Regardless of where the first shot came from, Pyongyang seems to have been setting the stage for this kind of attack as early as last year. For the past two years, the North Koreans have increasingly claimed that they were threatened by American and South Korean war games.
To his detractors, Ichiro Ozawa represents the worst of Japanese politics. Self-righteous, corrupt, a power-hungry political operator, "shadow shogun." He has been called all these things, as well as "the destroyer" for the way he has created and wrecked three parties in two decades. Three months ago, he resigned from his post as secretary-general of the Democratic Party of Japan, which he helped lead to victory in last year's historic elections, amid a scandal over finances.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has been full of tough talk lately. His regime threatened "retaliatory sacred war" in response to recent joint U.S. and South Korean naval exercises, and that was only the latest threat against Washington and Seoul since they blamed the North for sinking the warship Cheonan in March.
Just a month and a half into his term, Naoto Kan's tenure as Japan's prime minister appears to have an expiration date. Members of his Democratic Party of Japan are blaming Kan for losing control of the Upper House in the July 11 elections, and several DPJ politicians have called for him to step down. The party may well toss Kan out in September, when he faces reelection as its leader.
It looks a lot as if Japan's prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, is quitting because he couldn't deliver on a campaign pledge to evict U.S. Marines from their base on Okinawa. But in truth, it was Tokyo's press corps that did him in.
North Korea's behavior during the showdown with its southern neighbor has been reliably bellicose. But several indicators--its rhetoric, its possible willingness to apologize, and its decision to defrock a naval commander--suggest Kim Jong-il is looking for a way out of the crisis.
Barack Obama hasn't even arrived yet, but Yukio Hatoyama, Japan's new prime minister, has already gotten everything he wanted from the president.