Four Years On, a look at America’s Ambassadors to Japan

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.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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2 Responses to Four Years On, a look at America’s Ambassadors to Japan

  1. Joe Jones says:

    The State Department only sends experts to hellholes. Ambassadorships in stable developed countries and tropical islands are basically political gifts, since the job is so unsubstantial compared to the attendant perks. Japan circa 1960 was showing distinct signs of turning against America and there was a need for an expert like Reischauer to plug that hole in the Cold War infrastructure. Now his breed of regional experts are running embassies in Africa, the Middle East and Central America.
    It certainly isn’t true that the US appoints ambassadors based on how well they will advocate on the host country’s behalf. That isn’t their job; if anything, it’s the exact opposite. But in the case of Japan, most of the advocacy is coming from the USTR and the defense officials, so the ambassador really has very little to do except perform certain ceremonial functions.
    (Aside: You forgot the most choice selection of all, Reischauer’s predecessor Douglas MacArthur II, nephew of the general. What a way to send a friendly message to Japan.)

  2. Aceface says:

    Funny nobody brought up the name “Colin Powell”.His son,Michael was Japan desk at Pentagon in the late 80′s.