For a few more hours, this is generally my view from the Intercontinental ANA Hotel in Tokyo.
The white house there in the middle is the home of Obama California campaign finance chair and now US Ambassador to Japan John Roos, who I had the privilege to meet and chat with the evening before last. Roos is impressively approachable and knowledgeable and has been active in Democratic party politics for a long time. A person close to him tells me he has a photo of former Senator Bill Bradley, for whom he was a late in the campaign debate coach, saying something along the lines “If we had started together earlier on this stuff, we’d both be in different places.”
The Hotel Okura is just behind the Ambassador’s residence.
Roos, who now has a lot of Japan experience, but hadn’t been to Japan before he traveled here for the first time as U.S. Ambassador also has a knack for remembering details — and the names of authors of things he has read, like this piece.
When I met him at the home of Deputy Chief of Mission Jim Zumwalt, Ambassador Roos was saying hi to folks — and I eagerly said hi as knowing the US Ambassador over here is still a cool thing. But he moved his head right down to my name tag and said, “hmm…I think I just read something of yours. What was it?” he asked. “Maybe something on the resignation of Hatoyama,” I responded. “That’s right — the Prime Minister President Obama ‘took out’. I don’t quite agree with that. . .”
It was an interesting moment — and to his credit, Ambassador Roos wasn’t brittle about the piece at all and talked about the issues involved and who played what role with informed ease.
And then later in the reception, James Fallows, with whom I am on this trip along with others as guests of the Department of State to speak before and have exchanges with about 140 college students from all over Japan about various dimensions of US-Japan relations, asked one of the close advisers to Ambassador Roos how they were going to deal with the impression that the Obama administration undermined Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
With me standing there, this person said, “Well, there is just beginning to appear in the press other rationales for why Hatoyama resigned than the issue of Futenma and American pressure. There was some early writing and press on this that we have been trying to deal with.” Jim Fallows then pointed at me laughingly and said, “have you met Steve Clemons? He started it. . .”
One of the really impressive things about this trip sponsored by the Embassy and Department of State was that there was zero — absolutely no pressure to promote a line or particular view on the US-Japan security relationship. The Ambassador, the DCM, their advisers and public policy teams were completely comfortable talking about the Futenma controversy and the broader issue of where US-Japan relations needed to go. I tend to be a critic of the tight Futenma-hugging that the US did but am very impressed with Obama’s National Security Strategy, which I talked a lot about during the two days of meetings.
And the Embassy staff were of diverse minds on all of this as well. The students, whose views were reasoned and impressively articulate, were also diverse — on everything from immigration questions, to the depth and importance of the US-Japan security relationship and what the fall of Hatoyama was caused by.
I’m going to write more soon on some votes that the Japanese students took on five interesting questions — but for the time being, I wanted to post this and thank the Embassy, Ambassador Roos and his team, Aoyama Gakuin University, and Sophia University for an impressive experience here.
Now I’m off to Naha in Okinawa. And yes, that is where Futenma US Marine Air Station is. I can’t believe the timing of this trip — which was planned months ago…
— Steve Clemons