The “C” Word

When I see things like this:

Sixteen former defense ministers and nine retired generals on Thursday expressed dismay at President Roh Moo-hyun’s remarks in an interview Wednesday that suggested Korea can withdraw wartime control of its troops from the U.S. any time.

… and contrast them with things like this:

In an interview with the Yonhap news agency, the president said, “The South Korean military’s capability is sufficient and it can get U.S. military support.” The remarks pour oil on the flames of controversy by suggesting that what Seoul calls the “withdrawal” of operational control will be possible to achieve even before the 2012 timeframe the government has set. Scores of foreign and security affairs experts including 13 former defense ministers say even 2012 is unfeasible.

… in a democracy, my fears of a showdown between a politicized military and an incompetent civilian leadership escalate dramatically. Although I don’t yet believe that a coup is likely, I believe that it’s a real possibility for the first time. In fact, it’s possible to read the generals’ statement as a veiled warning. No matter what you think of Roh, a coup would be an unmitigated disaster for the democratic hopes of both Koreas, for the hope of unification, for regional stability, and for Korea’s ability to become a strong and independent nation in that neighborhood.

If a senior U.S. official were to find some appropriate way of signaling strong U.S. disapproval of any unconstitutional action by the military, the primary advantage would be (hopefully) deterring anyone from even considering a coup against this lamest of lame duck presidents. On the downside, it might embarrass some Korean officers, and would humiliate Roh by highlighting his dangerous incompetence, ignorance of military matters, and unpopularity. So again, the major downside here is that it would embarrass some Korean officers. Egos would have to be soothed privately. Maybe General Bell can ask them out for Noraebang and anju.

The United States should reassure senior Korean officers that there will be no total and irreversible U.S. abandonment of the alliance unless that is the democratically expressed will of the South Korean people, either in 2007’s presidential elections, or in a referendum on the alliance itself. I’ve long felt that such a referendum would go lopsidedly in favor of the alliance, represent a severe setback for the anti-American left and their puppetmasters in the North, and help the South Korean people confront and accept that the alliance necessarily carries costs for them, as well as benefits. As with saying the “c” word, saying the “r” word has the primary disadvantage of humiliating Roh, which matters slightly less than the cost of printing the ballots.

1 Comment

  1. I certainly like the idea of a referendum on withdrawal of US troops, though I wouldn’t want the US to be tied to the results (as I want to see a drawdown). It would be nice to see South Koreans actually take a stand for or against, rather than have the issue forever hijacked by leftist nuts.