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Why Kennedy was appointed U.S. ambassador to Japan

29 Comments

Iconoclastic monthly magazine Kami no Bakudan was launched in Kansai by Rokusaisha in April 2005. Its content and format is similar to the now-defunct investigative magazine Uwasa no Shinso (truth behind the rumors), which folded in April 2004.

In its December issue, Kami no Bakudan (its name means "the paper bomb") examines the circumstances behind the appointment of Caroline Kennedy as the new U.S. Ambassador.

It is interesting, writer Masahiko Sato notes, that both Caroline and her late brother John F Kennedy Jr pursued careers as editors. For one thing, it put them in positions where they could oversee how history got reported.

Kennedy's support for Barack Obama during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign put her in the national spotlight, and after Hillary Clinton vacated her seat as junior senator from New York, it was believed Kennedy might campaign for the seat, but she declined to run, "for personal reasons."

Since Kennedy is lacking in political experience, consideration had to be given to the best course before she can enter the path to national politics in a way that will befit the shining Kennedy legacy.

Traditionally, celebrities who go into U.S. politics will seek election as a state governor or to the U.S. Senate. Another way is through appointment to the position of high-ranking government official, such as a diplomat.

A diplomatic appointment, however, would be highly demanding if posted to a third-world country, particularly a country ensnarled in domestic or international conflicts, and would be counterproductive to building up a sterling reputation.

Sato raises the example of April Glaspie, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, whose miscommunication with Iraq's Saddam Hussein is believed a factor in the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

To avoid postings to potential trouble spots, therefore, a posting would necessarily be limited to one of the "advanced nations" in North America, Europe and Japan. Under the current circumstances, Japan is the only place that meets the criteria as a noncontroversial posting that an amateur at diplomacy can handle.

True, Japan faces a number of serious domestic issues, such as one of the world's worst nuclear accidents and annual suicides numbering 30,000. On the international front are territorial disputes over the northern territories (with Russia), Takeshima (with South Korea) and the Senkaku Islands (with China). But none of these are likely to result in social instability or the outbreak of military conflict, so in that context Japan would seem to be the ideal posting for an amateur with no previous experience as an ambassador.

So the significance of Kennedy's posting in Japan is that upon her departure she will receive a "diploma," from a "botchan daigaku" (a slightly derogatory term for a university attended by rich kids), which is not largely different from attending a rich girl's "finishing school."

Up to now, to gain the confidence of the U.S., Japan changed from its prewar stance of "Chukun aikoku" (loyalty to the emperor and patriotism) to "Chuken beikoku" (being the loyal dog of the United States). After the "corrections" imposed by the postwar military occupation Japan was reborn as a "democracy." But Sato believes that under the Abe government Japan is now progressively lurching toward becoming a "dark country" characterized by a postmodern feudalistic economy interwoven with political fascism.

Kennedy also happens to be an attorney who extols freedom and democracy, such as in her 2003 anthology "A Patriot's Handbook: Songs, Poems, Stories, and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love," and can be expected to take on a role analogous to the "Momotaro" character of fairy tale fame, contending against the "ogres" who would chip away at the citizens' rights.

As ambassador to Japan, Kennedy can also be expected to be instrumental in smoothing Japan's relations with neighboring countries such as China and North Korea. So if things work out, suggests Sato, her role may develop into helping Japan change from a "dysfunctionally communicating nation" to a "nation that accepts its responsibilities to provide explanations."

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29 Comments
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LOL, I like that "chuken-beikoku" turn of phrase. Reminds me of what was said of Tony Blair after he jumped on Bush's bandwagon in 2003 and joined the invasion of Iraq.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I agree that Japan is a "safe" country to be appointed to but the idea that she was placed here to somehow counter Abe's politics is farfetched.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

If Japan was so loyal to the US, I would expect to see some American cars in the streets and little kids separated from their American Dads having some visitation rights. But alas...

-2 ( +7 / -9 )

While Ambassador Kennedy has not held political office it's not as if she has been sheltered from politics. Her life has been steeped in politics from her father who was president, to her uncle who was a senator and presidential candidate, not to mention the numerous cousins of hers who have held political offices. She received a Bachelor of Arts from Radcliffe College at Harvard and a Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School, graduating in the top ten percent of her class. She wrote the book, "In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights In Action" in collaboration with Ellen Alderman, which was published in 1991. She served as co-chair of Obama's Vice Presidential Search Committee. From 2002 through 2004, she worked as director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships for the New York City Department of Education. She may not be bilingual or speak Japanese but she isn't really likely to be working with people who'll ask her about her chop stick skills. She's a highly accomplished and intelligent woman and not even close to being a dilettante. I don't know who these bilingual ambassadorial candidates but are but we could certainly have done worse.

9 ( +12 / -3 )

Caroline Kennedy is just a name. She has has acheived no accomplishments aside penning her name to various committees, and "authoring" a book which was largely written by someone else. She is much like the "talentos" whose names and cartoon images appear on candy or instant ramen labels.

We need to move on and promote people by merit rather than name. We need to move away from being a superficial culture where one's name has more value than one's accomplishments.

Even the president has played the name game, taking the name Sortero from his adopted father, but then changing back to his natural father's when it became politcally expedient. He would have called himself Richard Tyckler if it would have helped his academic and political career.

-6 ( +9 / -15 )

She is much like the "talentos"

Second generation tarento. Like Elvis Presley's daughter.

she isn't really likely to be working with people who'll ask her about her chop stick skills.

She is likely to do that full time during her stint, inaugurate the chrysanthemums and such. Qualified staff will manage the Embassy and take the famous "White House's phone call in the middle of night", as usual.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

The most important job for a ambassador is maintaining a good communication line. Caroline has a close relationship with the president and is able to get a direct line to his office on the phone. This is what she is able to do. She has a powerful voice and the president's ear. In Japan she will be a great role model and inspire many women to enter politics and make a difference in society. On the other hand some feel that Japan deserves better and a seasoned diplomat should have been considered. Some argue that the ambassador represents American strategic interest beyond Japan and is too important for somebody without experience. She has little knowledge and experience in diplomacy, foreign affairs and crisis management. However in this modern era all the real decisions are made at the White House and a ambassador is a figurehead. Caroline should be able to make a great contribution and develop a close Japan and United States relationship.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

The most important job for a ambassador is maintaining a good communication line.

The ambassador is the voice and authority of America, and must have the presence of mind and depth of character to be so, even when the president is out on the golf course, or having dinner with Oprah. Ambassador Stevens in Libya didn't have a direct line to the president, as we have all learned. What's more, the ambassador needs to know intimately what is going on in the country where he or she works, to understand the culture and nuances, and to be able to read more between the lines than what is printed on the page. It would have been nice if America had appointed an ambassador who actually knew something about the country and culture. Caroline Kennedy, nice as she is (her father and my grandfather were friends), is not this person.

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

This obsession with Kennedy and her lineage shows Japan's preference for dynastic.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

The value of a family name isn't what the US should be about, nor Japan.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

sangetsu03: It would have been nice if America had appointed an ambassador who actually knew something about the country and culture. Caroline Kennedy, nice as she is (her father and my grandfather were friends), is not this person.

And you know how much she knows about Japan how exactly? Just because your grandfathers were friends doesn't make you an expert on her knowledge of Japan. He died in 1969 and she was a mere 12 years old at the time.

The previous three ambassadors were John Roos, Tom Schieffer and Howard Henry Baker, none of whom seem to have had any previous experience with Japan. Were you as upset when they were appointed or is it only because she is a Kennedy that you are bothered?

The problem with coming from a famous family, such as the Kennedy's, is that no matter how accomplished she is - law degree, top of her class, political author, etc. - there are are always going to be people, such as you, who assume that she isn't qualified and got the job only because of her name. I'm sure her name didn't hurt but then again she got the appointment in a manner no different than the men before her.

There are two ways to become an ambassador. One is to be a career State Department employee and the other is through presidential appointments. The latter are chosen due to political patronage and loyalty. Plum spots, those that are considered safe and are more about schmoozing than doing very difficult diplomatic work are generally given to the presidential appointees.

If I really thought you cared about all the men before her having gotten their positions while not necessarily being "qualified" I'd say you have a leg to stand on. Unfortunately, it seems that she is a target of derision because of something she can do nothing about.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

ambrosia Nov. 20, 2013 - 04:54AM JST The previous three ambassadors were John Roos, Tom Schieffer and Howard Henry Baker, none of whom seem to have had any previous experience with Japan. Were you as upset when they were appointed or is it only because she is a Kennedy that you are bothered?

Ms. Kennedy neither a diplomat nor an experienced politician, and she's certainly not an expert on East Asia. Unless I've missed something, she doesn't speak Japanese and has no academic or professional background in foreign affairs. Compared with some other former U.S. ambassadors to Japan like Mike Mansfield, Walter Mondale, Michael Armacost, or Tom Foley, she's a political beginner.

The politics in Asia are becoming more and more important, and managing our Asian alliances is going to be very tricky in the years ahead, which means U.S. need the most qualified and skilled people you can find in key diplomatic positions. You don't need ambassadors who are just reciting talking points prepared by others. What you need is ambassadors throughout Asia who have extensive knowledge of the region's history and the complicated economic and security landscape there.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

The previous three ambassadors were John Roos, Tom Schieffer and Howard Henry Baker, none of whom seem to have had any previous experience with Japan. Were you as upset when they were appointed or is it only because she is a Kennedy that you are bothered?

These other names you mentioned are not famous, but their holders all had a great deal of professional and leadership experience. Mr Schieffer had previously been ambassador to Australia, and during his time in Japan was the key negotiator in revising the postwar treaty between America and Japan. Baker had been a longtime senator, and was well respected by both political parties. John Roos was a lawyer, and CEO of a law firm.

Kennedy has lended her name to a few projects, charities, and boards, ghost-written a book, and nothing else.

A good name is a good thing, but as we all know, actions speak louder than words, and a name is only a word.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

sangetsu / sfjp330: With all due respect, any ambassador appointed to a post such as that in Japan is going to be reciting talking points. The powers that be in Washington know what they want out of Japan and what they are willing to put into Japan. Any appointee who thinks they can go off message will either not make it through the approval process or will be quickly recalled. What is needed is someone who is intelligent, tactful and on target with the White House's message for that particular country. Ms. Kennedy is perfectly suited to that position. Japan is considered a "reward posting" for a reason.

If you're worried that her name got her in to the position, I'd think that would be an asset as well since the Kennedy name is well respected in Japan. Her father and uncle played a big role in bringing relations between Japan and the US closer. When it comes to positions such as Japan, Britain and France how the ambassador will be received by the host country is as, if not more, important than their supposed knowledge of the country's history and language or what political position they have held. By her own account, Ambassador Kennedy has studied Japanese history and art, spent her honeymoon here and has visited here a number of times. (After Edwin Reischauer what US ambassador to Japan has spoken fluent Japanese?)

Additionally, as the first woman appointed to the position, she offers an excellent role model for Japanese women, since Masako has proven to be such a disappointment on that front. She did far more than simply "lend her name" to a few projects but if that's what you want to believe, have at.

She did not "ghost write" books with Ellen Alderman. Both of their names are right on the covers should you choose to do a little research. She's spent her career in public service to the city of New York and the country. Attempts to make her seem like a spoiled woman, dabbling in public service are simply incorrect.

Finally, she's got the President's ear. They enjoy a close relationship and by all accounts, she can get him on the phone. That's nothing to be sneezed at and not something that any old ambassador can say, no matter if they served in the Senate or were a CEO of a company or not. Being a CEO or even a senator is not a guarantee that you will be a good diplomat. After all, look at the current state of the American Congress and tell me how much actual diplomacy goes on there anymore?

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Among the previous ambassadors were names such as Foley (House Majority Leader), Baker (Senate Majority Leader [by the by, I met him twice while he was here. He was a very nice, very down to Earth person.], and Mondale (Vice President.). The Japanese govt. places a premium on "name value" as a measure of their standing with the U.S. govt. There is nothing wrong with that. It's just how they feel. Kennedy is a famous, very intelligent, very connected individual. Yes she may not "know" Japan. I suspect she is capable of learning in a rather rapid fashion.

In any event, I bet she keeps D.C. and Kasumigaseki in close communication.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

sfjp330Nov. 20, 2013 - 05:14AM JST

sfjp330, when you copy and paste from a news source website could you please provide a link so we all aren't mislead int thinking you actually wrote it?

"But she's neither a diplomat nor an experienced politician, and she's certainly not an expert on East Asia. Unless I've missed something, she doesn't speak Japanese and has no academic or professional background in foreign affairs. Compared with some other former U.S. ambassadors to Japan (e.g., Mike Mansfield, Walter Mondale, Michael Armacost, or Tom Foley), she's a political neophyte."

" In case you hadn't noticed, politics in Asia are becoming more and more important, and managing our Asian alliances is going to be very tricky in the years ahead. Which means we need the most qualified and skilled people we can find in key diplomatic positions. We don't want ambassadors who are just reciting talking points prepared by others; we need ambassadors throughout Asia who have extensive knowledge of the region's history and the complicated economic and security landscape there. And, yes, it would be nice if they could read and speak the language. "

http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/04/02/amateur_hour

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I was nodding my head right up until the decidedly sharp xenophobic turn with the Chuken-beikoku paragraph which had nothing to do with the Kennedy selection or its effects. Stay classy...

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Additionally, as the first woman appointed to the position, she offers an excellent role model for Japanese women

Not sure, because she is not a standard woman, she is a Kennedy, i.e. seen more as a myth than a woman. IMHO.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Good sense and openness to situations are the most important qualifications for an ambassador, who has specialists in the embassy who inform her, translate for her, and interpret public opinion and the content and context of both countries' laws. That fair and balanced news source, Stars and Stripes, recently made a full-court press to "inform" her about public sentiment toward the US bases in Okinawa. We shall see if she really has any sense in her dealings with the Japanese government on Okinawa.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I take back what i said about kennedy, she just needs to be careful in japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

We'll know her true impact when all the OL's start wearing what Caroline wears. Stay tuned....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The ambassador is the voice and authority of America, and must have the presence of mind and depth of character to be so, even when the president is out on the golf course, or having dinner with Oprah.

Ehhh. No. Ambassadors are the voice and ears of the State Department (their employer), but they have no authority of their own. Their boss is the Secretary of State. If they want to remain in their post, they do or say nothing without first getting State Department approval. The President submits their name for approval and can remove them from their position, but their day-to-day work deals directly with State Department officials.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

But she was a community organizer which is sort of like being an Ambassador except now she has actual responsibilities. The community organizer skill set has really helped Obama as President.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

It does not surprise me that american people think that anything that is not the typical american way ,is wrong,Japan is a wonderful and gracious country,and one with strong ethics ,and love of our people and country,we have not allowed the outside world to influence and change many things , because this would take away whom we are.It is good that we now have branched out and allowed a woman to become Ambassador,It shows that change is coming,But a lot more education is needed, to make people understand My country,We do not try to change others, and we ask that you do not judge and change us,Understanding is a great thing.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Its a cush job that Obama put her in to get some republican support over this policies....

How hard is being the American Ambassidor to Japan? Its just about giving orders to Abe. What's Abe going to do? say "No"?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Nepotism

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

AmericanSurfer: Nepotism.

Technically, no. Nepotism is favoritism or patronage shown to relatives, especially as it relates to business. It comes from the Italian word for nephew. Cronyism would be the more correct choice of words. Even so, Japan is considered a "reward posting" so it's not as if her getting this job was in any way different than how all of the men before her got it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It's all political payback. Being in 'the States', I dreaded seeing CK appointed as Ambassador to one our dearest allies and friend. Japan is going to get to know new American slang....'ya know'....real well.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

bpsitrep: It's all political payback.

Yes, it's a reward position, as are many of the better ambassadorial postings. It's the same with every political party and nothing to get yourself worked up about.

Being in 'the States', I dreaded seeing CK appointed as Ambassador to one our dearest allies and friend.

One of "our dearest allies" loves all things Kennedy so she'll do just fine.

Japan is going to get to know new American slang....'ya know'....real well

Oh, please! Have you been living in a cave for the past 30 years? First, "ya' know" isn't new slang. Second, Japan is pretty well inundated with American television, movies and music so it's unlikely our new ambassador will be teaching them anything they don't already have the chance to hear on a fairly regular basis.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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