Shadow Government

6 Japan Observations

1. The history issue is not going away anytime soon. China has every reason to perpetuate it: Stoking the fires of the past provides Beijing with a ready tool in its strategic competition with Tokyo. As for South Korea, even if Japan did a "full Germany" in atoning for its past, it is not clear what would satisfy Seoul.

2. Tokyo has resigned itself to the above. It is engaging in clever diplomacy -- building up more trust and diplomatic space outside South Korea and China before pushing full throttle on the national security changes it needs to make. Its outreach to Southeast Asia, including substantial aid to the typhoon-hit Philippines has been eagerly welcomed. It will next turn to deep engagement with Europe.

3. Relations with the United States are uneven. Japan has much gratitude for U.S. statements that the Senkaku Islands fall under the mutual treaty alliance (accompanied by Hillary nostalgia), and the United States has been supportive of Japan's plans to form a National Security Council. But, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to the Chidorigafuchi cemetery for World War II dead was considered too clever by half by Japanese officials. The intent was to send a message to Japan to reckon with its past and stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine. But as an important ally and friend, Japan would prefer that the United States express its desires privately. And, apparently, Japanese officials were not consulted about this move. China will have a propaganda field day with it.

4. Unlike Vegas, what happens in the Middle East does not stay in the Middle East. As fellow Shadow Government blogger Mike Green wrote, there is deep concern that the United States warned Syria against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing when Bashar al-Assad used them. I speculate that a bad Iranian nuclear deal will do grave harm to U.S. credibility in Asia as well. Japan is completely dependent on the United States to protect it against weapons of mass destruction. Both North Korea and China have them and view Japan as a rival if not an enemy. It is simply not possible to cordon off one part of the globe and say that you are focusing on another. As Asian energy consumers more deeply engage the Middle East and weapons of mass destruction spread, what happen there matters to the United States' Pacific allies.

5. Abenomics, which makes all else possible, is in danger of petering out. Without serious corporate changes and restructuring, it will appear as though Tokyo simply primed the pump. For a variety of reasons, Japan needs more productivity. While exporters have benefited, the bad old ways of corporate cross-ownership and protection of majority shareholders remain. This will stifle attempts to inject vitality and dynamism into the economy.

6. The Japanese are excited to have Caroline Kennedy as the U.S. ambassador, as they should be. A new post-Cold War generation rules Washington, without the memories of what the U.S.-Japan alliance accomplished. Political leaders across the aisle need to educate themselves about how important the alliance is for this century's problems. Kennedy has a great opportunity to reintroduce Japan to a new generation of political leaders. And given the respect her family engenders across the United States, she can help inject new vitality into the U.S.-Japan relationship more broadly.

PHoto: TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

Rekindling JFK's Commitment to Freedom

Although his own flame was extinguished far too soon, President John F. Kennedy's commitment to freedom and his belief in America's central role in carrying the torch for liberty should shine as brightly as ever before in today's increasingly multipolar world. However, factions in both political parties have attempted to shy away from this great responsibility, to the detriment of the nation's and the world's security.

In his landmark book, Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger outlined the two main competing visions for American foreign policy: Theodore Roosevelt's view that America should pursue its national interest and Woodrow Wilson's belief that America has an obligation to help others, but only in unison with the international community.

Kennedy's political gift was in reconciling these seemingly opposing views. To adherents of Roosevelt, he emphasized that it is in America's national interest to support freedom, noting, "If men and women are in chains, anywhere in the world, then freedom is endangered everywhere."

While clearly conscious of the role of the United Nations, Kennedy worried aloud in his inaugural address of it morphing into "merely a forum for invective" and reassured Wilsonian foreign-policy adherents that their concerns would not be neglected, saying, "We stand for freedom. That is our conviction for ourselves. That is our only commitment to others."

Yet as clear as this statement appears, there is no doubt that JFK understood that even though Americans were "the watchmen on the walls of world freedom," it remained essential to "exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint." The promotion of peace, as well as making clear the willingness to use force to do so, was a hallmark of Kennedy's foreign policy.

One can only speculate as to whether America's role in Vietnam would have escalated had Kennedy lived to serve the rest of his term. Yet there should be little doubt that Kennedy would not recognize an America that looks to Russia to solve unrest in Syria and counts on France to reject a proposed agreement with Iran as being too permissive to the totalitarian regime.

It was never lost on JFK that America is freedom's home and defender. Nor had the men and women who wear the cloth of our country forgotten that when America was attacked on 9/11. They serve as an example of what America can achieve when motivated by a common purpose and ideal.

As we transition to a more multipolar world we must recognize that this does not lessen America's obligation to lead -- powers jockeying for position have historically sparked more conflict, not less. Rather, it only makes forming global consensus more difficult just as it becomes more important.

With that in mind, Kennedy's inaugural address provides a twofold prescription for today. America must remain strong in the face of its enemies: "We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed." Yet this military strength must not interfere with the need to forge "a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind."

As we remember his life, ask yourself the same question JFK asked a half-century ago: "Will you join in that historic effort?" I believe Americans will continue to say yes for decades to come.

(Editor's note: The author, Mark R. Kennedy, is not related to John F. Kennedy.)

Photo: /AFP/Getty Images