Karaoke on the Euphrates
In today's Counterpunch, Gary Leupp describes Japan's base in the Iraqi city of Samawah as an "unconstitutional fortress" striking a blow at the heart of Japan's pacifist constitution. The Japanese troop deployment, like the Korean one to Irbil, has been very unpopular, as reflected in Koizumi's low approval ratings. However, it seems that the anti-war movement has not been able to create the necessary momentum to really put Koizumi's position in jeopardy.
I don't know much at all about the strengths and weaknesses of the movement in Japan, but having joined a number of anti-deployment marches in Seoul last year and talked to friends there, I really got a sense that in South Korea at least, demonstrations with an internationalist orientation are something of a novelty.
Seoul, November 2003
Koreans have spent decades fighting successive authoritarian governments for democracy and workers' rights. These domestic battles have been fought tenaciously and, at least partially, they have been won. However, with this (understandable) emphasis on domestic issues and the added complications of a divided country, strong Stalinist influences and the small matter of 37,000 US troops in residence, the left has always had something of a nationalist tint (perhaps more of a full-blown peroxide colouring in some cases).
A turn out of 5,000 for anti-troop deployment demos might seem small in comparison to the hundreds of thousands who have turned out in the last few years for political or labour rallies in Seoul. But the very existence and character of these anti-war mobilisations has definitely heralded a new direction for the Korean left and anounced the arrival of a new generation of young Korean radicals with a more internationalist perspective than ever before.
Koizumi and Roh Moo-hyun are both leaders in trouble and, like Tony Blair, how deep that trouble gets now depends, at least in part, on what happens in Iraq and how well that new generation can mobilise itself.