Saturday, January 10, 2009

Does Any Other Country Obsess about Its Next Ambassador from the United States?

Chuck Hagel is reportedly the current frontrunner to Replace Ambassador Schieffer in Tokyo but Joseph Nye is still in the running. Of course you’d know nothing about that unless you followed the Japanese media. Other than the top Ambassador to the U.N.—currently a Cabinet-level post—there’s little to no speculation in the U.S. media on U.S. ambassadorships as a part of the transition. Is there any other nation in the world where this is going on? After all, ambassadors haven’t been making any important decisions since the advent of the telephone, have they?

In any case, Chuck Hagel would not quite be the status symbol embodied by a true national figure, he is nevertheless the Magic Republican, a decent mainstream conservative Senator who broke with President Bush on the war in Iraq—think Roger Maris instead of Mickey Mantle, but not Billy Martin either. I think that the message would be more or less the same regardless of which one (or any other meaningful candidate) winds up in Tokyo.

Incidentally, this dialogue continues.


Anonymous said...

NO! is the answer. And no country, a G-7 no less, whines so much that they are being ignored. And no country spends so much money buying their ambassador. A lot money and time went into creating Team Armitage.

The recent tradition for ambassadors to Japan, has been someone with extensive congressional experience or very close ties to the president. The buzz for this Administration was for a Japanese-American to be ambassador. However, the Dems are not thrilled with Mineta, and Inouye now has the job of a lifetime as head of Appropriations. Inouye is also considered corrupt and much can be traced back to the Embassy of Japan. Sometimes you can play your hand a bit too much.

Jun Okumura said...

Actually, South Korea does its best to compete for attention (and probably worries much more) doesn’t it? And I’m sure that the Saudi Arabian government spends far more money than ours. But we really do seem to have a self-esteem issue here; probably has a lot to do with the asymmetry in the bilateral relationship. A good place to start is getting over the overreliance on Japan hands real and presumed, ambassador or non-. They have been useful and helpful, but they can be limiting. And I’m surprised to hear that Mineta had been talked up.

Anonymous said...

No, the South Koreans are behind in the game. They do not have the cash or finesse of the Japanese. And having been serious fighting allies, Koreans actually have some real friends in Washington. Blood on the battlefield bonds.

The Saudis are not G- anything, nor OECD. I also suspect that dollar for dollar Japan probably spends as much as Saudi. Japan is as deep if not deeper into the think tanks, universities, and financial companies. And with anything Middle East, there is a well-funded array of opposing opinion and allies.

Japan has a lock on anything academic, cultural, or research that has to do with Japan. No one works on anything that is not Japan funded, except maybe within the USG itself.

Japan has carefully isolated and tagged any opposition to the official line as being Chinese, Korean, or left. In fact, I can't think of anyone of significance within the Beltway that doesn't think that Japan is the most important alliance ever. Can you?

Jun Okumura said...

Great Washington chops, Anonymous. I suspect you're the one who told me that the comfort women resolution should be taken more seriously than I was doing at the time. (You were certainly right, though it did take a full-page ad in the NYT by Japanese revisionists for the issue to really blow it up.)

Yes, the Japanese presence in Washington is certainly much bigger than South Korea’s. I was looking at it from the other end, albeit mainly through the English-language Korean media.

Japan studies would certainly be a shadow of what they are at major schools and think tanks if not for Japanese money. But “Japan has carefully isolated and tagged any opposition to the official line as being Chinese, Korean, or left”? I’m not sure what you mean by “official line”, but I suspect that you are making a sweeping claim that won’t stand up against the actual turn of events over the last couple of years. The alliance with Japan has been by far the most important one in the Asia-Pacific theater, but it’s limited in scope and overshadowed globally by NATO. In any case, it seems to have little to do with the point you make in the first sentence of the paragraph.

Anonymous said...

The party line that starts off every single conversation, talk in DC is that the US-Japan Alliance (and they use the word alliance as if it meant something) is the most important bar none. Logically you are right, in practice you are dead wrong.

And ha, ha about the comfort women, not true. The rightist's ad was in the Washington Post (not NYT) and the decision had already been made on the Hill about going forth with the Comfort Women bill. The Ad did NOT have the significance MOFA would like you think. It did provide cover for MOFA for screwing up, however. And it simply confirmed the wisdom of the House leadership to proceed.

Abe's meeting with congressional leadership was also a disaster. Even Inouye was exasperated and tried to clean up the mess Abe left behind. The Senator immediately tried to "rephrase" what the PM "meant to say." Word has it that that meeting really tipped the issue away from any MOFA arguments.

Jun Okumura said...

You got me there, lady. Otherwise, though, you’re just spinning rumors. You have to think and write more consistently if you want to be taken seriously, instead of being just humored. Now tell me something I haven’t heard yet.

Robert Dujarric said...

Yes, funny how this is big news in Japan, the Brits often get brainless social climbers looking for a photo-op with the Queen, but they don't seem to mind.

Jun Okumura said...

Let me try to fill in the implicit assumptions behind Robert’s comment:

Ambassadors exchanged between Western allies have long ceased to have any active role in policymaking, and the US ambassador in Tokyo is no exception. He exists mainly to give periodic speeches at foreign press clubs and to apologize and/or offer condolences in the case of headline-making crimes and accidents involving the US military based in Japan. Not a bad job, if you enjoy the pomp and circumstances that come with it and are looking for a timeout/extended retirement ceremony away from whatever is your real stage of action.

Unlike West European states such as the U.K., France, and Germany, Japan lacks the institutionalized, plurilateral backdrop that would serve as a safety net in times of bilateral stress, nor does it enjoy a “special relationship” in the order of the U.K. or more broadly the cultural background and shared wartime experiences of the Anglo nations. This causes the Japanese establishment and public to be more needful of and sensitive to political signals that say, “message: we care (or not)”. Thus, the extra attention given at both ends to the ambassador. I think that this tendency has diminished, but the latest interest in the matter shows that, even after the current businessman-crony Friend-of-POTUS intermission, it has not dissipated completely.

Incidentally, the United States did pay attention to the Ambassador from Saudi Arabia, but that was an exceptional case.

Anonymous said...

Let us try to fill in the implicit assumptions behind Jun’s comment: Japan's elites are a bunch of wankers.