Trump is off to a good start with Japan

What is the most important trait in a U.S. president? Regard for the Constitution, I believe.

What’s second? Probably the ability to distinguish between friendly countries and leaders and unfriendly countries and leaders, and to conduct foreign policy accordingly.

The distinguishing part isn’t always easy. Every president is likely to make a mistake or two. The second part — conducting foreign policy accordingly — shouldn’t be too difficult.

President Reagan was excellent in these departments, though he did go astray with the Iran-Contra deal. Most importantly, he sized up the Soviet Union and its leader correctly and, by doing so, helped bring the evil empire down.

President Obama was awful. Right out the gate he displayed his chilliness towards Great Britain, was downright hostile to Israel for eight years, found his best Middle East friend in Turkey’s abominable Erdogan, and made the conciliation of Iran his prime foreign policy objective in the belief that the mullahs would not only moderate but help us bring stability to the Middle East if only we were nicer to them.

How is President Trump doing so far? It’s too early to say. However, he does seem to be getting some of the basics right.

Trump understands that Great Britain is our best and most important friend in Europe. He understands that Israel is our best and most important friend in the Middle East. He understands that Japan is our best and most important friend in Asia.

And so far, he is acting accordingly. His meetings with Prime Minister May and Prime Minister Abe appear to have gone quite well. He and Prime Minister Netanyahu also seem to be off to a good start and will meet soon.

I want to focus on Trump’s meetings with Abe. Even the New York Times acknowledges that they were a success. Only the Japanese Communist party seems displeased. That’s a good sign.

Andrew Yeo writing in the Washington Post goes further than the Times. He suggests that Trump and Abe may have launched a new chapter in U.S.-Japan relations.

For any U.S. president, personal rapport is likely to factor into our relations with other countries. Yeo tells us that Trump and Abe have quickly developed a good personal rapport. He adds:

The U.S.-Japan alliance flourished during the Koizumi-Bush years, attested by Japan’s expansion of its military role in support for U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Abe-Trump relationship may replicate this positive dynamic at the personal and diplomatic level.

Yeo notes that Abe is a good friend to have. He is right. Abe is in his second stint as prime minister and is the longest serving PM in more than a decade.

He is well-respected in Asia and on the world stage. According to Michael Auslin of AEI, in his excellent new book The End of the Asian Century:

Abe [has] adopted a policy that in essence offered Japan as a democratic, liberal partner for Asian nations growing wary of China’s increasing power and influence. Though often couched in security terms, Abe’s vision as he has developed it over the years is a political one, contrasting destabilizing authoritarianism with cooperative liberalism.

Auslin adds that Abe hasn’t been able to overturn China’s predominance, in part because Japan no longer has the region’s largest or fastest growing economy and, to a lesser extent, because of hostility towards Japan over its war time atrocities 75 years ago.

Even so, Prime Minister Abe strikes me as just the kind of leader with whom the American president should be developing a strong personal rapport. And if the U.S.-Japan alliance becomes stronger, Abe may find himself better positioned to accomplish his foreign policy goals in Asia.

So far, so good.