Considering the appointment of John Roos and other Obama donors to ambassadorial posts, David Rothkopf makes a strong argument against the relevance of ambassadorships in the first place:
For really important relationships, we need permanent high-level representation. But those relationships are comparatively few and in those cases, we need a special breed of highly empowered, highly experienced people...people who look more like Tom Shannon or perhaps Tim Roemer or Jon Huntsman...and not the others. A good rule of thumb might be: If you think a job can go to someone with no regional, diplomatic or relevant national security experience, then perhaps we ought to really be thinking about whether we need the job rather than who should fill it.
I think the one mistake Rothkopf makes is overstating the significance of the ambassador's post in Tokyo. As I argued earlier this week, Roos is going to Japan precisely because it is the kind of post that does not demand "a special breed of highly empowered, highly experienced people," especially now given Japan's domestic "difficulties." The challenges facing Roos are of a wholly different nature from the challenges facing Roemer and Huntsman in New Delhi and Beijing respectively. If China and India jobs involve smoothing out problems stemming from the emergence of two colossal powers, the Japan job is the flip side of the coin: constantly reassuring Japan that despite its relative decline, the US-Japan relationship is still important. That is not to say that Roos is not highly empowered — indeed, it appears that he was also in consideration for domestic policy jobs — but that he is high-powered in a different sense from someone like Huntsman who has extensive foreign experience. But Roos should have no problem performing his two most important tasks.
Roos's number one task is reassuring Japan's elites that the US will meet its obligations to come to Japan's defense. That message ultimately has less to do with the messenger than the messenger's persistence, and the extent to which the messenger has the backing of the administration.
Roos actually may be uniquely capable of managing what could be the other important task of his ambassadorship, welcoming a DPJ-led government into power. As someone removed from the circle of US-Japan alliance insiders, Roos presumably will arrive in Tokyo free of LDP leanings and more open to forging a relationship with the potential governing party. Even if the DPJ does not win this year, it is increasingly a force to be reckoned with in Japanese politics. I hope and trust that Roos will make building a relationship with the DPJ a top priority of his ambassadorship.
Other posts by Tobias Harris: