Those Predictable Democracies

Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria calls Joe Biden's upcoming visit to Pakistan the "most important foreign trip since he became vice president." Zakaria fears that "Pakistan's liberals and moderates have been silent and scared" in the wake of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer's assassination on January 4. He thinks Biden can help keep the country from "going up in flames" by telling the Pakistani government it must go after "religious fanaticism," and the VP "should make clear that the United States supports the democratically elected government," for which America recently "played a constructive role in shoring up support."

The Post's editorial-page editor, Fred Hiatt, fresh from interviewing Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara—a "telegenic and popular . . . possible future prime minister"—reports that Japan is potentially becoming a "useful ally again." Hiatt finds Maehara's "emphasis" on the U.S.-Japan alliance "and on shared values of democracy and open trade" promising, and also says the two old allies have been brought together—after a recent rough patch that featured a dispute over the American presence on Okinawa—by a "shared disillusionment with China." And the "tonal change in U.S.-Japan relations is unmistakable," although any talk of balancing China is "discussed only in code." On Okinawa, Washington and Tokyo seem to have agreed to disagree and "neither side is making a big deal about it." Hiatt thinks the real point here is that the Obama administration—having tried to engage Beijing and "reset" relations with Moscow—has figured out that "autocracies . . . make for unpredictable partners." (Although, it should be noted, so do democracies—see the aforementioned back-and-forth over the Okinawa issue and the always-iffy relationship with Pakistan.)