Several news outlets are reporting that President Barack Obama will name top donor and campaign supporter, Caroline Kennedy, as the next U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Kennedy’s name was first flouted as a possible candidate to be the next ambassador to Japan soon after Obama’s inauguration in January of this year. Other reports suggested she would be tapped as ambassador to Canada.
If confirmed, Kennedy, who is the only living child of former U.S. President John F Kennedy, would replace the current ambassador in Tokyo, John Roos, who has served in the position since 2009.
The pick would be largely political as Kennedy does not have any immediately obvious qualifications to serve as America’s top envoy in Japan. Her career has largely been devoted to authoring books and serving on the boards of several non-profit organizations.
She does have a long history of support for the president, however. Kennedy first endorsed then-Senator Barack Obama in a New York Times op-ed in January 2008, and co-chaired his vice presidential search committee during the election that same year. She also spoke at the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions, and was vocal in opposing Obama’s challenger in 2012, Mitt Romney.
Following the 2008 election it appeared President Obama was going to nominate her to serve as ambassador to the Vatican, before the expected move sparked strong opposition from leading Catholic groups. She also briefly considered running for Hillary Clinton’s vacant Senate seat in New York after Clinton was tapped as secretary of state.
As the Washington Post points out, she’ll hardly be the first “superstar” U.S. ambassador to Japan, with her predecessors including such “luminaries like legendary Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield, former vice president Walter Mondale, former House speaker Tom Foley, and former Senate majority leader Howard Baker.”
Still, Kennedy will be serving at a precarious time in U.S.-Japanese relations as Tokyo continues to be embroiled in disputes with neighbors South Korea and especially China, the U.S. and Japan continue to haggle over the size and location of U.S. military troops in the country, and new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will face staunch opposition at home as he tries to get his country to sign onto the U.S.-led regional trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Under these circumstances one can’t help but wonder if a more qualified pick, such as Harvard Professor Joseph Nye, wouldn’t have better served the White House.
Zachary Keck serves as assistant editor for The Diplomat.