I went to read about the United States getting involved in the China/Japan disputes. One article showed a picture of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reviewing a Japanese honor guard. It is shown to the left. Looking at it I thought: “Has that man no dignity?” He is wearing a blue sports coat and grey trousers as if he’s heading for a college basketball game.
Japan is a very traditional country. It expects people to follow traditions. One of which is that a person must dress properly when reviewing an honor guard. An example is shown by the civilian to his far right. At a minimum Hagel should have worn a dark business suit. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a picture of a US cabinet member dressed so casually reviewing troops. I was dismayed at seeing his dress but thought I’d give him a Mulligan. But as I read other articles and viewed other photographs things only became worse.
Much worse. Another article about his trip to Japan is: “Hagel arrived in Japan on Saturday on a six-day mission to reassure America’s Asian allies . . . .” He is shown standing in front of a large Japanese flag in a sports coat, open white shirt with button down collar and a blue undershirt. He looks like a football coach addressing a pre-game crowd of freshman students. If Chuck is trying to reassure anyone he’s going about it in the wrong way when he wants to present himself as Mr. Casual.
One person I agree with commented on seeing the picture to the left that “Informality is not a virtue — it shows a lack of serious concern. Hagel did not dress himself properly. He was not on personal vacation.” Hagel is wearing green pants, fuchsia colored socks, brown suede loafers)
In fact, that’s what is worrying Japan and our other allies in the Far East. America has become the casual nation that doesn’t take anything really seriously. When the leader of our military arriving on official business dresses as if he is off to a sporting contest and the outcome of the game will not disturb his plans for a later get together then our allies worry about our commitments.
Japan is worried that our walking out on Ukraine after guaranteeing that we would protect its independence in the Budapest Memorandum is a prelude to us walking out on it if China starts to turn up the heat. Hagel’s manner of dressing himself further diminishes the standing of America.
Secretary of State John Kerry has his problems in either trying too hard or trying to untie a Gordian knot or just being too gullible; but one thing he does on official business is to act and dress like he is undertaking a matter of importance, as do the foreign leaders he interacts with. Kerry always appears as a man on a serious mission and not as one out for a good time.
I was in court as a young lawyer and another attorney came in dressed in a flashy sports coat. The judge called to the attorney as he was entering the bar: “are you going to the circus?” I admit those things don’t happen anymore. Some attorneys, like Hagel, dress as if the court appearance is a stop on the way to the beach, but those who are serious about their roles as advocates dress appropriately with a business suit.
Hagel has put himself in a difficult position. He can be sure the Japanese will be watching to see his appearance when he arrives in China. If he dresses in an appropriate business suit when he arrives there it will reinforce the idea in Japan that America is giving it short shrift; if he dresses in China like he did in Japan he may well be given a cold shoulder by the Chinese officials, or even worse, his casualness may send a message that China is free to do what it wants because the US prefers to party rather than be serious.
Of course the fish rots from the head. When Obama spoke with Putin prior to the invasion of Crimea he was dressed in jeans as is shown by the White House photograph of him. I’m sure when Vladimir saw it he was less than impressed. It presented a picture of a man not really interested in the discussion but waiting for it to get over to a pick-up basketball game or a beer fest. And you know the result of that phone conversation.
Unfortunately Obama’s White House is known for its casualness. Perhaps that has infected its foreign policy. Perhaps the president and his Secretary of Defense Hagel should have paid more attention to the words of Marilyn Monroe who said: “I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one.”