Remember the good old days when only right-wing regimes would call out the Army to battle protestors or haul North Korean sympathizers before military courts? Chew this one slowly. You owe it to yourself to savor this delectable irony. President Roh Moo-Hyun (of the squishy left) is marshaling the power of the state against the radical unions and students (of the bomb-throwing left), many of whom undoubtedly contributed to this razor-thin election in 2002. It seems so very long ago when Roh railed against the “unequal” alliance with the U.S. and promised not to “kowtow” to America, longer so when he made his bones as part of the protest movement opposed to military rule. Now that much of his base has run completely amok, he is reduced to calling out the Army to stop them from halting the expansion of a U.S. Army post.
Sometime in the next few days, 10,000 more of the violent protestors may arrive at Camp Humphreys, my former home, for another rumble. This isn’t so amusing when you consider the potential for a real disaster, and how badly the North Koreans must yearn for one (does anyone still seriously deny North Korean influence over the KCTU, Korea’s largest labor organization, and the radical students?).
As I argued here, civil unrest is best left to civilian courts and civilian riot police, who differ from troops in that they are trained and equipped to deal with this sort of thing. The government should pull back the troops and instead flood the area with riot police, who should be issued pepper spray and videocameras. Before any rallies begin, the police should have orders to arrest and charge any persons who attempt to gather with weapons in their possession. They should videotape those who attempt to engage in violence, so that indictments stick in court.
A political earthquake may follow next. First, the left is shattering now that the divide between the squishy-left government and the radical-left student/union thugs has come to blows. Second, this could kill the ruling Uri party with moderate voters. With elections just two weeks away, Uri is showing itself to lack the will and the capacity preserve public order. [Note to the right-opposition GNP: please keep your mouths shut. No overwrought rhetoric, no calls to issue live ammo, and no calling Roh a big, fat pussy and daring him to pull the trigger. People can figure that out without your help.]
Finally, like the anti-American protests of 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005, the anti-American protests of 2006 will attract more of the wrong kind of attention from American voters, politicians, diplomats, and Pentagon planners. Our image of Korea’s political scene will be of constant brawls between spoiled, rich, America-hating brats and a government that refuses to offer arguments in favor of the U.S. presence, and instead does so by vascillating between timidity and excess.
[I should give credit for the words “flunkeyist” and “lackey.” Where else? ht to Richardson.]