Monday, January 28, 2008

Time to See What Mr. Obama Has to Say about Japan

A long time ago, I promised I’d look at Barack Obama’s Foreign Affairs essay and what it had to say on Japan. Since he’s been surging with the south Carolina blowout and endorsements from Democrat heavyweights (Ted (and Caroline) Kennedy, Kathleen Sibelius), this is a good time to make good on it. However, I wound up with so little to say - not entirely my fault - that I expanded a footnote and made this a two-part post.

Members of the Japanese establishment who seek a more aggressive national security and foreign policy stance must be disappointed to find that “Japan” is mentioned only once in Mr. Obama’s Foreign Affairs (2007 July/August) essay. No, not because China is mentioned five times. After all, the European Union appears only once as well, and none of the West European nations are mentioned by name. By contrast, Iraq comes up no less than 15 times. Chances are, if he mentions you, you are part of the problem or, in terms that the amiable presidential candidate prefers, a challenge. To quote:

As China rises and Japan and South Korea assert themselves, I will work to forge a more effective framework in Asia that goes beyond bilateral agreements, occasional summits, and ad hoc arrangements, such as the six-party talks on North Korea. We need an inclusive infrastructure with the countries in East Asia that can promote stability and prosperity and help confront transnational threats, from terrorist cells in the Philippines to avian flu in Indonesia.

Here, it is notable that Mr. Obama sees Japan on the same plane as South Korea and, to some extent, China. This must reflect the views of his foreign policy advisors on the Japanese government’s not-quite-forthcoming approach to North Korea. The European Union does not appear in flattering circumstances either. In fact, it comes up in a most embarrassing manner as he covers climate change. Namely, in a list of “those that pollute the most: the United States, China, India, the European Union, and Russia.”

As for his take on China:

I will also encourage China to play a responsible role as a growing power - to help lead in addressing the common problems of the twenty-first century. We will compete with China in some areas and cooperate in others. Our essential challenge is to build a relationship that broadens cooperation while strengthening our ability to compete.

Relationship, not partnership; a challenge, in his own words.

Onside nations are for the most part anonymous counterparts in “alliances” and “partnerships” and “institutions”. And speaking of institutions, there is one that is mentioned by name, and six times at that - NATO. Mr. Obama wants “NATO allies to contribute more troops to collective security operations and to invest more in reconstruction and stabilization capabilities.” In Afghanistan, he wants “to remove the limitations placed by some NATO allies on their forces.” You wonder, does he realize that Japan is missing from this picture? Does he even mind? Japan may not be part of the problem, but, outside East Asia, it is not part of the solution either. So much for aspirations to be a normal “normal” country.

The essay, of course, addresses the US public first and foremost. Moreover, it was written before the US surge in Iraq had begun to show much effect and subprime lending problem had not yet reached crisis proportions. Thus, economic and financial issues per se are ignored other than as a Third World issue. For instance, there is barely a hint, a fleeting shadow of FTAs, and the Doha Round is not mentioned at all. To quote:

As president, I will double our annual investment in meeting these challenges to $50 billion by 2012 and ensure that those new resources are directed toward worthwhile goals. For the last 20 years, U.S. foreign assistance funding has done little more than keep pace with inflation. It is in our national security interest to do better. But if America is going to help others build more just and secure societies, our trade deals, debt relief, and foreign aid must not come as blank checks. I will couple our support with an insistent call for reform, to combat the corruption that rots societies and governments from within. I will do so not in the spirit of a patron but in the spirit of a partner -- a partner mindful of his own imperfections.

Note that “trade deals” are mentioned in the context of foreign aid and come with strings attached. But where Hillary Clinton would “enforce labor standards” (albeit through the ILO), Mr. Obama does not use these labor-union-friendly code words here and focuses on “corruption”.

No comments: