By MARC MCDONALD
With the ever-growing scandals plaguing his administration, Bush is now spending as much time as possible far away from Washington. And you can't get much farther away than Asia, where Bush departed this week, shortly after returning from his Latin American trip.
For anyone wondering what business Bush will conduct behind closed doors while in Tokyo, know this: the U.S. media's reporting of Bush's trip will almost certainly be inaccurate and misleading.
There are several reasons for this. One is the fact that few, if any, members of the U.S. press corps traveling with Bush are fluent in the Japanese language. In fact, even the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has a severe shortage of Japanese speakers. A second factor is that few Americans have any sort of grasp on how Japanese culture works. An idiot abroad like Bush is likely to be completely in the dark on such matters as the fact that the Japanese routinely smother everything they say with ritual self modesty. Another problem is that the Japanese rarely bluntly say exactly what's on their minds---they tend to speak ambiguously. The person they're speaking to is expected to "read between the lines."
When Bush meets with Japan's leaders, there will be public, high-profile issues to be discussed (like the current beef import dispute). But what's really important is what will be discussed behind closed doors in Tokyo. While no one really knows for sure what Bush will be talking about in secret with Japan's leaders, I'd like to offer some speculation on this issue.
For a start, the high-profile beef issue is nothing more than a red herring issue offered up by Tokyo to (A) give the U.S. media something to talk about and (B) create an issue by which Bush can "save face" during which what will likely be a humbling experience for the U.S. president. Look for Tokyo to soon announce a "breakthrough" agreement on beef that Bush will be able to present to the U.S. public as a negotiating "triumph."
However, the fact is, Tokyo (correctly) regards beef as nothing more than a simple commodity that can be sourced from scores of nations around the world. Tokyo is simply using the beef issue as a means of deflecting attention away from what it considers the real, urgent issues of importance.
First among these is the fact that Japan wants the U.S. to continue to cooperate with Tokyo's economic, trade and industrial policies. The U.S. has been playing ball with Tokyo (from an ever-diminishing position of strength) ever since America's trade deficits with Tokyo began to explode during the Reagan administration.
I'd expect that the Japanese will gently make it clear to Bush that, if the U.S. continues to cooperate with Japan's policies, then Tokyo will continue to fund America's titanic trade and fiscal deficits.
And what sort of cooperation are the Japanese looking for? Well, for a start, they do not want the U.S. to consider tariffs or embargoes, or any other actions that would halt the gigantic flood of Japanese imports into the U.S. market. I find it interesting how a quarter of a century ago (before the U.S. became critically dependent on Japanese capital) the U.S. trade deficit with Japan was an issue with a vastly higher profile in U.S. politics and media than it is today. This, despite the fact that today, the U.S. has vastly larger deficits with Japan than it did then.
Note that I am not criticizing Tokyo in any way for its approach on trade issues. Japan is simply looking out for the best interests of its people. By contrast, the same cannot be said of America's leadership, sadly. In fact, in playing ball with Tokyo, Bush and the rest of America's leadership is doing nothing less than selling out America's long-term interests for short-term gain.
It's clear that Tokyo's leadership recognizes that America's officials are basically corrupt and will do anything for money. Tokyo saw this as far back as the Reagan administration. It's important to remember that Reagan routinely cooperated with Tokyo on trade matters (much to the detriment of U.S. industry). And in the end, Reagan was rewarded by Tokyo: when he left office, he was able to pocket several million dollars for merely giving a couple of speeches in Tokyo.
I've long believed that a big flaw of American-style capitalism is that it focuses too much on the short term and pays zero attention to the long term. This, clearly, is a problem that also plagues America's political system today. While Tokyo is looking ahead the next quarter of a century, U.S. leaders look no further ahead than the next fiscal quarter.