Is America Ready for a Male Secretary of State?

Running Foggy Bottom is a tough job -- maybe too tough for a man.

Foreign policy has long been one of the last great bastions of sexism. But as glass ceiling after glass ceiling is shattered in Washington, the time has come to ask when one of the last great barriers will be overcome: Is America ready for a male secretary of state?

From a theoretical standpoint, there is no real reason that a man couldn't do the job. But in the salons of Georgetown and the halls of Foggy Bottom, there continues to be a steady undercurrent of chatter that a man just wouldn't be up to it. Right or wrong, here are some of the justifications foreign-policy insiders cite when they make the case that appointing a man as the highest-ranking diplomat in the land would be an overreach.

First and foremost, many wonder whether a man would have the necessary endurance to do the job. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has visited more than 100 nations during her tenure, flown 897,951 miles, and spent 376 days abroad. By making it to 110 countries in just one term, Clinton broke the previous record for most countries visited by a secretary: 98, held by Madeleine Albright. And although Condoleezza Rice visited fewer countries, she did log more than a million miles in the air. Not many men can point to those kinds of frequent flyer miles.

But beyond just the raw stamina needed to robustly represent the United States at home and abroad, others wonder if a man would simply bring the same skills to the table as does a woman. In numerous studies, women have been ranked as more emotionally intelligent than men while enjoying a greater ability to empathize with their interlocutors. Both men and women consistently rate women as better listeners than men. While some level of stereotyping is likely at work in these findings, there is much to argue that women are more culturally attuned and adept at interpersonal skills than their male counterparts. What skills could be more important for a good diplomat?

The pro-women camp doesn't just hang its hat on the touchy-feely side of diplomacy. Certainly, when thinking about secretaries Clinton, Rice, and Albright, there are many who have questioned their policies and abilities from both the left and the right. That comes with the territory. But one would be hard-pressed to find someone who argued that any of these three secretaries was too soft for the job. I don't mean to be too blunt about it, but are there any men out there right now who would bring the same level of toughness to the position? Because of a desire for political correctness, can we risk appointing a man to this job when we are unsure if he will be tough enough to stand up to tyrants in Iran, North Korea, and Cuba?

It is also important to note that secretaries Albright, Rice, and Clinton have all been able to give total commitment to their jobs, at some level of personal sacrifice. Albright was divorced long before her diplomatic career reached the highest levels. Rice never married or had children. Clinton enjoys the relative freedom of being married to a former president of the United States, who is a very active globe-trotter himself. Putting it delicately, some wonder whether a man with more "traditional" family commitments simply would have the time, energy, and focus required to be fully effective as secretary of state. As many a family-minded man has learned, in the demanding and competitive world of modern diplomacy, you just can't have it all.

And there is the great intangible: star power. Is there any man out there right now who could inspire the "Texts from Hillary" feed that generated 45,000 followers on Tumblr in just a few days? Does anyone recall a senior male diplomat who is a good enough concert pianist that he would be comfortable performing for Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace the way Rice did in 2008? Can we imagine the Smithsonian displaying the accessories of a male diplomat and how they were used to deliver subtle but powerful diplomatic messages the way Albright used her pins and broaches?

Maybe as Mitt Romney struggles to gain traction in the presidential race, he will be tempted to engage in some classic special-interest politics and promise to appoint a man as secretary of state. The move would certainly be welcomed by American men who often feel aggrieved and underappreciated in the workplace. And certainly men remain an important minority when it comes to presidential voting (they constituted 46 percent of voters in the 2008 elections).

We just hope a man would be up to the task.

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The Sino Stranglehold

How badly could the Chinese protests hurt Japan's economy?

Anti-Japanese riots aren't a new phenomenon in China, but the ongoing demonstrations across the country have surpassed previous outbreaks in both their extensiveness -- over a hundred cities -- and their perfervid declarations. One banner, hung over an Audi dealership, declared that the Japanese should be exterminated; another called for a nuclear strike on Tokyo; a woman's hospital featured a neon sign announcing that Japanese females would absolutely not be treated. The issue of sovereignty over the uninhabited islands, known as Diaoyu to the Chinese and Senkaku to the Japanese, sparked China's fevered response. Protestors threw eggs and water bottles at the Japanese embassy in Beijing; at least one city reportedly banned Japanese cars from its streets to protect their occupants; a television station in Guizhou province reportedly stopped airing commercials for Japanese businesses. Most worryingly, one of China's highest ranking military officials, vice-chair of the Central Military Commission Gen. Xu Caihou, told the People's Liberation Army to be prepared for combat.

Despite their intensity, these demonstrations, like the half-dozen that preceded them over the past 25 years, are abating. In the past, China has long been able to hold Japan's economy hostage after political disputes, and it is likely to get its way economically this time as well. The two economies are deeply interlinked; trade between them in 2011 was worth almost $350 billion. China is Japan's largest trading partner and absorbs just under a fifth of Japan's total exports; Japan is China's third-largest trading partner, after the European Union (EU) and the United States. China's economy, which overtook Japan's as the world's second largest in 2011, is expected to grow at the reduced but still healthy rate of more than 7.5 percent in 2012; Japan's economy by contrast could contract in the third quarter of this year.

Though it never recovered from the bursting of its economic bubble in 1990, Japan remained the world's second-largest economy until China edged it out of that spot in 2011. The triple earthquake-tsunami-nuclear meltdown of March 2011 curtailed domestic auto production; disastrous floods in Thailand in October of that year closed Toyota, Nissan, and Honda factories. Shortages of power resulting from the shutdown of reactors and strong public sentiment for ending reliance on nuclear energy meant fuel shortages and higher electric bills. To make matters worse, the global economic downturn depressed demand for the country's exports, and a strong yen made Japanese products less competitive in world markets. In that same annus horribilus, Japan recorded its first trade deficit since 1981. Japan's exports to China had dropped 7.3 percent in 2011, not as bad as the 21.3 percent decline in those to the EU that same year, but worrisome nonetheless. Indeed, despite periodic frictions between Tokyo and Beijing, trade with China in 2011, and in the past decade, had been the brightest spot in the Japanese economy.

A boycott of Japanese goods has the potential to hurt Japan badly; the effects are difficult to calculate but likely in the billions of dollars. In 2002, Japan banned imports of Chinese onions, mushrooms, and rushes -- the latter used in the production of tatami mats for the floors of traditional Japanese homes. Beijing responded by suspending imports of Japanese cars, air conditioners, and cell phones. Japanese car manufacturers complained that the lost sales in autos would amount to roughly $3 billion in losses (according to the 2002 exchange rate), Japan capitulated eight months later.  

In September 2010, when the Japanese government refused to release the captain of a Chinese fishing boat after he rammed two of their ships, Beijing imposed a ban on exporting rare earths -- elements crucial to many high-tech products like smartphones, flat-screen TVs, and the Toyota Prius -- to Japan, subjected its imports to an excruciatingly slow inspection procedure, and advised its tourist agencies not to book groups to visit Japan.

Suspension of trade would hurt China as well. Many Japanese products are made in China; among the numerous factories shut down out of safety fears include Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Panasonic, and Mitsumi Electric ( a major supplier of optical equipment to Nintendo). Should these be unable to resume production, hundreds of thousands of Chinese would lose their jobs. The newly unemployed are unlikely to put patriotism before their paychecks and, concentrated in company dormitories or other accommodations nearby, can easily mobilize to protest. This time, their target will not be Japan.

Admittedly, boycotts are devilishly difficult to enforce, especially on a long-term basis. The Chinese economy is no longer sealed as it was in Mao's era: Motivated consumers can, and do, find ways around it. After Beijing banned Norwegian salmon out of anger over the Nobel Peace Prize Committee's decision to award imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo, businesspeople imported salmon into Hong Kong, repackaged it, and sold it in major retail outlets throughout the country. A government ban on Japanese imports could be effective only if public anger were so intense that the overwhelming majority of Chinese consumers were willing to forgo purchases of Japanese products, which Chinese skeptics doubt. An anonymous cartoonist whose sketch was quickly removed from the web, drew a crowd holding angry anti-Japanese signs in one hand while snapping pictures with their Japanese cameras and texting on Japanese cellphones in the other.

One of the biggest benefits to Japan of manufacturing in China is the ability to sell finished products to Chinese consumers domestically. If Japanese manufacturers cannot sell to the Chinese, there is little reason to keep their factories in China. Vietnam as well as several other ASEAN members are already courting Japanese manufacturers, offering attractive leases, well-educated employees, and modest wage scales. Things are bad, but economically, both China and Japan have other options.

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