I haven’t posted my reaction to Obama’s election, but suffice to say I voted for him and I am delighted to see a damn fine human being leading my country. That out of the way, I have an opinion I would like to share.
A CSIS Asia policy hand has this suggestion for Obama with regard to Japan policy:
President-elect Obama also needs to send some early signals of reassurance to Japan. For reasons not entirely clear or logical, there is a widespread perception in Japan that Republicans like Japan more than Democrats do and growing concern that an Obama administration will continue the U.S. “tilt” toward China that many in Japan perceive (in my view wrongly) as already underway. Making sure a few well-known Japan-hands are in senior positions at the State Department and National Security Council will help in this regard, as will naming a prominent, well-respected former official as ambassador to Tokyo – names like former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye or even former (Republican) Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage come immediately to mind. Former Vice President (and Nobel Laureate) Al Gore would be a particularly inspired (but probably unrealistic) choice.
I appreciate the attention paid to these issues by Mr. Cossa, and obviously Obama needs good advisers in the Asia policy realm.
And I’ll accept that there is much hand-wringing in Japan and at the Japanese embassy on Mass Ave on how well the US will value the US-Japan relationship, the tilt toward China, and all that. But why do unclear and illogical concerns justify throwing them a bone like Al Gore? That assumes consequences for not making conciliatory gestures by giving an auto-pilot ambassadorship to one of the US’ most active and valued elder statesmen. But what would Japan do if a relative lightweight is appointed? Japan is inextricably linked to the US for the conceivable future, and unless Obama makes a series of truly humiliating and harmful decisions, nothing about that will change. The wish for high-profile appointees in the Asia policy realm is justified only by the self-interest of the policy wonks themselves, and how worthless is that from a class of people whose job it is to make objective assessments of US national interest? To venture a conjecture, Cossa may be throwing out the most obvious choices and one ridiculous choice as a way of offering an indirect recommendation for someone within his organization, Michael Green, the CSIS Japan Chair and a former Bush adviser on Asia-related national security policy.
And even if Obama did put in Armitage or Green or another figure beloved by the Japan policy circles, would that do anything to alleviate the impact of the potential friction points, such as divergence on the NK issue, favoring China, or trade problems? I doubt it.
I also don’t see much reason for putting people with very strong opinions like Armitage, Green, or Nye into the position of ambassador, which is really more about being inconspicuous and conciliatory than the leading thinker on the state of the US-Japan alliance. Japan policy circles might swoon, but there’s little reason to bend over backwards to please them.