Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The World Tests the “Young and Brilliant” President

Remember I quoted a remark by current Vice President Joseph Biden during the last election campaign on this blog.

Mark my words: It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Watch, we’re going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy. He’s going to have to make some really tough - I don’t know what the decision’s going to be, but I promise you it will occur. As a student of history and having served with seven presidents, I guarantee you it’s going to happen.

Since the inauguration, President Barack Obama has been focusing on domestic economy. However, he is going to make a real debut in international politics in early April. The young and brilliant president is popular but inexperienced in foreign affairs. If he fails to manage numerous agendas on his trip, the world will regard America as weak.

Obama will attend G20 London Summit and NATO 60th Anniversary Summit. Moreover, Obama will attend the EU Summit in Prague, Czech, and visit Turkey after NATO Summit (“Obama Prepares for European Trip”; VOA News; 30 March 2009). During this long trip to Europe, Obama will face the North Korean Missile Crisis between April 4 and 8. This subsequence will be the first test for the young and brilliant president.

In London, President Obama will discuss the financial crisis and economic stimulus with industrialized and developing nations. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said "The president and America are going to listen in London, as well as to lead" (“A busy agenda fuels Obama's first trip to Europe”; AP; March 31, 2009). However, European leaders are critical to the Obama administration’s stimulus plan for fear of further economic crisis associated with severe inflation (“Ahead of G20, Europe Rebuffs Stimulus Spending”; NPR; March 29, 2009). The London Summit is not just a conference on the global economy. This is the first face to face meeting for Obama with Russian and Chinese leaders.

NATO Summit in Strasburg and Kehl is a landmark to develop the trans-Atlantic alliance as France has come back to NATO command structure at the 60th anniversary of the organization. As Obama has announced a new strategy in Afghanistan the other day, this will be the primary agenda at the summit, and he will demand allies to make further contribution to US operations. In addition, Ukraine and Georgia will continue to be key issues. Both are related to Russian resurgence, and intertwined with the Missile Defense issue to be discussed in Prague.

Helene Cooper of the New York Times points out that Obama will confront resentment over American styled capitalism and have to persuade reluctant European allies to make further commitment to Afghanistan. She says his popularity does not help him deal with such a defiant world (“Obama Will Face a Defiant World on Foreign Visit”; New York Times; March 28, 2009).

While President Obama is on a busy diplomatic tour in Europe, he is expected to face another problem in North East Asia. It is utterly important to stop North Korea from launching missiles. Even if Kim Jong Il fires the missile, the United States must make him understand that his expansionist ambition is completely intolerable to the global community. Also, it is necessary to curtail Chinese and Russian influence on the Korean Peninsula while exploring common ground for non-proliferation.

Mark the words by Vice President Joseph Biden, to see what happens in April. Will President Barack Obama pass the first test by the world? We can see the result not immediately but in a few months.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A New Initiative against American Isolationism

Worldwide criticism to the Iraq War has led American public opinion to an isolationist direction. Leftists fell into Chamberlainian little Americanism, while rightists receded into America first. In view of challenges posed by global network of radical ideologues, rogue states, and the Russo-Chinese reemergence, the United States must be firmly committed to defend our liberal world order.

In such a global political environment, a new initiative for active interventionism in US foreign policy has been launched. The Cable, a blog published by Foreign Policy, keeps an eye on this movement led by Robert Kagan, Senior Associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, William Kristol, Managing Editor of Weekly Standard, and Dan Senor, former Iraq Provisional Authority Spokesman (“PNAC 2.0?”; The Cable; March 26, 2009). This group named the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) will hold the first public event on March 31 to discuss the strategy in Afghanistan. Top policymakers attend the conference as guest speakers. They are Senator John McCain; John Nagl, President of the Center for a New American Security; Democrat Representative Jane Harman; Republican Representative John McHugh; Ashley Tellis, Senior Associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Lieutenant General David Barno, former commander in Afghanistan.

Although a well known neocon watch blog called Lobelog compares the FPI to the now -defunct PNAC (Project for the New American Century) in its recent post (“Neo-Con Ideologues Launch New Foreign Policy Group”; Lobelog; March 25, 2009), this is neither partisan nor anti-Obama advocacy. Democrat policymakers also come to speak in the first event.

It remains to be seen whether the Obama administration is more isolationist than the Bush administration. President Obama’s foreign policy will be tested in the forthcoming subsequent events, i.e., G20 London Summit, NATO Summit in Strasburg and Kehl, and North Korean missile launch. However, some opinion leaders regard the Obama presidency as a symbol of a less interventionist United States. If authoritarian adversaries and challengers see America weak, this will endanger our liberal world order. Therefore, it is vital “to make alliances and attack isolationist positions regardless of political affiliations depending on the issue.”

I strongly agree to the following comment in FPI mission statement.

(In the post 9-11 global security environment), the United States cannot afford to turn its back on its international commitments and allies--the allies that helped us defeat fascism and communism in the 20th century, and the alliances we have forged more recently, including with the newly liberated citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan. Our economic difficulties will not be solved by retreat from the international arena. They will be made worse.

This is a critical advice to President Obama and leaders of preeminent industrialized democracies who are obsessed with the Global Financial Crisis. We should not spend another holidays from history.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Japanese Think Tank took up a Post on This Blog

The other day, a Japanese think tank, named the Japan Forum on International Relations took up a post on this blog, entitled “A Questionable Defense Cut by President Obama”, in their online journal Hyakka Saiho. The edited articles are a little different from the original blog post, but the contexts are almost the same.

I hereby would like to show the links to article 1 and article 2.

The following opinion leaders contributed commentaries to this online journal when my blog post was taken up. They are Wakako Hironaka, Member of the House of Councilors; Katsihiko Kakuda, Former Ambassador; Toshihko Kinoshita, Visiting Professor of Waseda University; Motoaki Kamiura, Military Journalist; Masaaki Sugiura, Political Commentator; and Keizo Nabeshima, Commentator.
I feel privileged that my blog post was taken up along with commentaries by distinguished authors. I hope that I will be able to improve my advocacy furthermor

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nashi or Nazi?: Putin’s Young and Dangerous Loyalists

In a previous post, I used some YouTube videos to narrate Russian history through the anthem. Current national anthem of Russia is so popular that you will find numerous Russian patriotic videos on YouTube.

Nashi flag

Among those videos, I found people waving a red flag with a white diagonal cross. You will find the flag in the last video of “A Review of Russian History through the Anthem”. They are members of a youth group called Nashi, which means ours. Nashi is a pro-Putin nationalist group founded in 2005 by Vasily Yakemenko, a leader of pro-Putin movement.

Nashi parade (Photo: BBC)

Let me narrate briefly about this organization. Nashi has its own website, but it is written in Russian only. Despite substantial influence on Russian politics under Vladimir Putin, the nature of Nashi is not well known. According to Wikipedia, this movement is closely related to United Russia, the ruling party under President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. In the Western media, Nashi is widely regarded as a personality cult for Putin, whose foundation objective is to intimidate the opponent. This movement yearns for the strength of old Soviet Union and ancient tradition of Russia. Some of them points out a kind of similarity with Hitler youth.

Nashi is prevailing among Russian youth like a web of college and high school club. Despite hardliner ideology in domestic and foreign policy of this movement, youngsters enjoy Nashi’s camps and events like a kind of rock concert. At the camp, they even find someone with whom they fall in love (“Russia’s youth rises to champion old values” and “The Kremlin’s new commissaries”; BBC News; 12 July 2006). In some respect, Nashi attracts the younger generation in a way somewhat similar to that of pro-Obama campaign in 2008 presidential election in the United States.

Putin talking with youth (Photo: BBC)

Obsessed with the Orange and the Rose revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, the Kremlin sponsors their own loyalist group in Russia. Quite astonishingly, when Nashi members terrorized the Estonian embassy in Moscow, those violent youth were invited to the Kremlin while mild pro-Estonian protesters were brutally hit by the police (“Putin's children”; International Herald Tribune; July 5, 2007).

Putin exploits rising patriotism and social instability. People are distressed with the decline of their motherland since the loss of the Soviet Union and the collapse of social welfare. NATO expansion into Russia’s satellite states stirs anxiety on national security. Economic gaps between the rich and the poor are growing, and the number of people addicted to alcohol and drugs is rising. For youngsters in the midst of a post communist turmoil, Vladimir Putin is the savior to restore their national pride and show the hope for the future. (“The alarming spread of fascism in Putin’s Russia”; New Statesman; 24 July 2007)

The influence of Nashi is still strong. Youngsters are glad to spy opposition leaders to leak scandals to the public (“Pro-Kremlin 'Spy' Catches the Opposition off Guard”; Moscow Times; 25 February 2009). They believe that their voluntary service to the authoritarian leader as an activity of civil societies. It reminds me of the Tonarigumi in Japan during the World War Ⅱ.

Finally, I would like to ask a question. Can we really talk with such a Russia, regarding issues like nuclear weapons reduction? I hope someone to stop President Obama committing a fatal mistake to our security.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The First Attendance to CSR Meeting of ACCJ

I have attended a meeting of the Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility of the American Chambers of Commerce on March 13. It was held early in the morning over light breakfast. It is the first time for me to meet committee members.

In a relaxed atmosphere, everyone took food and drinks before the meeting began. Most of the attendants were professionals managing small businesses, and also, some college staff, civil society members, and so forth.

At the New Member Orientation on February 17, I learned that ACCJ related activities are participation-oriented. That is, it is a member who takes an initiative in one’s own agenda. At the same time, one has to be careful to suggest something, because he or she must assume responsibility in the remark. The fundamental idea is that one has to participate in and make contributions to the activities, rather than making fabulous and airy-fairly suggestions.

It sounds quite tough. However, once a participant contributes something to the group, he or she can expect some gains from it. Therefore, it is worthy of exploring what one can do for the committee and small groups.

In addition, it was a good opportunity for me to see the discussion to explore systematic help for public interest activities. For example, a humanitarian assistance group to help disadvantaged children in earthquake hit Sichuan in China, called Professionals for Children, gave a presentation on the way of luring non-monetary assistance, such as legal, accounting, and technical help for their activities.

Other issues discussed were employment diversity and green market.

CSR committee is involved in various agendas. In view of recent economic crises, the committee will hold a forum of corporate governance to explore new style capitalism, which is a mixture of Anglo Saxon and Japanese one.

More issues of interest will be discussed this year. I would like to mention them on this blog.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Another CHANGE in the Anglo-American Special Relationship, As Well?

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Washington DC to talk with US President Barack Obama and give a speech at the Congress on March 3 and 4. Though media focused how President Obama hosted Prime Minister Brown, things must be discussed through reviewing a set of ministerial diplomacies, including multilateral talks such as NATO meetings.

Opinion leaders on both sides of the Atlantic interpreted fact that Barack Obama did not mention Britain in his inauguration speech implied a change to end the special relationship. Let me mention some commentaries by the media. The Daily Telegraph notices that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said “The United States and the United Kingdom share a special partnership”, instead of relationship. Steven Clemons, Senior fellow at the New America Foundation, says that current administration will not admit the special relationship unless Britain does not make sufficiently impressive contribution. On the other hand, Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Ambassador to the United States Sir Nigel Sheinwald stress Britain’s strength in managing the global economy, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran (“Will Barack Obama end Britain's special relationship with America?”; Daily Telegraph; 29 February, 2009).

News Week is more skeptical to the special relationship. The only superpower can found a special relationship with any country, including Germany, France, Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, and so forth. It argues that Britain should stop talking of punch above its weight through acting with the United States on the global stage. Instead, the writer insists that Britain be confident of its soft power, like top universities, role model of parliamentary democracy, and financial infrastructure in the City, and act more on its own (“An Island, Lost At Sea”; News Week; February 14, 2009).

Professor John Dumbrell at Durham University in England comments that US-UK special relations do exist in defense and intelligence, but there are some problems of imbalances. Dumbrell points out that the focus of US-UK security cooperation has changed from military intervention under Tony Blair to soft power promotion under Gordon Brown, as seen in the speech at the Kennedy Library in Boston in April 2008. Though Britain is the largest contributor to the United States in the War on Terror, opinions on the British side are not necessarily reflected in Washington policymaking. The case of British prisoners in Guantánamo is a typical example. This imbalance is due to America’s global hegemonism and fragmented policy processes ―― such as sectionalism between the White House and the Congress, between the federal and state government, and among the department (“The US–UK Special Relationship: Taking the 21st-Century Temperature”; British Journal of Politics and International Relations; Vol. 11, Issue 1, 2009).

It is true that President Obama is so pragmatic that he does not value the Anglo-Saxon brotherhood. News Week is right to mention that he is the first black president. Actually, Obama is cold blooded enough to reject to appoint some liberal loyalists to his cabinet positions. From this point of view, the Anglo-American relations will change into more business-like one.

Prior to Prime Minister Brown’s visit to the White House and Capitol Hill, Britain and America had some ministerial talks. Foreign Secretary David Miliband met Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on February 3, and both nations attended NATO Defense Ministers Meeting in Krakow of Poland on February 19 and 20. After the US-UK Summit, Secretary Clinton flew to Brussels to attend the NATO-Russia Coucil on March 5. Vital security issues are discussed in the above mentioned meetings. At the bilateral foreign ministers talk, Britain and America confirmed further commitment to Afghanistan and Pakistan (“Press Conference with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton”; UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Newsroom; 3 February 2009). At NATO meetings, key issues were Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Georgia. Among these issues, Britain is the most supportive of American operations in Afghanistan (“Hutton calls on NATO partners to do more in Afghanistan”; UK Ministry of Defence―Defence News; 19 February 2009 and “NATO Foreign Ministers”; UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Newsroom; 5 March 2009).

When Prime Minister Brown visited Washington, leaders of both countries focused more on the economy as G20 London Summit will be held on April 2. At the joint press conference with President Obama and the speech to the joint congress, the Prime Minister talked extensively on the economy, including financial crisis, protectionism, and the global economy. Also, the Prime Minister stressed common political values between Britain and the United States at the Congress (“Speech to US Congress”; UK Prime Minister’s Office News; 4 March 2009 [and the video] and “Press conference with President Obama”; UK Prime Minister’s Office News; 3 March 2009 [and the video]).

Though Gordon Brown is the second leader to visit the White House after Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, agendas at the meeting were more global and transatlantic. Britain will play a crucial role in G20 Summit in London and NATO Summit in Strasburg/Kehl. Taro Aso may have talked on economic crisis and Afghanistan, but issues were more bilateral. Apparently, it is the problem solving capability that determines the agenda and special relationship with the United States.

Britain will remain the primary ally to the United States, despite some imbalances. The problem is, the Obama administration is willing to develop partnership with Russia and China over democratic allies. On the first trip to Asia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed to found a ministerial level hotline with China to manage global security issues. She even thanked China for buying US bonds. This raises a serious concern that China will see America as weak. At the NATO-Russia Council this month, Secretary Clinton was more enthusiastic to talk with Russia than traditional allies in Europe.

There are a lot of lessons to be leaned from the Anglo-American relations. They are important for other primary US allies such as France, Germany, and Japan. News Week is right to say that allies must upgrade its own capability to deal with global problems. This is the key to make partnership with the United States more helpful to their national interests.