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Opinion: Victory for Obama, by way of Pyongyang

But for Japan, which reneged on its promise to strike the Futenma base, its a humiliating retreat.


The DPJ, which ended nearly five decades of rule by the staunchly pro-American Liberal Democratic Party last August, ran on an election manifesto that pledged to “re-examine the role of the U.S. military in the security of the Asia-Pacific region and the significance of U.S. bases in Japan.”

Well, apparently the reassessment is over. On Monday, Hatoyama did something no Japanese leader likes to do: He apologized for having to break his campaign promise. Visiting Okinawa for the first time since his slow-motion climb down began last month, he said all Japanese had to be “willing to share the burden, because the bases are necessary for national security."

Given the sensitivities involved — the Marines suffered more than 12,000 dead and another 38,000 wounded taking the island from Japan in 1945 — the Obama administration deserves a lot of credit for not going all John Bolton on Hatoyama.

Not that Okinawans didn’t have a point. While Japan took sovereignty of the island back in the early 1970s, a number of large American bases — including the huge Kadena Air Force base and the base at the center of the current controversy, Futenma Air Station, with its complement of 20,000 Marines — remained on the island. These installations have been uneasy neighbors.

A notorious rape by a Marine of a 12-year-old Japanese girl in 1995 and aircraft accidents over the years that caused civilian deaths have led to the welcome mat wearing exceedingly thin.

But facing the uncertainties of the early 21st century in East Asia, the certainties of an alliance forged in the 20th century apparently grew more apparent. For Hatoyama’s DPJ, it’s a humiliating retreat. For the Obama administration, it’s a small but important victory. For China, however, it’s just desserts for a cynical policy of keeping a wild dog on a short leash.