Adamu has a post at Mutanfrog to note speculation that former Vice President Al Gore may be selected as ambassador to Japan. That has me thinking about the past, present, and future ambassadors to Japan that inspires me to repost an article I wrote on these pages four years ago. I wrote this post in response to rumors that House Speaker Denny Hastert would be selected as the next Ambassador to Japan.
Denny Hassert and Al Gore may sound like unlikely candidates, but check out this list of US Ambassadors to Japan from the past 35 years and their old jobs:
# James Hodgson, 1974-1977 : Secretary of Labor
# Mike Mansfield, 1977-1989 : Senate Majority Leader
# Mike Armascott, 1989-1993 : Ambassador to the Phillipines
# Walter Mondale, 1993-1997 : Vice President
# Tom Foley, 1997-2001 : House Speaker, House Majority Leader
# Howard Baker, 2001-present : Senate Majority Leader
# Tom Schieffer, 2005-present : Congressman, Ambassador to Australia
There is precedent in that list for both Hassert and Gore to serve in the post. Believe it or not, Japan doesn’t want East Asian experts like Edwin Reischauer, who served in the position during the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies from 1961-1966. Born in Japan in 1910, Reischauer was fluent in Japanese was apparently pretty popular in Japan. But when it came down to real hard politics, he had no political connections in Washington and was never effective at getting clear channels of communication for the Japanese leadership. Starting with Mike Mansfield (who was appointed by Carter but who Reagan kept on), Japan realized that the secret to getting the message through to Washington was having a vetetran politico at the helm.
That being said, it seems highly unlikely that Gore would want this job. More realistically, as Obama likely looks to someone to replace Schieffer, he should look to people connected to power. Knowledge to Japan isn’t what matters — it’s a legislative career or experience in government that counts.