Discarding the old mantras

After winning the Florida Republican primary on Tuesday, Arizona Senator John McCain has more or less solidified his position as the likely Republican presidential candidate. Sankei‘s Komori Yoshihisa was quick to praise Senator McCain today for his unstinting support for the US-Japan alliance, pointing to lines from Senator McCain’s essay in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs. (He seems especially pleased that Senator McCain quoted former prime minister Abe in a positive light.)

Undoubtedly Komori also likes who is on the list of Senator McCain’s foreign policy observers.

The sheer terror with which Komori and other conservatives speak of a Clinton victory suggest to me that a Democratic victory would be a good thing, although personally I’m supporting Senator Obama.

The alliance needs to be shaken up. If the US and Japan learned anything from 2007, it should be that the old formulas about the strength of the alliance and its bedrock of shared interests and values are no longer valid; simply repeating the old mantras of the alliance won’t make the alliance any stronger or relevant. There is a need for a bilateral discussion that addresses the alliance’s structural problems. I am convinced that a Democratic administration, with an Asia team less wedded to the vision of the alliance peddled by Japan’s friends in the Republican Party, will be better able to ask fundamental questions about the alliance. It will be less inclined to tell the Japanese government what it wants to hear. Does anyone think that the team that ran US Japan policy from 2001 will be able to accomplish that?

At the same time, I do think that Japanese fears about Senator Clinton are (somewhat) justified. Perhaps as a result of the influence of revisionist ideas about Japan early in the Clinton administration, both former president and Senator Clinton have at best a blind spot, at worst an abiding dislike for Japan. The challenge is the revitalize the alliance for the twenty-first century, not push Japan to the side. Senator Obama, with his laudable willingness to buck conventional wisdom on foreign policy, may be better prepared to have this discussion.

14 thoughts on “Discarding the old mantras

  1. Bryce

    It\’s not just conservatives. I interviewed a few moderates in foreign affairs related positions last year and at least one or two of them seemed pretty scared of her two. Something about Clinton being great mates with Iris Chang crept into one of the conversations. One guy actually said it would be a \”disaster\” for Japan (he used the English word for emphasis) if she were elected. I wonder how things will go. I think it all depends on the superdelegates.


  2. Facing another Clinton across the Pacific would be far less troubling than having Shinzo Abe as ones chief executive. And it\’s the LDP that inflicted that upon Japan. Anyway, could you define revisionist here? I don\’t want to comment on it if I don\’t know what you are trying to say. I wouldn\’t say that what I think of as revisionists had any larger role in Clinton admin than in the Reagan or Bush I admins. My larger take is that Tokyo likes Republicans because Republicans, despite all their talk about being free traders, are all too willing to engage in managed trade. So Japanese trade negotiators preferred making deals to opening markets. Additionally, Republicans have been more wiling to make trades to get what they want on security matters, base subsidies etc., than Democrats which has made Republicans easier to deflect on trade issues given domestic Japanese political concerns. That is changing and will change more if the LDP is pushed out.


  3. Ross,Obviously the \”revisionists\” had influence during the Reagan and Bush years, but they arguably had considerable influence in the Clinton administration both in terms of their power in economic policy making (compounded by the weakness of the Japan teams at Defense and State) but also in shaping the administration\’s mindset as far as Japan was concerned.That\’s how I see it, anyway.


  4. Willie

    Inside the US, many anti-Clinton folks see them as being way too close to Chinese interests. Even if this perception is unfair, one might assume that there is some reason for the impression, and one might also expect those on the right in the US to get the message to their friends in the LDP complex.In any case, I second Ross\’s opinions about how the 1955 establishment in Japan likes Republicans because they will make trade deals based on strategic/military issues, such as spending for US weapon systems. This is an easy thing to support for the Abe types as they get to help Keidanren with exports, and the gaiatsu is for more military spending, which they want anyway.


  5. Anonymous

    Bill Clinton developed a strong animosity to Japanese trade policy which manifested itself during the debate over NAFTA and the WTO, when he threatened to take out his anger by denying Toyota\’s license to sell the Lexus luxury automobile in the US. I recall a visit by Prime Minister Hosokawa who was forced to defend his trade policy at a contentious press conference with an angry Bill Clinton at his side. Recall that this occurred at a time of turbulence in Japanese politics when some breakaway LDP politicos formed a short lived opposition party. Recall also that the issue of Japanese prowess in economics was still a contentious matter on Wall Street stemming from the eighties and this was just prior to the precipitous decline of the Japanese banking system and economy a few years later. Since Clinton had made economics central to his presidency it is not surprising in the light of the above that he would behave as he did.


  6. Andrew Oplas

    We can all agree that one of the unfortunate truths about the US and Japan relationship is that it is difficult for Japan to get the US to take it seriously on any matter, foreign policy or trade-related.That said, at least the Republicans engage Japan because they have had an activist foreign policy that required as much bilateral support from allies in ad-hoc coalitions of the willing as possible. It was a very important engagement because the US was (tragically) lacking in multi-lateral support in its military engagements (Afghanistan/Iraq).The Democrats, especially under Clinton, were not only criminally negligent and ignorant toward the US-Japan relationship… they were strategically out-smarted either because they didn\’t care or were not smart enough to understand anything going on in Kasumigaseki and this led to incredibly incompetent trade deal defeats by the Clinton Administration… (remember former PM Hashimoto wielding his sword as he negotiated and defeated the Americans in 1996? Under the inspirational (wheez) leadership of Ambassador Mondale?The US-Japan relationship will undoubtedly suffer under a Democrat president, it is only a matter of degree. With Clinton, we can expect the same sorts of negligence (and poor strategy) that occurred under her husband.With Obama, I would not be surprised at catastrophic problems, not only with Japan but with foreign policy in general, as I get heart palpitations every time I hear him hack up some \’audacious\’ new preposterous foreign policy proposal. No one can take this guy seriously on the foreign policy, can they? (Let\’s see what happens Tuesday to the boy wonder…)In any case, the competent leadership on the American side toward Japan since 2001, and the blossoming of a significant, (and under-reported) strong relationship between two powerful leaders (I am speaking of Bush and Koizumi), will likely be remembered as the Golden Years of the Japan-US alliance.We still have hope that it will continue with McCain, of course, but I am not betting on that scenario at this time.


  7. Bryce

    If you\’ll pardon my intrusion, I don\’t think that answers Ross\’s question.Here\’s a handy definition, although I\’m not sure I agree with the rest of the article. I assume this is what Tobias means.\”After the collapse of Soviet-style communism, the \”Japan, Inc.\” economic model stood as the world\’s only real alternative to Western free-market capitalism. Its leading American supporters–who became known as \”revisionists\”–argued in the late 1980s and early 1990s that the United States could not compete with Japan\’s unique form of state-directed insider capitalism. Unless Washington adopted Japanese-style policies and abandoned free markets in favor of \”managed trade,\” they said, America would become an economic colony of Japan.\”*http://www.freetrade.org/node/60This should be juxtaposed to what people used to think about Japan before the revisionists came along – i.e. Modernisation theory; the notion that Japan, purged of its feudal tendencies, would become just like \”us\” as it got wealthier.*That last sentence somewhat misrepresents their views, I find.


  8. Anonymous

    Andrew,We shall see. I\’m afraid the Bush-Koizumi years will primarily be remembered fondly for being before another tough depression. In any case, I\’m curious why either the Japanese or American publics would have a particular Golden Age feeling towards how those two worked together.


  9. You\’re right, Bryce; I was referring to the former.Another difference from the Reagan-Bush years is that the Reagan-Bush teams still had some desire to preserve a healthy security relationship, to keep it walled off, although after the FSX debate and the Gulf War (and as the \’92 election approached), the Bush administration was less inclined to do so. The Clinton team had no such inclinations. They wanted to hammer the Japanese in negotiations, a desire not moderated by security concerns.That shift within the US-Japan relationship coincided more generally with the \”peace dividend\” mood. (Admittedly this was another tendency that appeared during the Bush years and grew more pronounced under Clinton.)


  10. Bryce

    To be fair, there were those in the Clinton camp who understood that the U.S.-Japan relationship was a little bit more complex than U.S. assumptions of Japanese duplicity in trade. Nye, for one.


  11. Both McCain and Clinton will be bad for Japan. Come to think of it, they\’d be bad for the US, too. Same goes for Obama.The best chance for success in the next few years will be *sigh* Romney. I hope he can beat the McCain media hype and capture a victory after Feb 5.The three stooges (Clinton, McCain and Obama) will raise taxes. This is almost certain. When this happens the US economy slows down or goes into recession (despite the press\’ constant hinting at it, the US is NOT in recession right now). Tax increases have almost always led to starting or prolonging recessions.This isn\’t good for Japan, because as the US has less money in its economy so will Japan. Who buys the bulk of Japanese goods? It\’s not China, it\’s the US. Clinton will probably be the worst for Japan. Donors from China have been financing her and her husbands\’ campaign for years.


  12. David

    The influence of the revisionists on any Clinton admin. Or perhaps an injection of reality by revisionists as opposed to the Chrysanthemum Club Reischauers. Unfortunately, if we use the first Billary administration as a guide, I don\’t see how it would be a disaster for Japan. In might be a net gain. Remember the 95 auto parts deal?I missed the revisionist influence during the Reagan administration. I mostly remember apologists for Japanese trade policy.How unfortunate to see McCain\’s thoughts on Abe. I have been struggling as a former Republican between him and Obama. I guess that Obama is our best, if not only hope for real change.


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