Sunday, February 21, 2010


Not again! Please, please make it stop. It is relentless.

It is not more snow, but that another foundation has paid for and published another pro-Bush, anti-Hatoyama Michael J. Green essay. The Toyota Motor Japan Chair of CSIS just sucks all the air out of the room. What he has to say is increasingly irrelevant, however, this piece is an easy two and one-quarter page, three-point summary of the Alliance Manager’s mantra as to why the US-Japan alliance matters.

And why they remain bamboozled by what has been happening around them.

This time the publisher is the German Marshall Fund (GMF), which until recently shunned any support of Asia-related issues. But, with the Japanese economy fading and political changes in Japan and the US imminent, the Neocons and Alliance Managers branched out in 2008 to find new sources of funding other than the usual Japanese quasi-governmental sources or American foundations seeking to ingratiate themselves with a current White House.

In addition to a greater role by the Sasakawa Family of foundations, there has been an effort to tap the conservative leanings and money of other countries to support the Alliance Managers and their antiquated Asia strategies. Thus, the German Marshall Fund established an Asia program with former minor Bush officials to keep afloat other former Bush officials and their friends. Bill Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz are regulars at GMF meetings.

Titled, Why Japan is Important to the West, the commentary starts with the obligatory reference to the Black Ships—they were meant to stay in more important China and not pester Japan—as well as the newly popular reference to the Japanese Christian nationalist Inazo Nitobe.

Nitobe wrote in the early 20th Century, in English, Bushido: The Soul of Japan. It was a fanciful account of Japan’s samurai warrior code. Nitobe wrote his book to show how seamlessly Christianity could fit into a modernizing Japan. Instead, Japan’s conservatives and nationalists have used the book as proof of Japan’s unique culture and manly ethic. Nitobe, a Quaker, most likely would be horrified by how his work has been interpreted.

Knowing some history does not mean understanding history.

This travel back in time is merely a diversion to a swipe at both the Obama and Hatoyama Administrations. Green is worried that “The American strategic pendulum continues to swing between Japan and China—just as Japan’s sense of identity hovers between Asia and the West.” Clearly, the answer should be Japan and the West.

Unfortuately, the world the Bush Administration Alliance Manager imagined is disintegrating. Japan no longer wants to be, if ever, the passive platform for American strategic interests, and Americans have come to realize that few values are shared between the two “allies.”

Yet, Green finds three reasons why Japan remains important to the US:

1.Japan’s alliance with the United States serves as the single most important element in maintaining a stable strategic equilibrium in Asia at a time of profound power shifts that might otherwise heighten insecurity, rivalry, and conflict.

2. Japan remains the second largest economy in the world in exchange rate terms, and the second leading contributor to all of the critical international institutions that uphold the neoliberal order.

3. Japan anchors a growing number of successful democracies within Asia.

Ok, but nothing new is said here. Long before him, his mentors tried to believe these things. Their failure is that none of it is sustainable.

That is the critical, overlooked issue. He talks about change in economic and political power, but does not realize its dimensions. Japan’s economic power is slipping and its democracy is flawed and no longer unique. In a sense, only fatalism and resignation, has maintained Japan has a security platform for the US.

It is clear even to Green, as it was to some before, nothing in the US-Japan relationship has been cemented nor truly shared. And certainly little was done to make the relationship fundamentals—goals, perceptions, and values—permanent.

From not signing on the to Genocide Convention to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abductions; from lack laws on human trafficking to limited habeas corpus; from believing the US tricked Japan into an unwinnable war to maintaining a curious prohibition against “collective defense” Japan is an outlier among G-7 countries.

As Green notes, “It is not only important for the United States and the West to appreciate why Japan is essential to sustaining a liberal prosperous international order, but also for Japanese themselves to make this assessment….Japanese leaders will have to make the arguments to the Japanese people about why their nation is so crucial to the international order.”

He is right. But Green fails along with his neocon colleagues, to realize that their LDP conservative friends and funders never tried to make the case either. From calling US base support a “sympathy budget” to delaying 14 years on the Futenma move to promoting officiers like Toshio Tamogami, Japan’s elites did little to encourage a healthy relationship with the US. Even a causal check of the speeches and memberships of the Alliance Manager’s friend show a profound dislike of Washington policies and a deeper distrust of America’s wartime victory.

Further, Japanese citizens have never during their postwar contemporary democracy ever viewed their country as a world power. Further, not one survey or measure of public sentiment shows any interest even in becoming an international leader. In MOFA and JDA polling less than 6 percent of the respondents believe that Japan should aspire to more.

The Alliance managers see the importance of Japan though hopes rather than realities. Washington keeps trying to make an imagined Tokyo do things

In the last sentence of his essay, Green finally mentions Europe. He chastises the Europeans for not sharing the Bush vision of Asia.

He writes: “NATO and the European Union should also encourage higher-level strategic dialogue and cooperation with Japan. Indeed, the EU will find that its China policy will improve markedly once Brussels demonstrates the diversity and intensity of its other partnerships in Asia.”

The Europeans have always hedged their bets in Asia. Maybe it is time that Americans learn to do so as well as.

N.B.: The photo above is from the classic movie, The Wild Bunch. I watched this movie with my son as I wrote this blog post. For him, it was supposedly class assignment, as he wants to write his senior essay on the movie's director. My job was to instruct on note-taking. My take-away, and a lesson long learned by Japan, was that you should never underestimate the destructive ability of American men to leave a hugh bloody mess behind.


  1. Some good points in here.

    I have always thought that a large proportion of Japanese elites and the population itself have felt slightly relieved and only superficially "concerned" at Japan's lessening international importance so to speak in the post Cold War period. The desire for a little bit of "me" time seems to be drastically misunderstood. Also, the Japanese desire to do what they do do well should not necessarily be confused with wanting to be the best overall. To double down on those things that Japan has learnt it is good at is no crime (some of the RS&T, educational and environmental etc interventions in East Asia), and having the excuse of no longer being in a position to contribute to upholding this "international order" seems to have helped simplify their foreign policy identity - not sure if Japan having to choose between the "West" and "Asia" is a choice the Japanese see themselves actually having to make.

  2. I am so charmed to have a fan.

    I promise this week to post some poll numbers to show just how disinterested the Japanese are in the world.

    I can't say this is a good t thing, but I have to accept that is what the stats suggest.

  3. Lady, you are wrong! The Japanese and Americans have so much in common:
    1. Corrupt pols
    2. Government unable to govern
    3. Car industry in freefall
    4. Irrational obssession with China
    5. Irrational obssession with technology
    6. Can't think of anything else.

  4. There you are. Write about "strategy" and it doesn't matter how many times you poured Motoo Shiina's Hoppy for him, you do not need access to anything more than English-language newspaper reports and the Sasakawa "100 Books for Understanding Contemporary Japan."

    Not that I have anything against Hoppy.

  5. OurMani
    I think #6 has to do with tuna.

    And it's "My Lady", please!

  6. 7. Failing overburdened public healthcare systems. Except America saved all sorts of time by never building one in the first place. That sort of efficiency is what keeps us at the top.


If I am unamused, your comment will not be posted.