What is the role of an embassy?

I had a bit of a discussion with a poster on Debito about what the U.S. embassy in Japan is supposed to do. In previous years, they have dropped the ball so often on their actual mission, that people forget that there is a ball.

I am borrowing from the Wikipedia on Diplomatic Mission, which is what the embassy essentially is:


The role of such a mission is to protect, in the receiving State, the interests of the sending State, and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law; negotiating with the Government of the receiving State as directed by the sending State; ascertaining by lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State; promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations.

So this easy explanation is very clear, ne? The embassy is not a permanent business convention in the foreign state. The people there are not lackeys to do the bidding of the big multinational corporations, and the well-connected executives and their families. They are supposed to represent Americans’ interests in Japan.

Whenever there is a Republican administration, the State Department allows a lot of shit to go on with the embassies—and particularly the Japanese one, where clubby meetings in the shadows are a way of life for the powerful, much more than in America.

What I want to focus on, is to ask: how much has the U.S. Embassy done over the past 10 years for the people[?] Not, for the business class who happen to be Americans. Not, for military who are Americans stationed in Japan. Not for university administrators, who are relying on the embassy to help fill their American-based schools. Not new passports. Not tax advice. I mean, policy help for Americans in Japan.

And I’ll bet you it’s damn near zip.

Zippo. Nothing.

In defense of the Tokyo embassy, I must say that some of the people attached to it have been bringing American concerns to the Japanese government of Minshuto (DPJ). But I don’t think there’s been any follow-up. I think it’s in the style of a kabuki, where the issues get communicated, and the communication gets received, and then someone maybe even writes the concern down on a note pad with an elegant binder. And that is that. The junior-boy Japanese who takes the note (and notice, it’s mostly men), is going to do it in the most practiced, blank-faced manner, as if the “other side” hasn’t learned to look for other non-verbal cues in the behavior of the people there, to judge their emotions.

Ah, yeah.

The biggest farce is that embassy apologists have actually convinced any number of Japan-side Americans that the diplomatic mission really is properly there to be this business and university junket that issues passports on the side.

[Update 9/21/11: Per the debito.org website, there is new information about this occurrence.]

[Update 9/23/11: Unfortunately, most of the commentary below goes to the Debito-Tepido online pissing match, not the topic above. I approved the posts because I wanted to be fair to the commenters. But I have my doubts about whether there is a “fair”. It just all starts to remind me of an old episode of Star Trek.]