Saturday, October 30, 2010

Please get in touch with the anger inside you again

No one gasped. Maybe it was shock enough having the disgraced Scooter Libby give the introduction where he suggested that the former, failed prime minister of Japan Shinzo Abe shared enough of a conservative agenda with Americans that he should run for elected office in the U.S.

After all, Paul Wolfowitz and General Michael Hayden were in the audience. Doug Feith was seated next to the Boeing representative, Stanley Roth, who as a former Assistant Secretary of State for Asian and Pacific Affairs once knew something about Asia.

But, I should not have been surprised. All this was taking place at an invitation-only luncheon for Abe on October 15th held by the conservative Hudson Institute. The night before, Abe shared the stage at Hudson’s annual dinner with former Vice President Dan Quayle.

It was a room full of Washington's conservative elite, who simply understood that Abe-san (they like to use “san”) believed in a strong military, fiscal responsibility, and standing up to Communist China. Libby had noted that Abe championed “warmer but realistic relations with China.”

It was unlikely that Libby knew that just a month before Abe shared a podium with disgraced General Toshio Tamogami. The General, became an admired figure among Japan's right-wingers after a 2008 essay—in which he denied Japanese aggression in China during World War II and said that the U.S. tricked Japan into World War II—caused him to lose his job as head of Japan's Air Self Defense Force. Tamogami is also the organizer of the anti-Chinese rallies that have been held in Tokyo over the past month. Both Abe and Ms. Yuriko Koike, a former defense minister and top opposition lawmaker, are active Tamogami supporters.

But I digress. It was Abe’s luncheon speech that was shocking, not the introduction.

Abe opened by noting his “deep admiration for Dr. Herman Kahn, the founder of the Hudson Institute.” He said
The phrase that he coined, ‘thinking the unthinkable,’ has provided me much food for thought throughout my career as a member of the Diet. My own interpretation of the phrase 'thinking the unthinkable' is as follows: 'to provide hope for the future, based on a clear understanding of the past and an accurate perception of the present.'

Is the thought of surviving a thermalnuclear war providing Abe with “hope”? At this point I appreciated that Hudson had wisely hosted an open bar and served an excellent red at lunch.

Did Abe’s speechwriter know anything about Herman Kahn and his famous book On Thermonuclear War? Or did he just Google Herman Kahn quotes?

When Herman Kahn published On Thermonuclear War in 1960, he shocked readers by “thinking the unthinkable.” In the book, he speculated on how the various levels of American preparedness and civil defense would affect rates of survival in the event of a devastating thermonuclear attack on the United States. The Soviets, he believed, would be most likely to launch a first strike if they thought they could completely destroy the US and avoid retribution.

This led Kahn to suggest a robust Civil Defense response to ensure that as many Americans as possible would survive so that the U.S. could launch a nuclear Armageddon back upon the USSR. His thesis was a strange mix of mathematical calculation and gallows humor. Thus, the concept of “Mutually Assured Destruction” was borne.

Dr. Kahn was one of the models for Stanley Kubrick’s dark comedy Dr. Strangelove. And “thinking the unthinkable” will forever be associated with a doomsday scenario of worldwide nuclear war. For more see HERE.

From there it was tough to take the rest of what Abe said seriously. If he had such a distorted notion of thermonuclear war, what kind of thought was he capable of on other issues?

His speech did make some news when he called the Chinese fishing trawler’s ramming of two Japanese Coast Guard ships a “barbaric act [that] cannot be overlooked.” He said the release the captain, “was a very foolish move” which showed that “the Prime Minister’s office was frighteningly naive.”

Abe did not, however, suggest what he would have done differently. After all, the U.S., Japan’s ally, strongly recommended to Japan to quickly release the Chinese captain. So, we did not learn what “unthinkable” thing the former prime minister was thinking.

The Hudson Institute feels it has common cause with Mr. Abe. They choose to ignore his more extreme views. Further, it is tough to gage how much attraction the rightist, nationalist agenda of Tamogami and Abe has for average Japanese. As in the U.S. the social uncertainty brought on by a weak economy feeds all sorts of anger.

At a recent anti-Chinese demonstration in Tokyo, a protester told a passersby to "Please get in touch with the anger inside you again." No Tea Party member could have said it better.

$h*! My Vice President Says

The Japanese think the dust up in the Senkaku/Daioyus is all about them. After arresting a drunken Chinese trawler captain fishing in disputed territorial waters of the East China Sea, delaying his release, and mumbling something about legal procedures, Tokyo caught the wrath of Beijing. An alcohol fueled mishap quickly escalated into a test of international diplomacy.

Meetings were canceled, words exchanged, and critical trade curtailed. The U.S. restated its commitment to defend Japan’s administered territories and the Secretary of State called the South China Sea a “national interest.” Southeast Asians recoiled at China’s aggressive territorial expansion through historical “fact” in face of Japan’s de facto possession.

Most interesting was the September 21st “unannounced” embargo of rare earth elements (REE) not just to Japan, but also to Europe and the U.S. Withholding REEs to Japan would have been effective enough as the Japanese process and refine most of REEs used worldwide in hi-tech products. The U.S. military is said to be 100% dependent on Chinese REEs, and by implication Japan. Widening the “non” embargo on October 18th to the other major industrialized powers was simply punctuation.

In a word, China’s actions did not just affect Japan. And the target of Beijing’s ire also may not have been simply Tokyo. The Chinese fisherman’s encounter with the Japanese Coast Guard created a pretext for probing the boundaries of American commitment to Asia. Whether the lesson was one to be learned among the factions in Beijing or Washington remains unclear.

Thus, it is not surprising that the “non” embargo ended just prior to U.S. Secretary of State Clinton’s ministerial with Japan's Foreign Minister Maehara in Honolulu, and in advance of her "surprise" meeting with China's State Councilor Dai Bingguo on Hainan Island.

More to the point, Japan may not be solely responsible for ’triggering China’s shrill reaction. On September 19th, 12 days after trawler captain was jailed, Vice President Joe Biden said the most unusual of things. He locked U.S. China policy to Japan’s. Although, what he said should not have been taken as a statement of policy, its context and the rhetoric leading up to his statement could suggest that it was.

The Vice President, as a favor to his longtime friend Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) was the keynote speaker at the U.S.-Japan Council’s inaugural conference, Shaping the Future of US-Japan Relations. Inouye’s wife heads the organization and the Senator is on the board of councilors. The Council is to cultivate and activate Japanese Americans to be supportive of Japan and Japanese policies. Formed during the Aso Administration, it is unclear if the Council is closer to the conservative LDP or the more moderate DPJ.

It is the result of thinking in Tokyo that Japan had no natural constituency in the U.S. as did other ethnic groups like the Jews, Indians, Koreans, or Armenians. The effective rallying of the Korean community to support the 2007 Comfort Women Resolution in the House of Representatives had alarmed conservative Tokyo and the Foreign Ministry.

In July 2008, the Japanese Embassy held a meeting with think tank, academic, and arts experts on Japan to discuss how to widen understanding (read support) of Japan. The meeting was to discuss how to inject money into cultivating the grassroots of the American public. CSIS’ Mike Green, UVa’s Len Schoppa, USJF’s George Packard, CFR’s Shelia Smith, Japanese-American Museum head Irene Hirano (Inouye’s new wife), and approximately 16 others attended this invitation-only planning meeting.

In 2007, the Senator had taken the very unusual step of writing members of the House advising them not to support the Comfort Women resolution, H Res 121. Many congressmen were taken aback by the Senator’s heavy hand and that his letter was nearly word-for-word from Japanese Embassy lobbying documents.

The U.S.-Japan Council was to expand among Japanese Americans the Senator’s efforts to explain Japan. Thus, to many who follow things Japanese, especially the Chinese, the Vice President's appearance at the Council inaugural conference, also attended by U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos, was an endorsement. Further, it was a venue for a pro-Japan policy pronouncement after months of haranguing the new Japanese government.

The connection to Japanese-American activism was probably lost on the Vice President, but he did pick up on the fact that the meeting was a cheering section for Japan, and the alliance. He was clearly bored, yet a bit swept up with the moment. The crowd was sparse and conversation seemed pretty routine. And like many in Washington, Biden often tries to adapt to his audience to please them and say what they want to hear.

Thus, Mr Biden leaped off message, ignored his prepared text, and rambled on about the wonderfulness of the alliance.

He gushed on that Japan is the “lynchpin” of an effective US strategy in Asia. "There is an emerging relationship that we have to get right between the United States and China... frankly, I don't know how that relationship can be made right other than going through Tokyo," Biden said. "I don't know how it works without our partner in that part of the world," he added.

U.S. China policy goes through Tokyo!? Really?

Eyebrows likely arched to the ceiling in Beijing.

In Washington, the White House gritted its teeth, never issued the actual text of the speech (a video is available, see above), and on background a senior administration official tried damage control:
In his remarks to an annual meeting of the U.S.-Japan Council, the Vice President reaffirmed a long-held tenet of American foreign policy: that the U.S.-Japan alliance is a linchpin of the security, stability and prosperity in Asia. This alliance has fostered a regional environment in which the United States can effectively build a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship with China. 
But back in Beijing, the itch to test the premise that U.S. China policy runs through Tokyo must have been strong. More to the point, they reasoned; if Japan is to deliver messages to China for the U.S. then Japan can deliver messages to the U.S. for China. Pinch Tokyo and Washington will feel the pain.

With pending American military exercises in the Yellow Sea, U.S. statements that the South China Sea is a “strategic interest,” and American reaffirmation that the Security Treaty covered the Senkakus, Beijing was ready to believe the Vice President’s happy talk at face value. The day before the Vice President’s speech, Tokyo had unexpectedly (even to the White House) extended the detention of the trawler captain.

Beijing responded by threatening Japan with "strong counter-measures."

The strongest has been the embargo on REEs. It got everyone’s attention.

As Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell as oft said the U.S. has “a strategic interest in how these issues are dealt.”

Indeed, we do.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Limo Tales

I can’t quite figure out if the study of contemporary Japan is either a good model for understanding other political systems or simply losing relevancy in Washington. AEI’s resident Japan expert, Michael Auslin, shares this confusion. In a series of recent articles he is all over the map, literally.

This year he has brought his knowledge of Japan to US air power, China, Latin America, Turkey, and democracy.

Most recently, he appears to have traveled to Guatemala. Although unclear why he was in Central America, but he did examine the country in the same way as most US public intellectuals do Japan, from the backseat of a limo: “While in Guatemala City, I was driven around in a bulletproof SUV, and chauffeured to a dinner just half a block from my hotel.” Taxi and limo drivers always have keen insights.

In Fearing the Chavez Model, Auslin takes this experience and warns that the populist Marxist state of Hugo Chavez is “the greatest threat to economic and political liberalism since the armed insurrections of the 1980s.” Then he pulls up the narco-chaos of Mexico as another threat. Both persist, he concludes, because of US neglect. Then again, maybe corrupt, weak democracies can produce some crappy results. 

The wealthy businessmen who hosted the AEI Japan scholar say they “feel caught between Mexico and Venezuela, between anarchy and Marxism” and abandoned by the US. I wonder if there is some Japan analogy in there.

In Turkey and Japan at the Crossroads, Auslin awkwardly draws some tenuous relationships between the two. He says both countries face critical elections this month. (I am a bit of a loss as to what elections these are in Japan.) He tries to make some point about democracy and the critical decisions that need to be made in these two Asian countries. Other than that he even admits they have little in common. More than that, I am at a loss. 

“It is troubling, and perhaps even unfair, that the global reputation of liberalism should be tied to events in just a few nations,” he says. I should say! Liberalism not something one usually associates with Turkey or Japan. The problem he misses as he lambasts these democracies for their retrogressive policies—of which there is no similarity between the two countries--is that liberalism has yet to take hold in either of these “bookends of Asia.” This failure inevitably causes problems in managing the momentous social changes that are taking place.

Somehow he ends up with “Their choices will also matter a great deal to America, which will have great problems maintaining its influence in the Middle and Far East without a close working relationship with both countries, while democrats around the world will watch closely to see which way the winds blow across the Bosphorus and the Sea of Japan.”

I have no idea what he means by all his references to democrats in both articles. Expanding democracy, he inadvertently observes, has made relationships with our best allies more difficult. Something Washington rarely complains about with the French or Germans. Voters in any country are less interested in global politics than in what happens at home.

Maybe Auslin is simply trying to prove his conservative credentials by grasping for a vehicle to criticize the Obama Administration. It is simply too difficult for him and many in Washington to understand the changes taking place in Japan. There is little daylight between his views on Japan and that of the Obama Alliance Managers; thus there is little to criticize.

And none have the imagination or experience to work creatively with Japan’s new government. It is just easier to dismiss today’s Japan as either a Latin American banana republic or a ideologically polarized tinderbox with access to nuclear weapons.

Personally, I was disappointed in the Turkey piece.  I was hoping he would note, like Stratfor’s George Friedman, that by 2050 Japan would ally with Turkey in a world war against the US and Poland. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Forgetting Missouri

What happened to V-J day? Although this August 15th was 65th anniverisary of the end of World War II, specifically the end of the Pacific War, neither the White House nor the US Congress acknowledged this historic moment.

Every other national government involved in the Pacific War issued a memorial statement. In the UK, the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister participated in ceremonies. The United States stood out by its silence.

Rhode Island did hold its annual parade. It is the last to celebrate V-J Day as a state hoiiday.

On August 15th, the US State Department did issue (as that is the day, a Sunday, the press release appeared in my inbox) a congratulations to the Republic of Indonesia on its 65th Independence Day, which is August 17th.

Indonesia's Proclamation of Independence (Proklamasi Kemerdekaan Indonesia or simply Proklamasi) was issued August 17, 1945, two days after the end of the Pacific War. The declaration marked the start of the diplomatic and armed-resistance of the Indonesian National Revolution, fighting against the forces of the Netherlands until the latter officially acknowledged Indonesia's independence in 1949.

Many of Washington’s Asian allies consider August 15th a day of national liberation. I suspect, however, none of them expected the United States to buy into the notion that the Japanese occupation and its war helped liberatate them from colonalization. Nor did they think Washington would ignore the great Allied victory that did allow their liberation.