Pity the poor winner. Barack Obama now finds himself with the thoroughly unenviable task of getting the United States out of its present mess. It is going to be a pretty lousy job for his administration, considering that the world is in its worst economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And if that was not a sufficient challenge, his difficulties are compounded by the decidedly unfavorable set of impressions held overseas of Uncle Sam at present. Even among its warmest friends, American prestige has not been so low since the Vietnam debacle.
The challenges ahead for President-elect Obama are huge. Political commentators will be watching his appointments and telling him time and time again that speed is going to be of the essence if economic recovery is to be achieved. The temptation is for other G-8 nations to use the next months before inauguration day to their advantage. The fumblings of the George W Bush administration over the financial crisis are already a mighty convenient scapegoat for their own domestic transgressions. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for example, continues to lay the blame for his government's negligent behavior on the mistakes of the U.S. Brown wants the electorate to believe that everything was the fault of politicians in Washington and American snake oil merchants who sold on dubious financial instruments that somehow crippled innocent European bankers.
Obama's policy aims are clear. He intends, in the words of John Podesta, the head of his transition team, to achieve the "economic revitalization of the nation and a restoration of America's leadership in the world." These are, of course, enormously daunting challenges and many will state categorically that such ambitions are beyond the present capacity of a superpower in decline.
If it is possible to mend the global economic system and to witness a greater and more welcome American role in the world, much must depend on the friends of the United States. The idea that any future American president in the White House has some divine right to global rule in the early 21st century is clearly risible. Uncle Sam surely needs the participation and support of its allies in what will increasingly evolve into a cooperative political and economic endeavor if it is to succeed.
Since the U.S.-Japan relationship is critical to peace and stability throughout the Asia-Pacific, what President Obama will hope no doubt to do is persuade the coalition cabinet led by Taro Aso to consider taking still more responsibilities in the region and beyond.
Since many in Japan continue to fear the rise of China, it is clearly possible for the United States to confirm its long-standing commitments to the security of the Japanese archipelago and at the same time, suggest that Japan's international role could be usefully enhanced to supplement the activities of its one and only major ally.
Given that Aso in his earlier incarnation as Japan's foreign minister was a vocal advocate of an arc of democracies encircling the Asia-Pacific, the probability of an informal arrangement is considerable. Tokyo may make some modest military commitments overseas, but more importantly, it has the financial muscle to provide far greater assistance to international economic organizations and to support future U.S. proposals to clean up the toxic mess and then work to eventually get a new and reformed system in place.
If the United States is to halt the rot and reassert itself as a benevolent force in international affairs, it is going to need the open support of Japan. No country in the region has more than a fraction of its formidable economic and liberal strengths that make it an indispensible partner of Washington.
Japan's cooperation with the new U.S. administration is set to be vital for the maintenance of a regional and global structure that has served both countries well over the last half century. The U.S needs Japan almost as much as Japan needs Uncle Sam.© Japan Today