President Obama may be just weeks away from selecting Caroline Kennedy, JFK's daughter, as U.S. ambassador to Japan. It's a choice as unserious as it appears.
Writing for Foreign Policy, Clyde Prestowitz reviews the history of post-world war II ambassadors to Japan, starting with JFK's nomination of Harvard Japan scholar Edwin Reischauer in 1961. That nomination, Prestowitz says, signaled to Japan that Kennedy was serious about the country and its relationship with the U.S. It led to the nominations of people like Mike Mansfield, a former Senate majority leader, and Tom Foley, a former Speaker of the House. Barack Obama broke that mold, according to Prestowitz, when he selected a top fundraiser from Silicon Valley to represent the U.S. in Japan during his first term. As for Caroline Kennedy? Writes Prestowitz:
I'm sure she's a lovely person and a good lawyer and author and, of course, she comes from a prominent American family and was wise enough to choose the right father. Even more wisely, she supported Barack Obama politically at a critical moment.
But she knows little of Japan, speaks no Japanese, and is not particularly experienced in world affairs and diplomacy. Here we are at a moment when China and Japan are at loggerheads over the Senkaku Islands. This could easily turn into a shooting conflict. North Korea is saying that it is in a state of war with South Korea and that it is turning on its nuclear generator. And the United States is trying to conclude a major international free trade agreement in which the United States and Japan will be the major players. In short, this is a serious moment—a Reischauer moment.
But this appointment is an ornamental one. It tries to evoke the good feeling of the Kennedy years, but without the substance of those years.
Do you think Caroline might have the good sense to turn it down and urge Obama to imitate her dad with a Reischauer-like appointment?
Kennedy abandoned a bid to be nominated to replace Hillary Clinton when the latter vacated her Senate seat after a lackluster media tour. She is starting to face similar resistance to the potential appointment as ambassador to Japan, and Fox News spoke with the American Foreign Services Association, a union for foreign service workers:
The union points out that roughly one-third of the president's first-term appointments have come from such non-diplomatic ranks as politics, fundraising and academia – a rate slightly higher than the historical average for presidents. And the rate is as high as 85 percent for major European countries and Japan, which are seen as plum diplomatic assignments.
"The sale of ambassadorships and rewards for political support basically suggests we really don't value diplomacy," union President Susan Johnson told FoxNews.com.
But it also signals the president is ready and willing to reward his supporters richly!