Thursday, December 19, 2002
Well, we've lost another election to anti-Americanism: South Korea picks liberal Roh for president. The positive side to this is that Roh is going to be more serious about reforming the chaebol (though less serious about reforming the labor unions) than Lee would have been. But the election was primarily about relations with the North, and the Koreans appear to have narrowly voted to plant their heads firmly in the sand and hope the Dear Leader has no nasty plans for them. It's the German election all over again.
The most pessimistic view now would be: the alliance with South Korea is going to end. If South Koreans believe that the North is not their mortal enemy, they will not tolerate American troops on their soil. South Korea could be rapidly Finlandized, kicking out the Americans, indulging in anti-Japanese nationalism and relying on China and on payments of wergeld to keep the North's most aggressive impulses in check. Even if South Korea doesn't move affirmatively in this direction, it could be pushed there by the North. If North Korea becomes a declared nuclear power and continues to take actions directly hostile to American interests, while reassuring the South of its benevolent and brotherly feelings towards them, the U.S. will be in a real bind. We cannot take action against the North without cooperation from the South unless we are willing to completely sunder our relationship with South Korea. How, for example, could we threaten war against Pyongyang if they threaten to retaliate against Seoul and Seoul is not in our corner? And as President Bush argued almost a year ago, North Korea is truly part of the axis of evil, the essential supplier of missile and nuclear technology to a host of dangerous regimes that are our primary targets in the current war.
The Korean Penninsula is a huge problem. We need to bring the leadership of the reformist, liberal parties around to supporting the American alliance. We need to convince them that the North is a clear and present danger, and they need to tell their people that the Americans are in Korea to protect them, not to rule them. This is what we have a State Department for. Is anybody home?
I'm beginning to really worry that this Administration can't juggle all the international problems it has to deal with at once.