The Washington Post published this op-ed by me on Dec. 21, 2o12.
Proponents of the Obama administration’s “pivot,” or rebalance of attention and resources, toward Asia should be heartened by the results of Japan’s parliamentary election. The Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) landslide victory in the lower house Sunday augurs well for a reinvigorated relationship between the United States and Japan.
The reasons are threefold. First, the LDP is experienced in U.S.-Japan alliance management, much more so than the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which had ousted the LDP from power in September 2009 after half a century. Although the DPJ was well-intentioned, its tenure the past three years was plagued with intraparty bickering, friction with the professional bureaucracy and a generally ineffectual and non-strategic foreign policy.
Second, the LDP will rely more on the expertise, experience and continuity offered by the professional bureaucrats, who were cast aside by the DPJ, especially in the cabinets headed by prime ministers Yukio Hatoyama (2009-2010) and Naoto Kan (2010-11). Perhaps reflecting their shortcomings as chief executive and in managing Japan’s relationship with the United States, Hatoyama chose not to run in Sunday’s elections and Kan lost his seat in the Diet to a relatively unknown LDP candidate. Of the three DPJ prime ministers since 2009, only Yoshihiko Noda, who served from 2011 to 2012 and whom many consider similar in style to previous LDP prime ministers, won reelection.
Third, the new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, values the Japan-U.S. alliance and has said publicly that his top foreign policy priority is to restore the trust and confidence that has characterized Japan’s relationship with the United States since the end of the Second World War. Although he is often portrayed as a nationalist, Abe, who studied in the United States and speaks English, is a staunch advocate of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. That treaty was renewed and ratified by the Diet in 1960, in the face of mass protests, under the leadership of his grandfather, then-prime minister Nobusuke Kishi.
But there are caveats.