Yesterday North Korea announced it’s restarting its nuclear reactor so it can build its nuclear weapons arsenal. This follows North Korea’s increasingly bellicose posturing over the last couple of months, including a nuclear bomb test in February. The United States and South Korea have been carrying out military exercises in the region. North Korea is the only country in the world with which Japan doesn’t have diplomatic relations. Things are understandably tense in Japan, a close neighbor of North Korea and the target of some 150 North Korean missiles pointed in Japan’s direction. The United States has close to a dozen bases in Japan. This is a complicated situation, requiring experience, wisdom and finesse.
I’m so relieved to hear that Caroline Kennedy is likely to be appointed ambassador to Japan. After all, it’s easy to be an ambassador……to St. Lucia, the Bahamas, Canada (just ask former Governor Paul Cellucci.) Naming prominent people as ambassadors shows the United States really cares, or so the argument goes. Caroline Kennedy is prominent. Past ambassadors to Japan were largely prominent people. Edwin Reischauer, to name one.
Oh, but wait. He was a Japan scholar and spoke Japanese. Clyde Prestowitz, writing in Foreign Policy, reminds us that,after Reischauer came Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, House Speaker Tom Foley, and former Vice President Walter Mondale. They were all prominent too. None of them spoke Japanese, but all had been heavily involved in foreign policy matters. The bare fact is that Caroline Kennedy, notwithstanding her other talents, just doesn’t have that expertise.
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama promised to change the tradition of rewarding big donors with ambassadorships. His record is about that of George W. Bush and has been roundly criticized in the press here and abroad. He recently named Chicago tycoon and former Citibank executive Louis Susman to be ambassador to the United Kingdom (a tradition honored by President Franklin Roosevelt’s naming business tycoon Joseph Kennedy to the same post.) Many other donors, especially those who bundle multiple contributions, have been similarly rewarded, including our own Alan Solomont (Spain) and Barry White (Norway.) Neither Spain nor Norway is the sensitive posting that Japan is.
Caroline Kennedy’s early support of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential bid has earned her the President’s eternal gratitude. But, really Mr. President. Ambassador to Japan?
I welcome your comments in the section below.