(an aerial view of Futenma U.S. Marine Corps Air Station, Okinawa)
Chris Nelson blogged before blogs — and his daily take on US foreign policy and political affairs, The Nelson Report, with a zealous slant towards all things Asia — is only available to high end consulting clients and his pals (by fax and email).
With permission, I offer some of the zingers he puts together — the latest on some action-packed public comments offered yesterday at the Stimson Center on US-Japan relations offered by Obama adviser and National Security Director for Asia Jeffrey Bader.
I should note that I am writing this from Okinawa, Japan at the moment — about a half hour down the road from the controversial Futenma U.S. Marine Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa.
From THE NELSON REPORT — 7 June 2010
BADER-JAPAN…NSC senior director for Asia Jeff Bader has been on the front lines of the difficulties between the Obama Administration and Japan since Day One of the Administration, and it’s well to remember that the Obama/Hatoyama disconnect was not the beginning of problems, but, rather, a continuation of several years of US officials’ frustration.
It was the LDP which had determined to end the Indian Ocean refueling part of Japan’s Af/Pak war support, a decision the DPJ ratified; and it was the LDP which failed to implement the 2006 Futenma agreement which Hatoyama’s government so dramatically tried to roll-back.
So Obama relations with and confidence in the LDP/Aso government which preceded the dramatic shift to a DPJ take-over last Fall was difficult and frustrating for many of the same bottom line reasons in the more recent headlines…promise vs performance, and demands for status regardless.
We mention this as an “introduction” to Bader today, and a useful reminder that the Hatoyama administration inherited a “difficult” situation, but then unfortunately, if presumably inadvertently, made things a lot worse.
Among many interesting points made Bader frankly said a major cause of the Hatoyama/Obama disconnect was that for the first several months, US Amb. John Roos was the “only line of communication”.
This was NOT a criticism of the yeoman work done by Roos, but a rueful comment on problems exacerbated because there was no coherent DPJ outreach to officials back here in DC.
That situation began to improve in April, Bader said, and since then there has been “some coherence” in the back-channel dialogue or conversation which is so critical to international relations and policy-making.
Bader thus rather frankly noted the problem many of us in the “Japan business” had fretted over since the Fall.
Instead, Hatoyama and his ministers seemed OK with a steady procession of DPJ politicians who might have been freelancing, or might have been semi-official, but who in any event systematically boycotted any cooperation with the Gaimusho and the professional bureaucracy which stood ready to perform their staffing responsibilities.
The result was that the White House, State, DOD et all were under a constant drumbeat of requests for private meetings with DPJ politicians who might or might not be speaking on behalf of the Government…and who in any event had very little, if any, coherence to their presentations.
So even before it got to the point of an Obama/Hatoyama disconnect and questions of “trust”, there was a fundamental problem of lack of confidence back here that the DPJ had any idea what it was trying to do, or how to do it.
Bader frankly said that often, DPJ thinking on critical foreign policy issues was “very messy” and “painfully transparent” because of the problem with trying to decide who was speaking for whom.
Bader carefully noted three specific causes of White House concern with the DPJ:
First, the statements from Hatoyama, Ozawa et al that Japan wanted to “rebalance” between the US and China; second, the “East Asia Community”, perhaps with, or perhaps not with US participation; third, the Indian Ocean re-fueling cancellation, but then no coherent suggestions on how to reaffirm the alliance.
Bader was also very frank in why the White House began to lose faith (our words) in Hatoyama, calling the Prime Minister’s initial “promise” to decide on Futenma by the end of December, then the shift to an end-of-May “deadline” a big mistake.
The result, said Bader, was that Obama continued to be “patient but skeptical”. Bader wryly noted that the President was firmly advised to be tough on Futenma, and firmly advised to be patient and understanding.
In practice, Bader said, the Administration “tried to be both”, but Bader was surprisingly frank, or critical, in blaming whomever it was for “leaking” the early confrontation between DOD Secretary Gates and Foreign Minister Okada…thus implying that the subsequent negative atmosphere was unintentional, and not deliberate US “gaiatsu”.
And on gaiatsu itself, whatever you may think of its recent use, Bader said gaiatsu is “finished” as a result of the Futenma hassle, an event he welcomed, and that the Futenma agreement now is important, because it reflects real policy changes in Japan.
There was some interesting stuff in the Q&A’s on China, but it’s late, and we want to get home to hear how daughter Margo’s first day at work was!
More later, meanwhile, here’s our selection of good quotes from Bader’s official working notes:
— This conference is timely, not least because of the events last week in Tokyo. I prepared my remarks before the resignation of PM Hatoyama. Others in this conference I am sure will speak about the impact of Naoto Kan’s assumption of the Prime Ministership.
— The fact that President Obama telephoned Kan so quickly after the vote in the Diet – well before Kan official takes up his position – and the fact that they held a warm and very substantive conversation, is indicative of the Obama Administration’s attitude towards Japan.
— President Obama’s approach to Japan since beginning of Administration shows the importance he attached to the relationship.
1) First visitor to Oval Office was PM Aso. Not a statement of personal support for him, but for Japan relationship.
2) First step on foreign soil by Secretary Clinton was in Japan, in February 2009. Europeans and others have remarked that they saw our early approach as putting Asia first. Certainly was intended to signal increased attention to Asia, though not to downgrade other areas vital to US interests.
3) President’s trip to Asia in his first year, and his first stop was in Japan.
— Secretary Gates visited Japan in October and made clear that the FRF remained the best option, that walking away from it would damage the alliance. There was criticism of Secretary Gates’ so-called “confrontational” approach. In fact, someone on the Japanese side chose to leak virtually the entire transcript of Gates’ first meeting with FM Okada to Kyodo News, giving the appearance that Gates was seeking a public confrontation when he was in fact speaking frankly in a private meeting.
— As we all know, PM Hatoyama decided in December Japan would not implement the FRF as agreed upon. He said Japan would reach agreement with us on a new proposal by the end of May and made clear his preference was to relocate the MCAS Futenma off Okinawa – if not off Japan altogether. – We thought this was a mistake, for various reasons. We made clear our disagreement to the Japanese government. At the same time, we did not reject Hatoyama’s proposal to talk. We would have preferred to stay with the option so arduously negotiated over 15 years, and continued to say it was the “best” option, but we did not insist that it was the “only” option. Rather, we showed respect and understanding of the politics of Japan and the needs of the new government. We were frankly skeptical that delay would produce more positive results. But, that is how allies should treat each other, particularly in the “alliance of equals” about which Hatoyama spoke and which President Obama has accepted.
— The President has always believed that US-Japan relations are much larger than a single base issue. We did not want relations to be overshadowed by this matter. But we couldn’t ignore it. It came to be seen as an indicator of how the Japanese government viewed the security relationship and its own national security.
— So this agreement is important, not only in its own right but in terms of what it reflects about political change in Japan. First of all, it shows that the old model of “gaiatsu” – the-Americans-made-me-do-it – is finished. We welcome its demise since that is simply not the way that President Obama does business. In its place, the DPJ leadership introduced a very messy and very public rethinking of Japan’s security interests and the meaning of the U.S.-Japan Alliance. The outcome of their review of the options on the FRF is significant because Japan’s leadership reached their own conclusion through an inclusive and (painfully) transparent process. This was not a handful of Japanese national security policy experts making a backroom deal and then selling it as something Japan is obligated to do for Washington. The agreement reflects Japanese public mainstream views about its own best interests. Lastly, this outcome reflects in my view, a maturation of the DPJ’s understanding of the stakes and national security implications of the alliance.
— Within hours of the vote to make him Prime Minister, Kan held a news conference making clear his intent to implement the Futenma agreement.
— The sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan by North Korea served as a dramatic reminder that NE Asia is still a dangerous neighborhood. The Japanese government also experienced some difficulties in a relationship with China in which it had invested a considerable amount. The DPJ has come to understand with increasingly clarity that others in the region were watching closely the US-Japan alliance, and Japan could not afford the impression of a rift to gain traction. It turns out that all politics is not 100% local, as it had been seen in Japan for some months before then.
— Japan has strongly backed the ROK in the face of aggression from the North in the wake of the Cheonan incident. Its solidarity with the ROK has been firm and public. Japan has sought trilateral cooperation with the US and ROK and taken a leading role in fashioning a UN Security Council response.
— As a member of the UN Security Council, Japan is strongly supporting the US-led draft of UNSC sanctions resolution on Iran. Mr. Kan indeed reiterated that support in his first conversation with President Obama this past weekend.
— Japan’s leadership has made clear recently that it favors US participation in any eventual East Asian Community, a change from the position taken by the DPJ leadership last fall. – Japan strongly supported President Obama’s initiatives at the April Nuclear Security Summit in Washington and worked closely with the U.S. delegation at the NPT Review Conference in May.
— So 9 months after the DPJ’s electoral victory, the scorecard from the US perspective is positive, and improving.
— There has been lots of attention to what a rough ride it has been, to the drama of Hatoyama’s resignation, to the difficulties of the DPJ government in getting its feet solidly under it. I’ll leave to experts on Japan the analysis of these.
— But from the viewpoint of the US the much larger issue and conclusion is this: Japan has gone through the single most dramatic political change after 50 years of stasis in party rule and the US-Japan alliance has emerged in sound condition, having been scrutinized and ultimately validated by the new political leadership.
— This is in one sense not surprising, since 80% of all Japanese in polling support the alliance. That is the indispensable foundation for the alliance.
— On the other hand, one shouldn’t take for granted that in a 2 party or multi-party system our alliances are immune from trauma when parties lose power.
— So this last year has been historic in affirming the support of overwhelming majority of the Japanese people and all the major parties in Japan for the U.S.-Japan alliance. This year has given us the answer to the question of what would happen if the “guardian” of the security relationship, the LDP, lost power and has demonstrated that the alliance is a bond between the people of our two nations,.
— I believe this is good news for Japan, for the US, and for Asia…
I like Jeff Bader and respect his take on Asia, but there is a lot of ‘wishful thinking’ and perhaps unintentional fabrication in his talking points.
First of all, there was clearly “gaiatsu” or foreign pressure applied to Hatoyama and Japan’s political leadership over Futenma. Go talk to folks in the DPJ, in Japanese journalism circles — from the Asahi, Yomiuri, Nikkei, Tokyo Shimbun, TV Asahi — and there is widespread agreement that the Obama team pushed hard on Futenma.
Secondly, US Ambassador to Japan John Roos was the only conduit for communications because the U.S. did little to help the incoming Hatoyama government, which represented an enormous pivot in Japanese politics, to construct an alternative structure of elite-level communication that stepped away from the old structure that had been dominated by US-Japan personalities on both sides that had been there for many years. Hatoyama didn’t trust these channels of communication, and the Obama White House should have had more foresight about that.
Bader is not plugged in if he thinks that the US and Japan will be able to get by the Futenma problem and move forward now. Many Japanese students I spoke to in Tokyo feel as if they are subordinates of the United States and have no control over their national destiny. Not healthy. When it comes to military affairs, most Japanese I have spoken to feel that Japan is still a “vassal state” of the US and that this needs to change.
In Okinawa, the Ryukyu Shimpo just did a poll of every mayor on the island — and 100% of those voted said that they believed the Hatoyama deal with the US on moving Futenma from one part of the island to another should be rejected.
Bader may not like some of the things the Hatoyama did, but the bottom line remains that many think that the single-minded, obsessive focus of the administration in not yielding anything substantial on the Futenma issue has undermined confidence and trust for many Japanese citizens and politicians in the long term US-Japan security relationship.
Even inadvertently contributing to circumstances that brought down a Japanese prime minister who was the first to seriously undo the structural hold the Liberal Democratic Party had in Japan was an enormous mistake — and there will likely be consequences that Bader seems unwilling to acknowledge and accept.
Bader’s dismissal of the notion that the US did anything out of line in the dance around Futenma and the resulting resignation of Prime Minister Hatoyama is an ominous sign on the 50th anniversary to the day of the signing of the US-Japan Security Treaty.
— Steve Clemons