Julie L. Kessler
lawyer traveler writer


Kennedy’s Nomination as Ambassador to Japan. Really???

When I heard late last month that President Obama had announced his nomination of former first daughter Caroline Kennedy as U.S. Ambassador to Japan, I remember thinking “Really?”


I have absolutely nothing against Ms. Kennedy, a fellow attorney, talented writer, and of course, daughter of Camelot, who is by all accounts, smart, dedicated, and an incredible fundraiser. However, as someone who has lived in Japan, and who has studied the language and culture, I am left scratching my head as to Obama’s choice for such a vitally important posting.


I understand of course the politics of these appointments. After all, Ms. Kennedy was instrumental in propelling Obama to the 2008 Democratic nomination, and in the 2012 race, served as one of 35 national co-chairs of his re-election campaign. That said, I’m thinking the more appropriate ambassadorial post for her would be something along the lines of, say, Belize, or perhaps, Bermuda. Or like her aunt Jean Kennedy Smith, to Ireland.


If Kennedy is confirmed, she would be the first woman in this post to a fellow G-8 nation. That of course is not in and of itself telling. Although Japan has a history of being quite slow to accept women in professional capacities, that stance is shifting, little by little. And besides, Japan holds gaijin in general, and gaijin women in particular, to a different standard than that of Japanese women. But the real issue is that Japan is one of America’s most important international partners, both commercially and militarily. To have someone at this level of posting with virtually no Japan experience, and about the same amount of foreign policy experience, is, well, just plain silly. This is especially so given that there is an abundance of professionals with far more foreign policy experience and with real and close connections to Japan that would make them far more effective in the Asian arena. Granted, they may not have the political panache or the household name recognition of the Kennedy clan. But from an economic and military standpoint, especially given North Korean nuclear capabilities and continuing disputes with China, do we really care?

As many Japan experts will agree, it is a wonderful country, but it is also a very complex one, historically, socially, culturally, and linguistically. And it takes a long time and a significant commitment to understand its ways and to be successful there professionally and personally. In my opinion, it is insufficient, as some have suggested, that Kennedy will overcome her significant deficiencies in foreign policy, language, and cultural connection by having an experienced staff and a Japan expert shadow aide her while she is ambassador. It is also offensive to me that Kennedy’s celebrity appeal, close relationship with Obama, and her gender have been argued as her main selling points for this position. This is form over substance at a time and in a place with no room for that.


Those selling points may be just fine for an ambassadorial post in Belize, but not for an envoy as important as one to the land of the rising sun, which also happens to be our greatest and strongest ally in Asia. Really.

Date Posted:  Aug. 12 2013