From time to time I have a vivid dream of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe leading Japan out of its torpor and into a bright global leadership role, using the country's rich civilization, culture and, especially, its history and encounters with the world. But inevitably a greedy nightmare intervenes and smashes the dream, explosively. Is it a nuclear explosion? I usually wake up at that point.

The Abe of the dream presents himself as a statesman, even a poet, who understands the importance of learning from history and developing a vision that can make the best of the best hopes, and can see beyond the daily pressures of here and now. The Abe of the nightmares is the pragmatic politician seeking immediate advantage, particularly with an election always coming into view.

It is all too easy to understand why Abe should concentrate on the immediate here and now. Political and military temperatures in Asia are rising so fast that some experts fear that a small accident or miscalculation could lead to the incalculable damage of potentially a nuclear war.