Wednesday, June 09, 2010

They Do So Get It

One of the common complaints one hears regarding the current Japan-U.S. alliance is that the United States is insensitive and brusque, so wrapped up in its own global strategic planning and timetables that it fails to honor or even appreciate the feelings of the Japanese people. This sense of Japan's being misunderstood is not a right-wing or left-wing issue: one hears it from both ends of the political spectrum. That the Americans do not understand is of course a major reason behind the current parlous level of communication between the two governments.

The problem with trope is that Americans, at least American academics, do get it. I would challenge any one reading Kenneth Pyle's essay "Troubled Alliance" -- the first of a collection of essays from the National Bureau of Asian Research available for free downloading here until July 31 -- to say that he or the other authors in the collection do not understand Japanese or even Democratic Party of Japan feelings. Pyle, the dean of American scholars on Japan's security policy, outlines very clearly the deep yet thwarted desire for jiei and jison that spans the ages and crosses political lines.

Pyle's views and the views expressed by the other authors are not government views. Still they are authoritative views regarding the Alliance. While members of the DPJ, members of the commentariat and a goodly portion of the public may believe that they have few friends in and enjoy little sympathy from Washington, they are possibly being too hasty in arriving at their conclusions.

Either that, or they are looking to the wrong Washington for understanding.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

MTC,

That's not really how Washington works. It is made up of cliques. That means having an opinion and being somewhat important doesn't mean your opinion will be reflected in any other than policy reports, of which there are hundreds. The Bader line on Futenma is the only official opinion, at present, among those in a position to influence outcomes. Take a look at Peter Ennis' recent post. He has it just about right.

Anonymous seven said...

"That means having an opinion and being somewhat important doesn't mean your opinion will be reflected in any other than policy reports, of which there are hundreds."

Right.

And even opinion in "academic America" is insulated from Washington by the institutions that dominate the public space within the beltway. Think-tanks in D.C. (and often institutions like the Walsh school) serve as holding pens for potential administration officials when their team is not "in," and also for aspiring officials. Groups that enter the policy debate are likely to be pre-formed, and in the case of the group that currently dominates Asia policy, pretty much the only game in town across administrations.

There are other dynamics: admittedly very helpful trusted sources sending out briefings which everybody reads, and even certain individuals who aren't "on the same page" and are therefore blackballed in terms of representation in discussions. These people can ask questions at events, but if you hold the stage you really do control the discussion.

Result: a lot of groupthink, and, in general, conservatism.

The only two people who matter for Washington within the publication you cited are therefore Michael Green and Yuki Tatsumi, and the latter only as a rising star with a heap of (surprisingly for DC, legitimate and non-commercial) connections to the defense establishment. She is at least sincere, but we'll see how much influence she has in years to come, and whether she stays in D.C. at all.

I’m not sure if it is strange that within Washington that one man dominates most of the discussion on a single nation, but it certainly isn't healthy. It means that the Washingtonian chattering classes are generally exposed to one slice of Japanese public discourse, that is, the slice represented when Mr. Green’s friends are in town.

However, strange things do happen. Recently an American alliance manager at a conservative think-tank in Washington actually blamed Koizumi and Abe for fooling the people who dealt with Japan in D.C.--including himself--into believing that Tokyo was willing to do more than it was, whatever that means. Sounds like people are bitter about losing a Japan that was extremely cooperative, but it also demonstrates that shallow knowledge and wishful thinking about long-term trends in Japan dominate the thinking in Washington.

The Japanese embassy is partly to blame. To be fair, its staff was left out of the loop when the DPJ came in, and was therefore unenthusiastic about representing the new government--although on Okinawa, at least in public, Ambassador Fujisaki is a noteworthy exception. Nevertheless, the lack of diversity within the discussion on Japan shows a shocking degree of institutional inertia on the the embassy's part. It has not particularly proactive in forging other links outside of "cultural" activities. Part of this is because its staff believes--or at least used to believe--that the current alliance managers are "friends" of Japan.

Good luck with that.

Hoofin said...

These comments are salient. The American side:

Sounds like people are bitter about losing a Japan that was extremely cooperative, but it also demonstrates that shallow knowledge and wishful thinking about long-term trends in Japan dominate the thinking in Washington.

The Japanese side:

It has not particularly proactive in forging other links outside of "cultural" activities. Part of this is because its staff believes--or at least used to believe--that the current alliance managers are "friends" of Japan.


This is what surprises me the most about the bileratal relations. The focus of American expats who have any sort of power or standing in Tokyo is almost exclusively on keeping their own good little thing going.

There seems to be very little creative thought and strategic planning about what the 2020's or 2030's will look like between Japan and America. There is very little outreach to the rest of the American expat community--they want to treat even multiyear residents here as eternal transients. What they devote their energies here to--under the guise of "international exchange and relations" is laissez le bon temps continue.

Part of this is because American polity just isn't focused on the trans-Pacific alliance. I suspect the average American would not be able to locate Japan on a map, and any number think it's part of China. What was established 50 or 60 years ago becomes this immutable storyline. So the U.S.-Japan relationship gets stuck in this loop where everyone repeats the same theme in zombie-like fashion.

Even small things: For exmaple, Facebook entries by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo occasionally refer to the Japanese as "our Japanese ally". You would never refer to Canada, Germany, England or Italy that way.

But another explanation is that the expat elite mimic what the Japanese brahmins themselves do here. And what counts in Edo, as it always did, is status ("this is who I am") and the story of yore ("this the long and honored tale of how I came to have this status"). Setting up your kids and grandkids is a part of the task, of course.

So Americans set up a nice corporate, military, or government careers for themselves via connections, and mostly based off the sweet honey of trans-Pacific trade and relations.

The world may change, Japan may change, but they will still be looking at things--and encouraging you to, too--through the worldview of 1965. One that doesn't get questioned. And that doesn't change.

Armchair Asia said...

Ha Ha

It is just too late to say nice things about the Dark Side.

Yuki is a member and she will stab anyone in the back who points out otherwise.

What a poser that Steve Clemons is. Neither he nor Nelson went to that Bader talk. If a certain girl scout wasn't there to report, it would never have seen the light of day. But hard work and inspiration are never rewarded.

And Anon and Anon Seven, gosh, who are you, where are you? I want to marry you!