We American fans who were devastated by the US women’s upset loss in the soccer World Cup have comforted ourselves with the feeling that if we had to lose, Japan was our second choice to win after the terrible year that country has had. Additionally, a persuasive case can be made that Japan’s victory will prove to be a plus for our mutual security interests.
The triple natural/manmade disasters the country has suffered – especially the prolonged nuclear crisis – have wounded the national psyche and held the potential for a dangerous weakening of national will.
Down the road, the loss of public morale could have undermined Japan’s commitment to the US alliance as the basis for regional security – and it could have tempted some in Tokyo to consider an accommodation with China.
Perhaps something like that was at work when Japan downplayed Taiwan’s leading role in the tsunami and earthquake relief effort, its generosity far outstripping China’s modest contribution.
The valiant women’s World Cup victory against the powerful US team has gone a long way to restoring the country’s self-esteem and self-confidence – that’s the kind of Japan we need as our most important Asian ally.
Some in China and the United States may profess a fear that any resurgent confidence could be a harbinger of militant Japanese nationalism. That would be an exaggerated concern in modern democratic Japan.
The Asian power to worry about is the one whose government lacks political legitimacy and has to rely on whipped-up nationalism to gain public support. In fact, the country that most resembles the Japan of the 1930s and 40s with its aggressive pursuit of the region’s resources is not today’s Japan but contemporary China.
If the American women had won, President Obama would surely have hosted them at the White House. He still should, for their magnificent performance throughout the games and because just getting to the World Cup final is worthy of recognition.
But, while he’s at it, the president should also invite Japan’s team as the ultimate champions they are. Have them all there together – the Japanese people would love it, and it would do wonders for US friendship with that critical nation.
We lost a game, but America may have gained a stronger Asian ally.
Joseph A. Bosco served in the office of the secretary of Defense as China country desk officer and previously taught graduate seminars on China-US relations at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He is now a national security consultant.