Monday, September 7, 2009


In late August, the New York Times ran an article in its Business Section on criticism. Not surprisingly, the experts observed that "people take criticism a lot better if their boss (or spouse or parent) isn’t too stingy with positive feedback."

In the middle of the article, Shinobu Kitayama, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, identified clear differences in the reaction to criticism in the American and Japanese cultures.

“In general, it seems as if criticism is very hard to take in contemporary American culture,” Professor Kitayama said. “It’s seen as a threat or an attack on self-esteem or as violating social rules. In Japanese culture, self-esteem is important, but more important is improving yourself.”

Another scholar noted that "failure feedback is motivating for Japanese while success feedback is motivating for Americans."

With this in mind, I read Washington Post editor Jim Hoagland's Sunday, September 6th op ed "Change They Can't Believe In."

He was critical of political change in Japan and wary of the expected challenges it would pose to American security goals. As he writes:

But Japan's upheaval also presents Obama with a significant challenge in Asia. The president will have to walk a fine line in correctly identifying and strengthening the moderates in the new government while containing the coalition's left- and right-wing extremists.

And the president has done himself no favor at this moment by choosing John Roos, a California lawyer and a mega-fundraiser for Obama in 2008, as his ambassador to Tokyo. Over time, Obama's complicity with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in stuffing the most important U.S. embassies with campaign bagmen instead of experienced foreign policy professionals will come back to haunt this White House -- nowhere more so than in Japan.

The complaint that a non-Japan hand is U.S. Ambassador is ironic. Recent ambassadors who have been, such as Armin H. Meyer (1969-1972) and Michael Armacost (1989-1993) , were reportedly greatly disliked by the Japanese government and found their efforts obstructed at every turn.

Hoagland was also skeptical that the DPJ would temper its rhetoric, as

that assumption neglects political reality: Elections for the Diet's upper house are only a year away. The Democrats need to win a clear majority to consolidate their power, and they are unlikely to risk being caught abandoning campaign promises before then.

He continues by doubting the new government's commitment to the U.S.-Japan alliance and again the new American ambassador's ability to manage the change. Hoagland assumes (incorrectly I might add) that the Hatoyama Administration will not have an alternative to the refueling mission for supporting coalition (not just American) troops in Afghanistan.

Chances are slim to none of the Diet renewing Japanese refueling operations that support U.S. forces in Afghanistan. That decision, due in January, could open a difficult passage in America's most important bilateral relationship in Asia. Let's hope that Ambassador Roos is wise enough to let the experienced Asia team Obama has assembled in Washington steer the policy ship.

And Hoagland concludes by echoing the speakers at the CSIS Japan event mentioned below who emphasized that the bureaucrats were essential to managing the Alliance. They should be appreciated not cast aside, as

Among them are individuals who have served their country honorably while being faithful U.S. friends. For official American words or acts to undercut or discredit them would diminish one of the great diplomatic successes of the 20th century and gain Obama nothing lasting with the new bosses in Tokyo.

It seems to me, that by taking cause with Japan's career officials, Hoagland and others are criticizing the DPJ politician's ability to make informed governing decisions. And by praising the ties with these "permanent" government managers, Hoagland is warning that the DPJ is not destined to last long.

This is maybe just the kind of criticism the DPJ needs to become motivated, if you believe the Times.

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