Exasperation with the recently awful state of things in South Korea has been a bipartisan concern for a while now. First we had the unanimous passage of the NK Human Rights Act, over the opposition of, and despite lobbying by, both Koreas. Then came the failure of what should have been a voice-vote resolution affirming the 50th Anniversary of the US-Korea alliance. More recently, Hillary Clinton accused South Koreans of “historical amnesia.” Now a former Clinton Administration official is comparing the alliance to an estranged marriage:
“To be honest, the South Korea-U.S. relationship is a cause for concern. We need to be frank about alliance problems,” [Kurt] Campbell, the deputy assistant secretary of defense during the Bill Clinton administration, added. “You can recall a king and a queen feigning a happy relationship, waving their hands to the cheering crowd from the palace balcony despite their disastrous marriage life. The king and queen go back to their own separate lives once they leave the balcony.
Does that mean Roh should be extra careful about trying to outrun the papparazzi? On cue, the Chosun Ilbo reports that Ban Ki-Moon made a partial concession to reality, sort of. Or not.
Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday made a rare admission that there are problems in the alliance between Korea and the U.S.
“In the past, there was tendency to sweep disagreement between Korea and the U.S. under the table, but for the last three years we have approached every Korea-U.S. issue with a view to settling it,” Ban told a forum organized by the state-funded Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. It was a rare public acknowledgement of disagreements between the two allies during this government’s tenure, which notably included drawn-out haggling over greater flexibility for the U.S. Forces Korea.
Sorry, but this is not the chastened Ban advertised in the Chosun Ilbo’s headline.
Ban “admits” that there were problems before the last three years – ie., during administrations that preceded Roh’s (which, Ban implies, swept disagreements with GW Bush and his predecessors “under the rug”). Implicitly, Ban is saying that the problems in the alliance were the fault of South Korea failing to state its (legitimate, he means) grievances publicly (meaning the fundamental problems are really all America’s fault). That’s blame-shifting, not an admission.
As someone who receives multiple news links from several congressional aides (admittedly, all in the moderate-to-conservative range) each week – plus a semi-regular stream of documents and comments – I have a different theory.
Before Roh Moo Hyun took office, we didn’t see the flaunting of public discrimination against U.S. soldiers, South Korean declarations of neutrality, or polling data indicating virulent and widespread anti-Americanism. Not long after South Korean achieved more-or-less full democracy, it has already begun to abandon once-shared values on human rights, tried to muzzle the free press, silenced defectors, censored human rights criticism of North Korea, and let violent leftist street thugs intimidate those with whom they disagree, including the U.S. Ambassador.
These are not partisan issues in the United States. No American is pleased that over 30,000 of our soldiers died to protect a goverment that does these things, and that about 30,000 other Americans are still there defending South Korea as it does these things. Thankfully, both parties here support freedom of speech and conscience in both Koreas, despite some differences in how to achieve it. All of these South Korean policy changes happened, for the most part, under Roh Moo Hyun, and those are the polcies that have undermined a once-strong alliance, costing it the support of a likely majority of Americans, including me.
You can’t blame Kim Young Sam – or even Kim Dae Jung – for any of that. Simply put, this alliance was once based on shared interests and values that the South Korean regime has partially abandoned. And while Korea has a democratic right to change its policies, the United States has a reciprocal right to recognize the resulting redundancy of the alliance and adjust its defense priorities accordingly.
It’s not a real marriage if you’re not sleeping in the same bed.