Friday, April 25, 2014

Japan: After Obama

I want to direct these comments specifically to the people of a monarchy near and dear to my heart: 日本 (Japan). President of the United States Barack Obama just visited the “Land of the Rising Sun” and I’m sure everyone is still exhilarated in the afterglow of such a brush with celebrity, especially when, for the first time ever, the President of the United States actually stated specifically that the Senkaku Islands were covered by the treaty which requires the United States to fight in defense of Japan if Japanese territory is ever attacked by a foreign power. First of all, I do not mean to diminish such a statement. I am certainly glad that it was made and can only say it should have been made much sooner but, better late than never as the saying goes. There is nothing I want more than for the United States and Japan to be fast friends and close allies. The assurance from Obama means that if the People’s Kleptomaniac Republic of Chinese Sweatshop Workers tries to seize the Senkaku Islands, the United States will assist Japan in defending and/or recovering that part of Japanese sovereign territory. Well, almost, that is to say, more or less because President Obama also said that the United States does not take a position on the issue of the sovereignty dispute over the islands between Japan and Red China. After all, the last thing you want to do is make your banker angry with you.

Wait a minute, WHAT?! So, everyone is all excited because President Obama, almost in the same breath, said that the Senkakus are included in the U.S.-Japanese defense treaty but that the United States does not take sides in the dispute over who actually holds sovereignty over those islands? Surely this must be some mistake! Surely, our brilliant, Harvard-educated President did not just pledge to go to war on behalf of a few islands without first being sure where he stands on who exactly is the rightful owner of said islands -right? You see, Japan, this is why it doesn’t do to get too excited over President Obama. Again, I am glad he gave an assurance on support in the Senkakus issue, it is certainly better if he had given none at all. However, his assurance rings rather hollow when he cannot even say that the United States, under his administration, is taking the side of its ally Japan over Maoist China in regards to the dispute that is at the heart of the matter. Remember, this is the same man who had Chairman Mao’s face emblazoned on his Christmas tree ornaments. This is the man whose former communications director was Anita Dunn who said that Chairman Mao was one of the two people she admired most. This is the President who named Ron Bloom his “manufacturing czar” who said that, “We kind of agree with Mao that political power comes largely from the barrel of a gun”. Be happy, but do not be too trusting of this President.

Just for a little parallel, remember how excited everyone was when President Obama named Caroline Kennedy the U.S. Ambassador to Japan? Sure, she didn’t have any diplomatic experience, had never lived in Japan and has no understanding of the Japanese language but, it’s CAROLINE KENNEDY! Her dad was President! Remember all the crowds cheering and waving when she arrived, all the excited people singing “Sweet Caroline” as she went to the Imperial Palace to present her credentials? Yes, that was fun, but how did that work out? Ambassador Kennedy said her top priority was to promote more feminism in Japan because there are not enough women serving in the Japanese government (and trust me, she did not mean that she wished Madame Yuko Tojo had been elected) as if that is any of her business and as if her job was not to represent the President of the United States in Japan but to spread American-style feminist “equality” amongst the less “progressive” Japanese! But that was just the beginning. She then went on to be the first U.S. Ambassador to express “disappointment” at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, again, as if it is any of her business or that of her country or any other country where the political leader of Japan goes to pray. Later she stuck her nose in local matters again by calling the traditional dolphin hunt in Taiji as an example of “inhumaneness” and later still she had her embassy staff release an official statement condemning the comments made by the new governors of the NHK. What do all of these have in common? They all were none of her business and had nothing to do with the United States or American-Japanese relations, yet she decided to sit in judgment of the people of Japan on every one of them.

She still gets the celebrity treatment of course and maybe, having no diplomatic experience, she just didn’t understand that these were things she should not have done. Then again, maybe this is all some passive-aggressive way of taking revenge on the Japanese for sinking her father’s PT Boat in World War II -I don’t know. The point is that the Obama administration should not be gushed over in regards to its relationship with Japan. President Obama has something of a track record when it comes to traditional American allies and it is not one to inspire a great deal of confidence. This is the President who told the State of Israel that it should return to its pre-1967 borders, who sided with the pro-Hugo Chavez socialist dictator of Honduras in his seizure of power, who shook hands with Chavez while spurning traditional allies like Colombia and Honduras, who took down the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic (which they agreed to at considerable risk to themselves) in order to placate Mr. Putin in Russia (didn’t work out so good did it?) signed on the anniversary of the invasion of Poland no less. And, this is the man who handed over the serial numbers for the British Trident missiles to the Russians, selling out the United Kingdom which had been the closest ally the United States has had in recent years.

I bring this up not to cast doubt on Japanese-American friendship, that is the last thing I would want to do. In a survey last year, 81% of Americans had a positive view of Japan and 69% of Japanese people have a favorable view of the United States (which is considerable given that foreign countries as well as elements on both the far-left and right in Japan often try to spread division between Japan and America). The two countries have a good relationship and I want that to continue. I bring this up only because one must take politics into consideration and differentiate between the American people and the American government (something difficult for all peoples around the world to do most of the time) and because I don’t want Japan to get too carried away by any reassurances of support from President Obama. Just because Obama said that the Senkaku Islands are included in the Japan-US security pact does not mean that Japan should not continue to persevere in the campaign to amend Article 9. The American public (if not the government) is leaning more and more heavily these days back in the direction of isolation and the best thing Japan can do for the sake of security is to be grateful and appreciative for any American support but to strengthen itself and build-up the Japanese Self-Defense forces as if no such agreement existed. In the event of any trouble, I hope the United States would be there to help and it probably will be but one should always hope for the best and prepare for the worst and no country should depend exclusively on the protection of another. Governments change, politicians come and go and what one administration does, another can un-do.

Numerous Presidents of the United States promised their staunch support for South Vietnam in the fight against communist aggression in Southeast Asia. The last to do so was Republican President Nixon in 1972. Yet, only the following year, in June 1973, after the Democrats had taken control of Congress, the Case-Church Amendment was passed with sufficient votes to override a veto by the Republican President, and all military assistance to South Vietnam was cut off. The Americans went home and the communists rolled into Saigon not long after. There are other examples that could be cited but the overriding point is that, in any crisis, nothing should be taken for granted. Happily (and honestly, somewhat to my surprise) the Obama administration has been positive about Japan taking a more direct role in its own national security matters. So, I say take that ball and run with it! Amend Article 9, strengthen the country and restore a strong and proud Japan that would be happy to have American assistance but hopefully, would not require it.

Again, it was better than nothing, but the statement could have been much stronger and less ambiguous. Americans, and particularly the men and women of the American military, should be much more upset by this. Look at it from their perspective; their commander-in-chief just said that they might be called upon to fight and die for a cause that he will not even take a solid stand on! When Obama says he takes no side in the sovereignty dispute, one would not be unjustified in asking how on earth he could expect the military to put their lives on the line for the issue. What he is saying is that, Japan might be right but then again China might be right too. That seems a pretty flimsy position to potentially go to war over and I am surprised the reaction to this sort of double-talk has not been stronger. As I have covered before, in my opinion there should be no dispute at all, the islands clearly belong to Japan and the United States government should come out and say that with no equivocation. If troubles do arise, with the treaty in place and generally good relations prevailing between Washington and Tokyo, I trust that the United States would be prepared to assist. My ideal scenario, however, would be for Japan to be strong enough and assertive enough to tell America in such a crisis, “Thanks, but we got this”.

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