Greetings From Japan

I’ve been in Osaka for nearly a week now, working hard but having some fun too. Osaka is an impressive, gleaming city, bustling but nowhere near as overcrowded as guidebook descriptions suggest. Yesterday, we spent the day in Kyoto, visiting historical and religious sites.
Stereotypes are generally true; for example, it is undeniable that the Japanese tend to eat weird stuff. Horse and whale are two of the more recognizable delicacies I’ve consumed during the last few days. But we’ve also had excellent sushi and Kobe beef–if not the best steak I’ve ever eaten, certainly the best I can remember. The Japanese people we have met have been unfailingly kind and polite. If there is a seething undercurrent of anti-Americanism here, it has been completely invisible to us. It is not uncommon for groups of uniformed schoolchildren to approach my daughters on the street and ask to have their pictures taken together; sometimes they offer gifts of origami. It is hard to say how any group of people could be friendlier or more exquisitely considerate.
I’ve been relatively out of touch for a while; by the time I return home in a couple of weeks, I will have been on the road almost without interruption for two months. Blogging has been one of many things that have suffered. On the other hand, this has been a pretty good time to be away from the news cycle. As a business traveler, my main contact with the outside world has been USA Today. Since I left home on my current trip, over a week ago, I don’t believe USA Today has had a single story above the fold about anything other than Abu Ghraib. Yesterday the newspaper’s founder, Al Neuharth–writing as a “former combat infantryman in World War II”–editorialized that President Bush should not be re-elected, solely on the basis of the Iraq war. Neuharth managed the remarkable feat of making his argument without once mentioning John Kerry. It appears that the Democrats intend to test the political adage that you can’t beat somebody with nobody.
Hanging in the balance, it seems to me, is not just the re-election of President Bush, which appears increasingly unlikely despite John Kerry’s ineptitude, but even more fundamentally, the question whether it is still possible for America to fight a war. We can stage raids and special operations missions; we can bomb; we can pacify and peace-keep, up to a point. But this country’s elites seem determined to show that we can never again fight a war. If the Abu Ghraib abuses–bad on the scale of fraternity hazings, not bad on the scale of wartime horrors–are allowed to bring down the Bush administration, it will have been established, I think, that our enemies were right, and that war can no longer be an option for an American administration. Which means, in turn, that the next September 11 is only a matter of time. So a great deal turns on what happens between now and November.

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