Friday, September 4, 2009

One Fine Fall Day

As I am still struggling to put a complete thought together, I will follow Our Man in Abiko’s strategy of borrowing content. In fact, I am going to borrow from him.

Frankly, all the things I have been storing up to say are really best summed up in two of his recent posts. There is indeed something to his belief that all that selective use of the facts by self-promoting pundits is bollocks (yeah, I had to look it up too).

Amusingly, the speakers at the September 2nd CSIS Japan event referred to themselves as pundits! Washington has media personalities, not scholars or experts.

Anyway, nothing better summarizes the rough start of the DPJ era and its icy reception by the Obama Alliance Manager than this video.

It should be noted that I have sat through many a school concert that sounded like that. I did feign pride.

If there is harmony in the US-Japan relationship is mainly among Washington’s Alliance Managers. They are downright, visibly worried about the DPJ coming to power. They are fearful of change. They see their rolodexes, contracts, and air of exclusivity evaporating.

The initially curt White House and State Department spokesman’s statements welcoming Hatoyama were followed by nearly shrill--no, never, ever, nada, not gonna do it, don’t make me bitch slap ya--declarations that the US will most certainly not reconsider or renegotiate security-related agreements.

To add to this lack of imagination, Asst. Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell
at the CSIS program made an astonishing (i.e., desperate) point of emphasizing that European allies of the US were pressing the DPJ to appreciate the importance of the Alliance. I am sure everyone involved was delighted with their roles in that one.

Hey guys, democracy has come the Japan. Maybe you should lighten up and hear what these politicians have to say.

Fortunately, albeit long after other heads of state had contacted Mr. Hatoyama, someone came to his senses and advised President Obama call the new leader of Japan. Soon after, U.S. Ambassador Roos rushed to meet with the presumptive prime minister, wedging himself in before the Russian ambassador. I guess someone remembered that the grandpa Hatoyama had a soft spot for the Russkies while thumbing his nose at Americans.

Now, all is good…that is until the next CSIS briefing trashing the DPJ. The program was all about doubt—doubt that this unproven, unknown group could fall in line with the U.S.

For a summary of the CSIS program see New Government in Japan—implication for US-Japan relations by Stimson’s Yuki Tatsumi. Although it looks like analysis, it is only a review of the conventional thinking aired in meeting albeit without quotes and attribution.

Tatsumi aptly ends her summary with a nod to CSIS’s Japan Chair Mike Green’s slip that the DPJ government might only last six months. As you will note on page 14 of the transcript, Mike says in a bit too animated a manner (hey I was there):

Kurt makes a very good point about where they’re going to focus their political capital. And I think, as Kurt suggests, they’re going to focus on changing the domestic political economy. Because the reality is, we’re all excited about this big change, but it’s possible that in three months or six months, these guys will be gone – that some crisis or some mismanagement could cause realignment. They have to win in the upper house election next summer.

You can watch the video or get the transcript HERE.

Another theme of CSIS meeting was a warning to the DPJ to better value the bureaucrats. The speakers sang their praises, especially Dr. Campbell. I can imagine how hard it is to lose such long-cultivated contacts. This did produce one of Green’s rare good jokes, “I’m thinking now of the headline from this panel, which is “Former and Current Bureaucrats and Staffers Tell Japan Be Good to Bureaucrats and Staffers.”

And since I have gone this far, I might as well mention the third speaker, Steve Clemons of the New American Foundation. As usual he was charming, affable and unmemorable. He was a bit more sympathetic to the DPJ and tried to note how much Japan has to offer the world. It is that leadership thing. Unfortunately, one of his examples was the Japanese head of UNESCO, who was raked over the coals this week by Le Monde in both French and English.

For analysis actually written the hard way, before the CSIS briefing, see what Our Man has to say HERE about the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Bruce Klingner’s New York Post op ed, America’s New Japan Challenge.

Our Man found it a bit tedious, at best. I suspect finding someone called “Bruce” was simply too much temptation for Our Man. As a Brit, he likely associates “Bruces” with Australians and Brits somehow feel superior to them.

Our Man is spot on. It was a plodding and contradictory piece. Yet, Bruce did try to provide some original analysis and draw some conclusions. Although he echoed all the angst and confusion of the established Alliance Managers, he still tried to think through the possibilities. This process of thinking, of course, exposed some contradictions that he could not resolve if he was to continue to bow to the Alliance Managers.

Bruce is a truly decent guy who is burdened with coming from the analytical side of the intelligence community. This has made him cautious, knowledgeable, thoughtful, soft spoken, and colorless. The in-crowd Alliance Managers rarely think to include him in their games even though he tries hard to toe their line. Part of the problem is that Bruce is a Korea expert and Heritage has not mattered in Washington since the first term of the Bush II Administration (and we all know how well that worked out).

This is all too bad. Maybe they should be a bit more afraid of him. After all, he is active in Korean martial arts and has attained third degree black belt in tae kwon do and first degree black belt in hapkido and teuk kong moo sool.

Later: What about the AEI program held just before the CSIS event that featured second tier Alliance Manager, you ask? Well, they had cookies and CSIS did not.


  1. "They are fearful of change. They see their rolodexes, contracts, and air of exclusivity evaporating."

    This must be incredibly satisfying in a way. The similar crowd here in NZ is much less worried, almost to the point of dismissvness. Our major goal is, like the US, an FTA. While we cannot be too optimistic, I think with some of the more nuanced but likely changes surrounding the relationship between bureaucracy, party, and cabinet (and entrenched interests generally) that there is at least a chance over the long-term of something happening in this area. But no, the eternal corruption of politics in Japan will ensure we are thwarted, apparently. Between our neglect and the shrillness you are seeing, does any (Western)country see an opportunity in this, other than perhaps China which has explicitly welcomed the new administration!!

  2. Had Our Man known Bruce's martial arts prowess, he might have pulled his punches. He didn't notice the rumbling of Japan moving closer to China, though Our Man often sleeps through the big earthquakes.

  3. Hello, OMIA again. Just thought this here might do as the LDP's swan song?


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