese central bank survey showed business confidence climbed to a two-and-a-half-year high.

"The recovery is for real," said John Alkire, who oversees US$15 billion as chief investment officer at Morgan Stanley Asset & Investment Trust Management Co, in a televised interview with Bloomberg News in Tokyo.

From the numbers, this seems real - and robust. With all speed, now, Koizumi should turn to those reforms he promised. Either way, let's hope the boom lasts.

Michael Ubaldi, October 5, 2003.

Just like an ally:

The government is considering a plan to provide around $5 billion, or about 550 billion yen, to help reconstruct Iraq in the four years beginning in fiscal 2004, government sources said Saturday.

The amount accounts for about 10 percent of the total cost of reconstruction, set at $55 billion for the period between 2004 an 2007, according to the World Bank.

The government's plan is likely to be conveyed to the U.S. when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi meets U.S. President George W. Bush in Tokyo on Oct. 17.

As well as financial support, Japan is also considering giving patrol cars to the Iraqi police and power generators to the U.S. led-Coalition Provisional Authority, the sources said.

It's no surprise, as the Japanese - more than anyone - understand the trials, pains and triumphs of an occupier-led transition from tyranny to freedom. If their contribution is indeed ten percent of an anticipated cost, only nine more patrons need match that amount. I can make a list of countries with no difficulty; those countries themselves can probably put one together just as easily. How many of them, do you think, can accept that they're on it?

Michael Ubaldi, September 24, 2003.

Another speech was made to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, September 24th:

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi took North Korea to task at the UN General Assembly, calling on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

"The development and possession of nuclear weapons by North Korea must never be tolerated," Kawaguchi said in a speech to the annual gathering of world leaders in New York on Tuesday.

"Japan once again urges North Korea to immediately and completely dismantle all of its nuclear development programmes in a verifiable and irreversible manner," she said.

...In a wide-ranging address, Kawaguchi highlighted several regional issues by calling for the release of Myanmar's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and pushing for the trial of Khmer Rouge leaders in Cambodia.

She also issued a strong call for reform of the UN Security Council and reiterated Japan's desire for a permanent seat on the body.

With words like those - especially if they reflect Tokyo's policy, as opposed to John-Bolton-style-tough-talk wiped off the chalkboard by Foggy Bottom the next day - the world needs Japan to take the place of any number of charlatans on the Security Council.

Japan is also considering loosening military restrictions set in place by the pacifist constitution we wrote for them. More Kawaguchi:

The government should pursue a more flexible interpretation of the Constitution's war-renouncing Article 9 and allow the Self-Defense Forces to make a greater contribution to global peacekeeping efforts, according to Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi. "I think we should continue to place importance on Article 9. But perhaps there are other ways to interpret it," Kawaguchi told journalists shortly after her reappointment Monday.

...Under a new antiterrorism law, SDF units have provided logistic support to the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan. Another new law has paved the way for troops to be sent to help in Iraq's postwar reconstruction.

Impressive. Japan's nonoffensive military is an anachronism, designed for a time when the return of militarists or imperialistic ambitions to the island was a real possibility. But those days are long gone; Japanese people themselves are rather tranquil and judicious about war and their representative government is all but bound to follow their wishes. It's time to grant Japan the full rights and responsibilities of an able democracy, and allow them to aid us in the war against terror and dictatorship.

Michael Ubaldi, September 20, 2003.

Koizumi rides again:

Easily defeating his three challengers in Saturday's election, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was swept to victory for another term at the helm of the Liberal Democratic Party.

..."I'll work to revitalize the economy by steadily pursuing my structural reform goals," Koizumi said at a press conference held after his reelection.

As the Wall Street Journal cautiously observed last week, Koizumi will have won enough political capital to do just that - follow through with the reforms he's promised for two years. The international community is likely to readily rise with America's economic incline alone - but their markets could certainly benefit from a sobering Japan. Go to, Mr. Koizumi.