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A Question About Former US Ambassador to Japan Hagerty’s Interview

Posted on the 04 April 2024 by Shahalexander
A Question about Former US Ambassador to Japan Hagerty’s Interview

Former US Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty had an interview with Jiji Press on February 29 to soothe anxiety among Japanese people that the US-Japanese alliance would be destabilized if Trump were to be elected. Currently, he is a Republican senator on the Capitol Hill. He emphasized that Donald Trump understood strategic importance of the alliance with Japan, and commented that the global public misunderstood Trump's America First and isolationism. Typically, ex-Ambassador says that Trump's bluff on NATO allies to suggest American withdrawal from the organization is his deal making technique to force some members to increase defense spending to the NATO guideline. Therefore, he says that Trump takes the threat of Russia seriously.

That was a piece of news report, and the detail of interview is not shown to the public. Therefore, it might be premature to respond to Hagerty's comments, but that was far from being sufficient for Japanese people to embrace "Moshi Tora" (a possible Trump victory in the election) so favorably as he argues. Trump's bluff of NATO withdrawal, which was famously mentioned "racketeering" in the open letter against his America First by Professor Eliot Cohen of the SAIS, raised bipartisan alert so much that Democratic Senator Tim Kaine and Republican Senator Marco Rubio submitted a bill to stop any US president from withdrawing from NATO without Congressional approval, which has passed at the Senate. That bill could be helpful to maintain a psychological assurance of collective defense, which is essential for deterrence.

However, Trump would curtail US commitment to NATO drastically, despite the Kaine and Rubio bill. Former Deputy Secretary General of NATO and former US ambassador to the organization Alexander Vershbow warns that Trump would obstruct American diplomats to attend various meetings at NATO and cut American budget for Brussels headquarters. In other words, Trump could paralyze NATO legally ( "Trump will abandon NATO"; Atlantic; December 4, 2023). Trump may disrespect the rule of law, but he is consummate in exploiting the loophole of the law like Brazilian leftwing populist President Lula da Silva who is inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to the BRICS summit in his country this year despite the criminal charge by the ICC. Remember, Trump successfully let conservative dominated Supreme Court turn down the decision in Colorado and Maine to disqualify his candidacy. After all, Hagerty did not answer the critical question regarding the sustainability of America's global network of alliance that Vershbow mentions. In NATO organizational structure, Americans take command of military affairs while Europeans lead civilian bureaucracy. Vershbow raises his deep concerns as one who has experienced the highest position for American diplomats .

There is no doubt that burden sharing in defense is an old and new problem. Ever since the Cold War era, the United States has been urging its allies to boost defense spending. For mutual trust and confidence, a free rider is not desirable in the alliance, of course. However, that is not the fundamental problem of America. Retired General Jack Keane of the US army commented in FOX News on February 16 that US national security was critically in danger as its military power was slashed during the Trump and Biden era while enemies were building up their offensive capability. Obviously, it is America's own defense capability that vitally matters. Trump's bashing on American allies may be cheered among his rock-solid supporters, but a serious military professional like Keane, who talks about US national defense beyond partisanship, has completely different viewpoints, even though he is a strategic analyst of MAGA Republicans' favorite TV program. Any Japanese would question bitterly whether Trump really understands American and global security if he still were to cling to his idiosyncratic idea.

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In addition, it is hardly imaginable that some European allies that fail to meet the NATO pledge of defense spending can invest in something of new technology to change the balance of power in our favor. They can just buy a little more US-made weapons by increasing military expenditure. That might be of some help for American defense contractors, and Trump may want to make money for himself through such deals. But his excessive obsession with blaming "small" allies is off the point. Deplorably, Trump does not talk about critical issue like defense manpower and procurement that Retired General Keane mentions, but agitates the angry working class to quibble against the tax to be used for foreign allies and ethnic minorities. His isolationism in foreign policy and hate ideology in domestic politics are deeply intertwined. Trump cunningly exploits the small government ideal to provoke fanaticism among his rock-solid supporters. Jiji Press should have asked Senator Hagerty about these points.

From the Jiji interview article, I have an impression that Trump associates are disrespectful to Japan's multilateral security policy to manage global challenges and to curb Chinese threats in the region. Hagerty's comment in the interview sounds as if Trump's bullying on NATO allies were irrelevant to the alliance with Japan. But since Shinzo Abe launched the FOIP initiative, which includes Asian and European stakeholders, his multilateralist legacy has been inherited to the Suga and the Kishida administrations. Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa is enhancing this furthermore as indicated in her foreign policy speech on January 30, stating "The security of the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific are inseparable." Some Republican isolationists like Senator Josh Hawley are so NIMBY that they are willing to put hard pressure on China to relieve pent-up frustration among angry working class, while dismissing the Russian threats Ukraine and the trans-Atlantic region as something distant to American national security. That does not resonate with Japan's global strategy direction. It is vital Japanese national interest to defend current liberal and rule-based world order.

We have to take it seriously that key former cabinet members speak against Trump's candidacy, as Robert Kagan recommended in his column to the Washington Post at the end of the last year ( "The Trump dictatorship: How to stop it"' Washington Post; December 7, 2023). Following ex-Vice President Mike Pence, who refused to endorse Trump to run for the second in public, top national security officials of his last term administration raised serious concerns with his poor understanding of America's global network with allies and constitutional democracy. Those cabinet members include his Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Joint Chief of Staff Mark Milley, and National Security Advisor John Bolton ( "Full List of Former Donald Trump Officials Refusing to Endorse Him"; Newsweek; March 23, 2024). Quite noticeably, substantial portion of them are leading military professionals of the US armed forces.

Quite interestingly, Trump affiliates justify his gaffs by idiosyncratic phrases. As is often the case, his last term Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff of the NSC Alexander Gray told to understand Trump by his deeds, not by his words in an interview with a Japanese TV news media. Also, he stressed that America's alliance with Japan deepened furthermore during the Trump era ( "The impact on Japan, if Trump were reelected"; TBS News 23; March 14, 2024). But it was adults in the room and technocrats who modified Trump's America First, and now, they stand against him. Japanese people and politicians are well-aware of it. Actually, Ex-Sec Defense Esper commented, "The first year of a second Trump term will look like the last year of the first Trump term, in other words, with all the craziness" in 'Real Time with Bill Maher' on HBO TV ( "Trump's Former Defense Secretary Tells Bill Maher He Is 'Definitely Not' Voting for Ex Boss"; Daily Beast; March 31, 2024). Ultimately, Trump's disdain of multilateral alliance is at odds with the views of General David Petraeus who made America win the war through multilateral strategic coordination with numerous allies and local leaders. As Trump goes the opposite, it is quite likely that he would make America lose in any war and great power rivalries in this century. From this point of view, Japanese media should ask much harder questions to Trump associates, rather than treating them so politely like a tea ceremony guest.

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