Swimming in History's Stream

By Beichman, Arnold | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

Swimming in History's Stream


Beichman, Arnold, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


In his new book, In the Stream of History: Shaping Foreign Policy for a New Era (Stanford University Press, $60 cloth, $22.95 paper, 586 pages), former Secretary of State Warren Christopher has taken 37 key speeches delivered at home and abroad during his incumbency (1993-1997) and larded each of them with a short prefatory essay giving the context of each speech, an anecdote or two and a brief sketch of some of the foreign officials with whom he negotiated.

With so doleful a description, the prospective reader might expect little reward other than an "A" for effort. Not so. The speeches in this massive book deal with war-or-peace issues still on the front pages - among them the Middle East, Russia, Bosnia and Central Europe, terrorism, China, NATO, the Korean peninsula, United Nations reform - and, surprisingly, they make engaging reading.

There are no startling revelations in the essays which preface the speeches, but anyone interested in American foreign policy under President Bill Clinton will find the book indispensable and a paperback bargain.

* * *

The key question Mayumi Itoh's Globalization of Japan: Japanese Sakoku Mentality and U.S. Efforts to Open Japan (St. Martin's, $45, 224 pages) seeks to answer is this: Why does Japan resist liberalizing its markets? There are also subsidiary questions, which may in time become crucial, such as: Why is Japan reluctant to participate in international peace-keeping activities?

The answer to these questions has to do with Japan's ingrained "sakoku" (secluded nation) mentality which still inhibits the development of a self-confident "kokusaika" (globalization) outlook. The author, a professor at the University of Nevada, implies that Japan has not adjusted to the modern world. Miss Itoh, therefore, prescribes what she calls "inward kokusaika," defined as "the assimilation of the Japanese mind to foreign values and the transformation of Japan's domestic systems to meet internationally accepted norms and standards." The author, however, doesn't tell us what "foreign values" she has in mind.

Even so her book is an interesting analysis of Japan's political culture and its power over the national economy and ought to be carefully studied by U.S. Treasury policymakers.

* * *

Ever since it was determined two centuries ago by the post-revolutionary French Constituent Assembly that left was radical and right reactionary, label confusion has bedeviled political discourse in the democracies. Political positions were simpler to define during the USSR's lifetime but that's over. The "right" used to encompass single-issue parties - antisemitism, anti-immigration, anti-black, sometimes anti-Wall Street. Then along came the single-issue "green" movement whose socioeconomic ethos was socialist and - "left."

The essays in The New Politics of The Right: Neo-populist Parties and Movements in Established Democracies (St. Martin's, $55 cloth, $17.95 paper, 268 pages), edited by Hans-George Betz and Stefan Immerfall, while extremely well-informed about the intricacies of parties of the so-called right does not really establish a bedrock definition of "right" - probably because there really isn't one.

Are the ingredients radical, populist, racist, libertarian, pro- or anti-status quo? Before 1991, being for the "status quo" presumably made you a rightist but it really depended on whose "status quo" you are against: If you were opposed to the status quo Sandinistas in Nicaragua or against Soviet domination of the Baltic states, you were a war-monger, but if you were against status quo Pinochet Chile you were a good liberal. Is Russia's rump Communist Party right, left or center as it seeks to restore the status quo ante?

For the editors and some of the contributors to this volume the rise in parties of the right, especially in Europe, is alarming, a sign of neo-fascism.

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