June 29, 2013


When Camelot Went to Japan (Jennifer Lind, June 25, 2013, National Interest)

THE UNITED States has security partnerships with numerous countries whose people detest America. The United States and Pakistan wrangled for seven months over a U.S. apology for the NATO air strikes that killed twenty-four Pakistani soldiers in 2011. The accompanying protests that roiled Islamabad, Karachi and other cities are a staple of the two countries' fraught relationship. Similarly, American relations with Afghanistan repeatedly descended into turmoil last year as Afghans expressed outrage at Koran burnings by U.S. personnel through riots and killings. "Green on blue" attacks--Afghan killings of U.S. soldiers--plague the alliance. In many Islamic countries, polls reflect little warmth toward Americans.

Washington's strategy of aligning with governments, rather than peoples, blew up in Egypt and could blow up in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen. America's alliances in the Middle East and Persian Gulf are fraught with distrust, dislike and frequent crisis. Is there any hope for them?

Turns out, there is. Fifty years ago, a different alliance was rocked by crisis and heading toward demise. Like many contemporary U.S. alliances, it had been created as a marriage of convenience between Washington and a narrow segment of elites, and it was viewed with distrust by the peoples of both countries. Yet a half century later, that pairing is one of the strongest security partnerships in the world--the alliance between the United States and Japan.

But in 1960, thousands of Japanese people poured into the streets of Tokyo to protest their country's relationship with the United States. This shocked leaders on both sides of the Pacific, who realized that they had to take action or their partnership would die. Japanese officials crafted initiatives designed to build support for the alliance among the Japanese public. These included plans for the first U.S. presidential visit to Japan. In America, the incoming John F. Kennedy administration--fearing it could lose the linchpin of its strategy in the Pacific--supported the idea. It also made an unconventional (and in retrospect, deeply consequential) choice in its ambassador to Tokyo--Harvard professor Edwin O. Reischauer. In advance of his Japan trip, Kennedy sent his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to Tokyo. The president was assassinated before he could make the trip, but Robert Kennedy's visit, and the networks and institutions it created, helped knit the U.S. and Japanese societies closer together. Two countries once dismissed as impossible allies forged, through careful and persistent diplomacy, a durable and warm relationship.
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Posted by at June 29, 2013 8:40 AM

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