WASHINGTON – President Obama announced Wednesday that he is nominating former first daughter Caroline Kennedy as U.S. ambassador to Japan, offering the most famous living member of a prominent American family a new role of service to country.
Kennedy, an attorney and bestselling book editor, is being rewarded for helping put Obama in the White House where her father served until his assassination 50 years ago.
If confirmed, she would be the first woman in a post where many other prominent Americans have served to strengthen a vital Asian tie.
Kennedy helped propel Obama to the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination in a celebrated endorsement over Hillary Rodham Clinton — the only time she’s endorsed a presidential candidate other than her uncle Ted Kennedy in 1980. She was a co-chair of Obama’s vice presidential search committee and in the 2012 race served as one of 35 national co-chairs of his re-election campaign.
The White House announced her nomination without any particular fanfare, listing her in a news release along with other selections for administration posts. Obama said in a statement that all the choices bring “a depth of experience and tremendous dedication to their new roles,” but he offered no comment specific to Kennedy.
Japan is one of the United States’ most important commercial and military partners and accustomed since the end of World War II to having renowned American political leaders serve as envoy. Former U.S. ambassadors to Japan include former Vice President Walter Mondale, former House Speaker Tom Foley and former Senate Majority Leaders Mike Mansfield and Howard Baker.
Kennedy, 55, doesn’t have their foreign policy heft or any obvious ties to Japan, a key ally in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
She would replace John Roos, a wealthy former Silicon Valley lawyer and top Obama campaign fundraiser.
Thomas Berger, an international relations professor at Boston University, said some may be concerned that Kennedy doesn’t have the experience to deal with thorny issues in the U.S.-Japan relationship, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks and the dispute over islands in the East China Sea claimed by both Japan and China. But Berger argued that Kennedy will have an experienced staff to guide her through policy matters, while she offers other assets — celebrity appeal to the Japanese, a close relationship with Obama and her gender.
“Japanese women continue to look for role models who demonstrate that it is possible to be a woman and have a successful career in politics,” Berger said. “I expect that many in both the United States and in Japan will want to use her to send that message to the Japanese public.”
She also would bring a third generation of her family into the U.S. diplomatic corps.