Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ra Men

A result of my occasional observations on the foibles of the Alliance Managers is that I will never have an opportunity to return to Japan. The free trips to Japan, envelopes of cash for 10- minute speeches in Tokyo, and the fees for attending conferences at onsens are Japan's rewards for American good behavior.

I behave badly.

My manners are fine and I am even in Washington's Green Book, the social register. But I do not suffer the fools graciously and I ask too many questions. This is compounded by my apparently being the only source in Washington that can advise members of congress on Japan's history issues, on how American POWs were treated by Japan (and continue to be badly treated), and on the complexities of Japan's continuing inability to abide by international norms. No one else would dare risk their relationship with Japan to do so. Currently, Congress is transfixed by the issue of parental child abduction to Japan.

Working on any of these issues, as the Alliance Managers know, has no financial reward and will confine you to a Japan purgatory. Mofa and other Japanese organizations avoid you and tell their friends to do as well. One Japan expert who continually complimented my work, pulled his organization's support last week. It was only $500, but substantial to a small operation like mine. Although well-funded (this coming week alone he will probably bring in tens of thousands of dollars in speaking engagements in Japan and Washington), he clearly got the message from his Japanese friends to stop all forms of support. Indeed, he directed his secretary to do this while he was in Okinawa at the behest of a Japanese foundation.

There is no foundation, association, corporation or individual that is interested in funding research and education on Japan's history and social issues as they related to politics and security. There is plenty of need for this, but those who need the information and help do not have the means to pay for advice nor any thought that they should. Congress does not pay for advice, for people to come give testimony, or any of the books and documents given them for background.

This sense of entitlement allows support for Washington's think tanks to be a curious form of corruption. Most of the research is second-rate and intellectually dishonest. There is also serious plagiarism and logrolling. Most important they represent a particular point of view. None of this matters. These "experts" are in Washington and available.  Being here is most important.

 I do not have the personal means to travel to Japan and no offers to visit Japan are likely. So I travel to Japan vicariously.  This Sunday's New York Times helped. The entire front page and two interior pages of the Travel section was devoted to eating ramen in Tokyo. One Noodle at a Time details the joys of modern ramen eating, places to go, and learning about ramen. I simply turn wistful.

The only ramen shop in Washington is in Bethesda (a suburb on the metro) and only recently opened. It is Ren's Ramen, and is located at Daruma, an over-priced Japanese grocery. So far the reviews have been good, albeit folks find it a bit overpriced. My interns loved the adventure up there and enjoyed the experience.

Photo of dish at Ren's Ramen from this blog, which has some nice photos of Japanese food in the Washington area.

Later: The Washington Post on 2/24 ran a small, favorable review.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Stuck in a Bad Romance

Lady Gaga must have written this song with the US-Japan Alliance Managers in mind. She certainly caught on to their dialogue and the state of this Pacific relationship.


Caught in a bad romance

Ra Ra-ah-ah-ah
Roma Roma-ma
Oh la-la

Want your bad romance

On Friday, January 15th, the public portion of the two-day 16th Annual Japan-US Security Seminar was held. What started as a Japanese initiative to create and cultivate a group of Americans sympathetic to the remilitarization of Japan and who could provide access to the inner workings of U.S. defense policy has evolved into a Japanese government and American defense industry collaboration to maintain, promote, and mythologize this constructed group of  American and Japanese Alliance managers.

This group so often talks about architecture, because it is architecture. They create a fragile structure based on increasingly out of date plans and inadequate codes. The annual seminar simply slaps a coat of historically incorrect paint on a historic home.

This year the conclave was held earlier than usual and in neither Hawaii nor San Francisco. Instead, it was in Washington, DC on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the US-Japan Security Treaty (January 19th). The venue was the very expensive and elegant Willard Hotel. It is in the lobby of this famous hotel during the Grant Administration that the term "lobbying" was coined .

I want your ugly
I want your disease
I want your everything
As long as it’s free
I want your love
Love love love
I want your love

The day prior to the Seminar was the Alliance Manager's  "Young Leaders Program." This is designed to cultivate the next generation of Alliance Managers. It introduces a select group of younger scholars to well-known Asia policy types, to the good life (all got to stay at the Willard), and to that special feeling of being included in private, invitation-only dialogues. It entices like a drug.

In all, it ensures good behavior. If the young public intellectual to-be expresses skepticism or asks where the money is coming from, then those jaunts to the onsens and mountains at Aspen are over. Oh yes, they are looking for more candidates to participate in this program. I say, go for it. You will be fed well and many nice things can be said about free travel to Hawaii.

You know that I want you
And you know that I need you
I want it bad
A bad romance

To a man, and they were all men, the Alliance Managers at the public seminar confessed how unprepared they were for the Hatoyama Administration. None had expected much change in Japanese foreign policy. And some even thought like Yukio Okamoto, Japan's foreign policy shadow shogun, how it was "wonderful" that Hatoyama wanted a "close and equal relationship."  As Okamoto admitted, they had misinterpreted what equal meant. It did not have any relationship to increasing the reach and capabilities of the Japan's military.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage agreed, they had been "too complacent." He too confessed he did not anticipate the changes in Japan. Armitage felt that they (assume the Managers) still needed to have "a real understanding of the real hearts of the leadership of the DPJ."  For right now, he felt that the DPJ is not speaking the same language as those interested in strengthening the Alliance. The new Japanese government just did not understand deterrence.

Armitage a longtime consultant to Japanese interests, is best known for organizing a nine-page election-year vanity paper, written primarily by Dr. James Przytup, that summarizes the discussions of the Japan-US security seminars during the 90s. The Armitage Report served as the basis for Bush Administration's Japan policy. He is also known for having revealed to the press the identity of a covert American operative, Valerie Plame.

President of the Pacific Forum Ralf Cossa introduced Okamoto and Armitage as "two of the superstars" of Alliance management.


[This post will be in two parts. The music just makes me wanna dance...or something.]

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Power to Truth

The Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean ends January 15th. According to Yomiuri, when asked about this, Prime Minister Hatoyama made the following comment to reporters at his office: 
All of those MSDF members have worked very hard. I'd like to express my heartfelt gratitude. But I do not think it has had sufficient meaning from the perspective of policy. The actual results of the refueling activities demonstrate that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Family Matters

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has canceled the rest of her Asia trip. She is hurrying back to Washington to deal with the crisis. Washington Wags say she has to make sure that Bill, her husband and the UN Special Envoy to Haiti, doesn't get credit for rescuing that devastated land.

Later: "What we can do to help Haiti, now and beyond" op ed in the January 14th Washington Post by Bill Clinton.

Whatever, it is a prudent move. There is big trouble brewing with China. The backstory to the Google announcement that it might pull out of China is that China is conducting massive and aggressive electronic industrial, economic, and political espionage against the U.S. and other Western targets. GhostNet is real. As the Nelson Report notes, Congress is likely to go "ballistic" over this issue and the situation is fast "metastasizing." The topic was a major concern of the recent annual report of the conservative Congressional US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

It is unclear if US arms sales to Taiwan and Clinton's upcoming speech on Internet freedom are warning flares to China. The concern is so great in the intell community that the FBI leaked recently a classified report on Chinese cyberwar to The Daily Beast. For now, it is fortuitous that Clinton and her Asia team return to Washington to deal with this "crisis."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bad Timing

Some of the Marine Corps operations now at its Futenma Air Station are moving to the Air Force's Kadena Air Base this month. There has to be some comedy in this. The U.S. Government has spent the better part of the last three months explaining to the Government of Japan that this is operationally not possible, feasible, or reasonable. Then, in a December 28th press release the Marine Corps punched a hole that argument.

In fairness, only fixed-wing aircraft are involved and their moving to Kadena on January 10th is only temporary. The Futenma runway is to undergo three months of routine repairs and maintenance. The press release was also quick to note: "The temporary movement of Marine Corps fixed-wing aircraft from MCAS Futenma to Kadena Air Base in no way supports or implies the feasibility of consolidating Futenma aviation operations at Kadena Air Base."

My first question is "when was the last time Marine operations moved to Kadena?" And my second is what happens if suddenly within the next three months there is a "contingency"? For example, North Korea, which is always problematic, is closer to turmoil than ever before.

Pyongyang's recent currency reform and banning of foreign currency is a sure fire formula to antagonize and dispossess the very few who have some stake in preserving the totalitarian system. Taking away privileges from North Korea's elite can have consequences. Now that they have nothing else to lose, all bets are off.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Apocalypse in Lilac: Capriccio

Many people think it is foolish to dwell on issues of history, especially that of the Asia-Pacific War. They are mistaken. History permeates every sector of Asian life.

Whether it is how a noodle dish is made or who votes or where an airfield is located, the past is the context. History is not ready to go away and it returns inconveniently.

The death of a former comfort woman is front-page news in Korea, rightists in Japan surround a Korean elementary school shouting that the Korean-Japanese should go back to Korea, the U.S. State Department is asking for justice for former American POWs of Japan, and the Okinawans are finding their voice against the caprices of Tokyo.

I always marvel at those who tell me to stop caring about "those" history issues. It seems, to me, perilous to ignore them. So much of the controversy over the Futenma relocation has to do with unresolved history. There is a history to corruption, willful power, and secret agreements.

Westerners should not be so surprised by this. We are not immune. Japanese-Americans wanted and got after over 40 years an apology. After months of negotiations the German government pledged $87.2 million in December to a new endowment for the Auschwitz memorial in Poland.  In October, after decades of denial, a monument was dedicated in Bucharest recognizing and memorializing Romanian Holocaust victims.

The painting, Apocalypse in Lilac: Capriccio, at the right really says it all. Marc Chagall kept the work to himself. Painted in 1945, it is uncharacteristically dark and literal depiction of the Holocaust was never exhibited or cataloged. There is none of the usual (and to me annoying) vivid color and folkloric fantasy of most Chagalls. This was a personal expression of trying to put to memory the horrors being exposed at the time. The work only surfaced when it was sold to a private collector after the artist's death.

Purchased by the London Museum of Jewish Art in October, the painting will go on exhibit this week. After over 60 years, this powerful, rare image is finally ready for its public.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Farewell 2009

2009 was difficult, very difficult. I look forward to 2010 with the hope that energy, inspiration, health, and friendships will return.

[I realize most people take the picture of the big Buddha in Kamakura from the front. But, I am not most people. Photo taken March 2008.]