Sunday, April 07, 2013

Japan Needs US Ambassador of Military Veteran, not Caroline Kennedy

It seems that the Obama administration’s appointment of Caroline Kennedy is taken favorably among the public on both sides of the Pacific. As shown in the following video, of CBS News on April 2, the family name of Kennedy nurtures charismatic romanticism which is associated with the tragic legend of an idealist president John F. Kennedy. On this program, historian Robert Dallek commented that the Ambassador Kennedy would represent the best of American culture.

 

 

 


Jun Okumura, Senior Analyst at the Eurasia Group, mentions furthermore, “In this age of rapid communications, the real decisions are made at home anyway,” and “The ambassadors are largely symbols these days. What it does say is that there are no major problems in the Japan-US relationship; it’s still a safe appointment, like to Britain or France” (Why CarolineKennedy is likely to get a warm welcome in Japan”; Christian Science Monitor;April 2, 2013). Certainly, American presidents appointed political fundraisers to the ambassadors to Britain in reward of contribution to their election victory, as typically seen in the case of Joseph Kennedy.


However, in view of growing security challenges of China and North Korea, and complexity of Okinawa US base issues, some opinion leaders prefer much more professional ambassador to Tokyo. Remember that the Ambassador to Japan represents America’s strategic interests beyond Japan. No other places in the world are so ideally located than the Japanese archipelago to watch security challenges from Hawaii to the Indian Ocean. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is right to emphasize such strategic value repeatedly. Newly appointed ambassador must be well aware of this.

Despite Kennedy’s popularity, some concerns are raised as she has no experience in diplomacy and public administration. Republican member of the House Foregin relations Committee Dana Rohrabackher says, “It thought it was an April Fool’s joke when I first heard about it, Our economic and national security are based on good will toward Japan. I have nothing against Caroline Kennedy becoming ambassador to, say, Barbados. But Japan is too important for somebody with no experience” (“Kennedy asJapan ambassador raises concerns amid N. Korea tensions”; FOX News;April 3, 2013). Even Clyde Prestowitz, President of the Economic Strategy Institute, who supported Obama in presidential elections, comments this critically. Compared with past ambassadors, Caroline Kennedy is no political heavy weight, and has little knowledge and experience in diplomacy and foreign affairs. Also, he says that she knows too little about Japanese culture and language (Caroline Kennedy's appointment is not very Kennedyesque”; Foreign Policy--Clyde Prestowitz; April 2, 2013).

I agree to most of the above criticism, in view of Japan’s mistake to appoint Uichiro Niwa, former chairman of a Japanese general trading company Itochu Corporation, to the ambassador to China. But I do not think familiarity with Japanese language and culture so important as Prestowitz says, because current Japanese speak English more fluently and know American culture much more than those in the Edwin Reischauer days. Rather, we have focus on knowledge in security and skills in diplomacy and administration, particularly crisis management. From this point of view, I would argue that the next ambassador to Tokyo be selected from military veterans. Among military veterans, there are so many good candidates who inspire awe and respect to America, from Hawaii to the Indian Ocean.

The armed forces are landmines of good candidates, such as Admiral Michael Mullen, General David Petraeus, General Raymond Odierno, and so forth. If knowledge in Japanese affairs matters, then, Richard Armitage will be on the top list. Even among those who are unknown to the public, many generals and admirals are well qualified to outstare any security challenges rising in the Pacific and the Indian Oceans from Tokyo. Unknown man can become famous instantly, when he accomplishes great achievement. There is no reason to give special preferences for a celebrity. Since current US defense capabilities are shrinking due to budget cut and sequestration, such loss needs to be compensated with knowledge, skills, and personality of politicians and diplomats. Let me show a good example. People see current Russia much greater power than it actually is, and that owes to strenuous image of a KGB veteran Vladimir Putin. A US ambassador to Japan must be a John Wayne to demonstrate American prestige and strength, in order to overcome global and domestic difficulties. This is why I believe military veterans are more preferable to Caroline Kennedy for the ambassador to Japan.


                                             The next ambassador must speak softly, and carry a big stick



Whoever comes to Tokyo, the Japanese side is not in a position to call new ambassador persona non grata, unless he or she is seriously problematic to assume the mission. However, I believe it necessary to reconsider Kennedy’s job credentials on both sides of the Pacific. Some opinion leaders say being a woman is an advantage to deepen bilateral friendship, but gender equality is no priority issue between Japan and the United States today. Nor, do I believe that a princess of hereditary power represents the best of American culture. It is globally understood that a person who really represent the best of American culture and image is a man of man as typically portrayed by John Wayne. In other words, Tokyo needs a US ambassador who speaks softly while carrying a big stick. Remember that South Korea sends Lee Byung Kee, foreign policy advisor to President Park Guen Hye. Whose interest is it, if US ambassador is eclipsed by such brilliant diplomats from all over the world? For vital interests of Japan and the United States, the selection of the ambassador must be reconsidered.