Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Stabilize and Reinforce the US-Japanese Alliance beyond Partisanship

It is often said that the US-Japanese relationship is good under the Republican rule, but cools down when the Democrats take office. The reason for this is unknown even among pundits. However, as Professor Gerald Curtis of Columbia University, argued at the Foreign Policy Roundtable on April 16, Japan needs to strengthen ties with the Democratic Party in order to stabilize US-Japanese relations. I agree to the view that Japan’s relationship with the United States must not be swayed by partisan politics in Washington.

As to this issue, I would like to mention the Anglo-American relationship in the Major era. Prime Minister-then John Major told the press that he preferred Republican incumbent President-then George H. W. Bush to Democrat Bill Clinton, in order to maintain staunch Anglo-American relations. However, as Clinton was elected, the relationship between Britain and America downturned. In those days, Britain was isolated and dwarfed in Europe, due to domestic conflicts over ratification of the Maastricht treaty and German unification. The relationship with the United States recovered when Major stepped down and the Blair administration took office (”Witnessed on the White House lawn, the ups and downs of the specialrelationship”; Independent; 2 March, 2009). Japanese politicians should not make the same mistake as Major made.

However, if we were to reinforce the US-Japanese relationship bipartisanly, the credential of Democrat politicians needs to be upgraded. This concern is typically seen in the fact that the Obama administration is dependent on Republicans for the Secretary of Defense such as Robert Gates and Chuck Hagel. Has the Democratic Party run out of human talents to assume responsibility in American defense? In other words, the problem is whether there are some political leaders on the Democrat side who can execute global strategy for America beyond partisan entanglement. In my view, the fundamental aspects of the US-Japanese relationship are almost the same as those of bilateral relations with the United Stats and major allies around the world like Britain, Germany, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

Practitioners and intellectuals on the Japanese side argue that the Democratic Party needs politicians who understand Japanese culture and mindsets, like Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Michael Green, Japan Chair of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. There is no doubt that they made a great contribution to US Japanese relations, but that is a kind of unexpected bonus”. Unlike the era of Ambassador Edwin Reischauer, current Japan is in no position of asking generosity to heal wartime scars. From this point, we do not need politicians with strong focus and background on Japan so much, but leaders who value the role of the United States as the global superpower. As Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon bitterly criticized that President Obama was making global security feeble by appeasing challengers in the Middle East, and China, and also Russia, American allies want an America that is firmly committed to the role of the superpower (”'Mystified'US slams Israeli defense minister Ya'alon's criticism of Obama”; JerusalemPost; March 19, 2014).

Therefore, in order to maintain friendly US-Japanese relations under Democrat rule, they need to find a politician like late Senator Henry Jackson, who was a key member in their own party and assumed bipartisan leadership in American foreign policy and national security, rather than people of the same cadre like Republican Armitage and Green. Are there any politicians in the Democratic Party who can act beyond partisan constrictions as mentioned above like Jackson did? His policy staff Richard Perle was involved in foreign policy making in the Reagan and the Bush 43rd administrations, instead of the Democrat team. Joseph Lieberman had been assuming himself the right heir of Jackson in the Democrat Party, but he has already retired from the Senate. In order to reinforce the US-Japanese alliance beyond partisanship, The Democrat Party has to cultivate talents to manage global security.

On the other hand, as seen in the paneldiscussion on Afghan security after Karzai hosted by the American Enterprise Instituteon March 24, internationalists of the Democrat and the Republican sides explore bipartisan policymaking, and this is a welcome step. Particularly, as we found in protest to intervention in Syria recently, isolationism is on the rise both in the Democrat and the Republican Parties respectively. A staunch partnership of internationalists of both parties will be helpful to strengthen and stabilize the US-Japanese alliance. The problem is how much influential is such partnership of internationalists in political corridors in Washington? This is a very interesting point.

In view of fulfilling the role of the superpower, there are some questions that Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must answer clearly, as she is supposed to be the most prospective candidate for the Democrat presidential nominee. First, how much she was involved in the Benghazi incident. This accident prevented Susan Rice from becoming the Secretary of State. The other question to be answered is her refusal to include Boko Haram in the terrorist list (”US SaysBoko Haram Now 'Top Priority'”; May 16, 2014). If the president is lukewarm against terrorists, we have to worry whether she can manage the threat of China. If the United States were to strike a delicate balance of keeping economic ties with China while checking its maritime expansionism as Professor Curtis mentioned, even a trivial error could become fatal. Therefore, we should question how well versed Democrat politicians are in security, and whether they are firmly determined to maintain American preeminence in the world.