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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:32 03/09/2007
Debate: Comment (September 9, 2003)

Comments on Prof. KUBO's Article

Miki KASE (Adjunct Fellow, American Enterprise Institute)

In his interesting article, Professor Kubo has laid out important factors that have and are shaping the current American policies. He describes how policies can change not just by the handover of power but also by the turn of events and cautions the Japanese readers not to be taken unaware when a shift does come. As Prof Kubo makes clear, policies and trends are determined by various factors and I would like to expand on a few of them as well as concerns for the future.

Neo-conservatives and their beliefs
The question of who the neo-conservatives are, and how influential they are is asked widely in international circles. Prof Kubo rightly explains that they are not a new phenomenon that suddenly appeared with the current administration. They go back many years, even to the 50s.

The first group of neo-cons are the intellectuals who originally believed in the socialist/communist ideal but were disgusted by the Soviet system and its treatment of Eastern Europeans, and were disappointed by the weak American response to counter the Soviets. Irving Kristol, who is branded "the god-father of neo-cons", has described them as "liberals who have been mugged by reality."

Many of the currently prominent neo-cons started by being Democrats. They are strongly anti-communist and have the liberal belief in doing good to the world, belief in spreading democracy and way of American life to the poorer cousins of the world. They are idealists with the missionary zeal. They include Deputy Defense Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, the former chairman of the Defense Advisory Board, Richard Perle, Vice President Cheney's Senior Foreign Advisor, Eric Edelman, former Ambassador to the UN, Jeane Kirkpatrick. Though usually not branded a neo-con, even Condoleeza Rice also started as a Democrat. Dr. Rice's father was Madeline Albright's mentor.

Just like the Clinton administration, which tried to spread democracy to the East European countries after the fall of the Soviet Union, the neo-cons, too, believe in the same cause. But it is on the method where they differ. The Democrats tend to use economic aid, negotiations, organisation building to bring about the change whereas the neo-cons tend to emphasize tough measures backed by military might. Neo-cons are Reaganites and believe in his approach of confronting the enemy with superior power instead of trying to contain or live with it.

Their belief in military power and their readiness to use it are shared with traditional conservatives like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Unlike the internationalists, like Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger, both groups prefer to get a military job done with only American troops or with a small number of allies who can make hard contributions. The traditional conservatives think of force as a method to pursue American national interest. So once the threat is taken out, their instinct would be to withdraw American forces and leave the recovery and development to others, whereas the neo-cons place a great emphasis on remoulding the society.

What has now happened in the Republican camp is that since the attack on September 11, the neo-con and conservative objectives have merged in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. The traditional conservatives may not really like committing their forces out in the desert for long for such reasons as spreading democracy but agree that if that is the only way to really root out terrorism, which is a major national interest, the US would just have to take on the task.

Messrs Cheney and Rumsfeld, the traditional conservatives, are in positions to determine the course of policy. But those around them and providing the intellectual backbone are the neo-cons. And the strength of the neo-con arguments on the war on terrorism is that they are drawn from beliefs on both sides of the aisle.

Effect of September 11
As Prof. Kubo correctly argues, anti-terrorism has become a bipartisan policy since September 11. This is because the terrorist attacks have changed the American psyche probably forever. It is difficult for non-Americans to understand the depth of anxiety, vulnerability and anger that have enveloped the Americans. Perhaps this is similar to how non-Japanese cannot fully appreciate the effect of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Japanese thinking. And 9/11 happened only two years ago. The Japanese at least knew who dropped the bombs and also how to stop the same enemy from dropping another bomb ever again. But the Americans are living under the uncertainty of not knowing when and from where the next attack might come.

For the Americans, fighting terrorism has become not just a policy but an ideological struggle, like fighting communism during the Cold War. They believe terrorism is now the fundamental threat, not just to their lives but also to Western civilization and to the democratic way of life.

As Prof Kubo points out, there is unease in the US about the war in Iraq. But because of the public belief in fighting terrorism I do not think the Americans will easily withdraw. They need to bring in more countries to help them with the economic and political aspects of nation building and policing but that does not mean they will just hand over everything and leave. The President's Iraq policy still has support from the majority of Americans. As for the Democratic presidential candidates, even though they are making noises against the war in their campaign, all the major contenders, except for Howard Dean, were supporters of the Iraq war.

There is another important public perception. Although the rest of the world may not associate 9/11 with Saddam Hussein, 69% of Americans still think that it is at least likely that he had some connection with the attacks (Washington Post of September 6, 2003). In his September 2 article in the Wall Street Journal, Paul Wolfowitz tells of the widow of a 9/11 victim going to Iraq to show support for the troops. She was surprised that so many wanted to meet her, but understood the welcome when they showed her memorabilia of 9/11 victims that they brought with them to Baghdad. Then when the widow presented General Tommy Franks with a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, his eyes welled up with tears. "She watched as they streamed down his face on center stage before 4,000 troops."

Shift of policy in 2001
Prof. Kubo mentions that many Japanese were caught by surprise by the new administration's abrupt shift of policies in January 2001. The surprise was both positive and negative. There was the happy change of Japan being treated as the important ally in Asia after the "Japan passing" of the Clinton years. But there was also deep concern at the unilateralist attitude over the Kyoto Protocol, the AMB Treaty and the International Criminal Court.

The Republican policies on these issues were already clear in the 90s but the shock was the way in which they were implemented. When the Bush administration came in, it was clear in Washington that policies that had been pursued by the Clinton administration were likely to be turned. The change of policies certainly happens with the change of every administration. But the shift in 2001 was exceptionally notable. It was swift, curt and one-sided. There was no time for debate or input from allies. This is because the Bush administration came into office determined to slash and erase the remnants of Bill Clinton. As Prof Kubo writes, the two parties seem more polarized than ever before. This has deep personal origins.

The Republicans, of course, dislike Mr. Clinton for winning the presidency in 1992. But there is something deeper with the Republicans' feeling for Mr. Clinton. They detest him for his infidelities with women, for using the White House to raise money from dubious sources and for what seemed to them to be a general lack of dignity and integrity. It is not just the policies but also the person that turns the stomach of the Republicans. This was true especially of the new president and his entourage. On the other hand, the Democrats have never really accepted Mr. Bush as a legitimately elected president because of the murky result of the Gore-Bush presidential race. These raw wounds on both sides are playing a major role in polarizing American politics and the feelings are not likely to go away any time soon.

What should Japan and the rest of the world pay attention to in American foreign policy trends?

The first question is how much the US involves its allies. There are differences within the Republican party and also between the two parties, and of course, circumstances will force attitudes to change, as is happening now. The difficult question here is the balance between listening to others and leadership. The rest of the world needs both from the Americans, but they are hard to come by together. The prospect for the post-war Iraq would be brighter with UN and allied involvement. But there would have been fewer victims of atrocities in former Yugoslavia if the US had played a more decisive role earlier.

The second is a more long-term issue. How ready is the US to be involved in the rest of the world? Being the leader of the Western world during the Cold War and now being the sole superpower, the United States, however grudgingly, has been forced to take part in international affairs. They are being interventionist whether using soft power or hard power, whether for democracy or to fight terrorism. But the real danger for the rest of the world is that the US becomes disgruntled and angered by criticism and what they see as lack of cooperation from their allies. They can become more withdrawn, less interested in and less ready to intervene in troubles outside their boarders unless it is something that is critical to the narrow national interest. What will happen to India-Pakistan relations, to the Balkans, to Afghanistan, to Palestine-Israel and of course, to North Korea? Americans are sensitive to criticism. I have heard some say, in private, "if others think they know better why should we make the sacrifices? Let them do it! Let them get killed! Let them pay the money!" This is what the rest of the world really has to be concerned about.

Finally, with a narrow focus, the US policy towards Japan. Although Japan passed the legislation to send the Self Defence Forces, the deployment has not yet materialized. From the American view, especially in the eyes of the neo-cons and conservatives, a high profile promise not followed is worse than just sending a check. Meanwhile, China is showing its dexterity in bringing North Korea to the negotiating table.

The current administration includes a number of well-known Japan supporters but their position must have been badly weakened by these two factors. If a Democratic administration comes in, or even if the current administration continues, there is bound to be a review of policies towards Japan and China. Unless Japan shows that it is not just a US dependent but can make positive contributions, there could be another sad surprise for Japan, whichever party may win the next presidential election.

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