Foreign policy, as expected, was not much of a campaign issue in 1996. Bob Dole criticized the administration’s foreign policy as “incoherent and vacillating,” and the Clinton camp parried that criticism by emphasizing the candidates’ common ground on major foreign policy issues. Still, there was the president, on the eve of the first debate, earnestly refereeing negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Yasir Arafat at the White House. It mattered little that no agreement was reached; the point for Bill Clinton was to look presidential.
But crisis diplomacy and photo opportunities do not add up to a foreign policy, and that has nowhere been demonstrated more tellingly since the end of the cold war than in regard to the U.S.-Japanese alliance. Both the Bush and Clinton administrations termed it the most important bilateral relationship in the world. Why then has Japan been virtually absent from the media and public dialogue of late, and has seemingly failed to register on the administration’s radar screen as well?