Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Nominee

Novelist, soldier, and Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) chaired Wednesday's (June 10) confirmation hearing for Kurt Campbell, the nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. For weeks, the Senator had held up the nomination with questions about the nominee's service record and consulting contracts. Something makes the Senator uncomfortable.

Dr. Campbell, a Marshall scholar and Russian expert, had been a Naval Reserve officer with barely three months of active duty. His consulting work for Asian governments and firms as well as Western defense contractors is legend. Much of the work is shared with or referred from Richard Armitage's consulting firm. CSIS's Mike Green is Campbell's consulting firm partner in StratAsia. Both capitalize on their many contacts and on the "likely"* free intern labor at their respective think tanks (Japan Chair at CSIS and Center for New American Security, Armitage and Green are on CNAS's board and board of advisors respectively).

Webb, although seemingly satisfied with the vague answers to his questions on these subjects, was clearly adamant about getting it all on the public record. And as if his "don't mess with me, you wanker" attitude was not clear enough, he preceded the Q&A session with a surprise statement, pointedly not a question, on the child abduction problem with Japan.

The Senator told Campbell that his office has heard from a number of individuals with American children abducted to Japan. He noted that there was "a frustration level with respect to the progress that they are concerned about in terms of dealing with the Japanese government on this issue" and he asked, no told Campbell that "at the time of your confirmation you get on this and get something back to us." Campbell must have regretted just before praising the Senate Foreign Relations staff "as the strongest and most committed on the Hill." They had not warned him.

Campbell is not particularly interested in these issues of human security. He and Team Armitage believe they are tangential to the more important security relationship. The child abduction issue undermines the "shared values" narrative the Alliance managers promote as the heart of the US-Japan Alliance.

But as noted before, although startled (he was briefed, however), Campbell is quick on his feet. Careful not to use the word "abductee," he responded by promising Senator Webb that he would "commit to you directly that one of my first acts, if confirmed, I would met with with them [families of the abductees] and if they like I would like to speak with them.....I will raise it in my first meetings with my Japanese colleagues." He also noted that he has, in his "private capacity," discussed this issue with his "Japanese interlocutors." Why am I skeptical?

Sitting directly behind Dr. Campbell at the hearing and in the camera's view, I believe, was Patrick Braden a powerful advocate for the return of abducted American children. Sources say that this persistent Texan actually spoke with Dr. Campbell's wife and she promised to give her husband the materials about Braden's abducted daughter. My guess is if anyone can keep Campbell to his promises, it would be this 'don't f- with me' scion of prominent Texas ranchers.

In the questions for the record, which Campbell must answer by next week, there were several on child abduction. Webb was not the only Senator interested in this issue. There is bi-partisan concern. The Committee Asia staffers are surprisingly well-read on Japan and Pacific War history.

Campbell will have a hard time side-stepping the issue as his Japanese interlocutors hope. President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and countless other government official have all brought the child abduction issue up to their Japanese "interlocutors."** It was a talking point for Deputy Secretary of State James (Jim) Steinberg's recent trip to Japan (but not brought up). On May 21st, the US, UK, France, and Canada hosted a symposium in Tokyo on the issue. They jointly urged the Japanese government to sign the Hague Convention. The US and other G7 countries are determined to persuade Japan to sign the Hague as soon as possible.

But if there is anyone who can make it seem like he is doing something when he's not, it is Kurt Campbell.

Japan has also been sending its lobbyists at Hogan and Hartsen (former Viriginia Senator John Warner is of counsel) to combat the problem with pleas for understanding of Japan's different culture and that these things take time. The lobbyists have also been tasked with promoting Japan's bid for a UN Security Council seat, often at the same meeting. After all, Japan is a responsible member of the international community.

Vice Minster for Foreign Affairs Kenichiro Sasae and Special Government Envoy Shotaro Yachi have been assigned to put out the fire. Sasae reportedly told senior officials at the State Department that even if Japan signs the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of Child Abduction***, Japan would continue abiding only to the decisions made of the Japanese civil courts. This, of course, undercuts the spirit and intent of the Convention. Japan, he adds, does not have nor favor joint custody. It is not Japanese culture.

So, it does not matter what the foreigners advocate. Heck, China, Russia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico haven't signed the convention either. "The attitude of the government is non-involvement in civil affairs," said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' International Legal Affairs Bureau to a Mainichi reporter.

Dr. Campbell, it should be noted, is the father of three little girls under the age of seven.

For the hearing video: HERE
For the hearing prepared statements: HERE

*6/15 - Threatening Commentator [likely someone's lawyer] prompted amendment. My experience has found the use of interns for consulting projects to be a common practice in Washington think tanks. I have been on the receiving end of many calls from desperate interns seeking answers for questions that could only be for private clients. And it is entirely possible that Dr. Campbell does not use interns, as he has a very capable, female scion of one of New England's great families to do his work.
**This is a very popular noun in Washington's foreign policy community, although its use is not quite correct. It is a bit like saying you have go to the lavatory...
***Note "abduction" is the internationally accepted legal term for one parent taking a child away from another without consent. This is NOT a term concocted by children's advocates simply to annoy the Japanese, who have used "abductee" in a very different context in regard to North Korea.


  1. But the Beltway boys are sooo glad your laptop is fixed. Enjoying your new lease of life. Did Our Man spot a little British salty language entering your lexicon?

  2. "Boddocks," My Man, "Boddocks"!

  3. You have made a serious allegation by claiming that Dr. Campbell uses CNAS interns to help with private consulting projects. By so doing, you have implied that CNAS is violating its status as a 501(c)(3). I can assure you that this is not the case. Please amend your post immediately and be more careful in the future.

  4. "I can assure you that this is not the case." Ohhhhhhhhhh how convincing. Thank you for clarifying the situation so well Mr or Mrs Anonymous person.

    Your argument goes over so well in this day and age of "There are WMD's in Iraq, American troops don't torture blaha aalalalabla"

    Sorry, I'm raving and foaming now so I have to sign off as

  5. This comment that Sasae made about "joint custody not being Japanese culture" is crap. Is he living in a bubble? Does he listen to his own people? If he would just ask the people what they think he would realize that more and more people especially people under age 50 support joint custody. As I mentioned in a different post, the people of Japan don't complain enough so they can't be heard on this matter. Sasae and his counterparts live in this imaginary world where the only voices that count are the one's around him. That is going to change over the next few months. As this issue heats up in Japan and America, Sasae and other will come to realize change is needed. However, I am sure he and his cronies will do all they can to delay the inevitable.

  6. Methinks anon doth protesteth too much. By so doing, he has shown himself up to be at best a humourless pen pusher, and at worst a patronising plonker who threatens women with lawsuits, and is probably guilty as charged, mi Lady.

    Our Man had written a far more scathing comment, but Madam Chairwoman evidently vetoed it for it's use of four and six letter words (beginning with W and rhyming with banker). He might be more careful in the future, but probably won't.

  7. I heard there was a new bill introduced by Chris Smith. I heard Patrick Braden and David Goldman were there along with the press for the unveiling of the bill. When can I expect a story on this?

  8. Soon, in time, my life is in turmoil, I need a moment to write. Please be patient.


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