[Updated, edited, and bumped, 9/1]
With friends like these ….
Thanks to the weakness of the South Korean government, it’s a great day to be a terrorist. I second what other Korea bloggers are saying about the Taliban’s victory over South Korea. The Nomad: “[W]hen Canada criticises you for being soft on terrorism, you’re in big trouble.” Andy Jackson quotes the Taliban thusly:
“We will do the same thing with the other allies in Afghanistan, because we found this way to be successful.
So there you have it. Roh is perfectly willing to get pay off terrorists and yield to their demands, no matter how many Afghans or American soldiers are killed as a result. In retrospect, we’d have been far better off had South Korea never sent its 210 non-combat troops to Afghanistan at all. Instead of helping the effort, those troops’ negotiated withdrawal handed Taliban one of their greatest symbolic victories in a kind of warfare in which propaganda and symbolism are everything.
Various news agenies are reporting that the South Korean government paid a ransom of either $2 million or $20 million. Taliban sources are claiming that it was the higher of those amounts. Either sum is enough to build plenty of IED’s to kill American soldiers. [Another update: Seoul has finally gotten around to denying that it paid ransom — yeah, and Larry Craig’s still denying a few things, too — while the Chosun Ilbo publishes a photograph of the Korean spy who probably negotiated it, and who posed arm-in-arm with the terrorists.]
We forget that the Taliban helped kill 3,000 Americans in our own country. If our government is serious about halting material support for terrorism, the Treasury Department will track down the South Korean and Saudi entities that funneled this money to the Taliban, invoke Executive Order 13,224, and freeze all of their assets colder than Hillary Clinton’s smile. Ideally, that will happen before the money paid by our “allies” is used by our enemies to kill our soldiers. Government entities, too? Yes, especially government entities.
Korean papers have been passing along similar rumors:
Observers have said that the possibility of a ransom deal was high, in the form of Seoul providing financial support to local tribes supporting the Taliban. [Joongang Ilbo]
I hope that the observers are wrong, or at least that South Korea’s bag-men will once again pay ransom to the wrong people.
There is also the symbolic victory of forcing South Korea out of the war, to the extent it was ever in.
Taliban negotiator Qari Mohammad Bashir said the two sides reached agreement when the Taliban withdrew its demand for the release of Taliban prisoners in exchange for Korean hostages while Korea promised to pull its troops out of Afghanistan by late this year and compel Korean missionaries leave the central Asian country by late this month, according to Pajhwok Afghan News. However, there was speculation of other, under-the-table agreements. [Chosun Ilbo]
Tell me it isn’t so, then.
Inevitably, this will mean more problems for us in Afghanistan, and when that happens, the extra forces needed to deal with that should come straight out of U.S. Forces, Korea. At the current rate, the USFK commander will soon be a first lieutenant stationed in Okinawa.
An emotional reaction? To a degree, yes. But what harm would that really do to our national interests? South Korea is a rich country with twice the population and many times the economic power of North Korea. America helped transform South Korea from medieval agrarianism into a functioning democracy. Our decades of defense commitment and favorable trade helped make it one of the world’s economic and technological powers, one that is more than capable of self defense (meanwhile, North Korea has sunken beneath rural agrarianism). Yet our alliance with South Korea today is one of the world’s most lopsided in terms of the mutual flow of benefits. South Korea has been useless or worse as an ally against the terrorists, extraordinarily unhelpful with North Korea, an irritant in our regional security framework (since Japan is a part of that), and a self-declared neutral in checking China’s regional ambitions. South Korea is actually cutting its own military, leaving American taxpayers to take up the slack. There doesn’t seem to be much South Korean gratitude for this expensive commitment, either, judging by displays like these, or polls that consistently show South Korea to be one of the most anti-American countries in Asia.
Instead of advancing our interest in disarming Kim Jong Il, having troops in South Korea makes those troops hostages to Kim Jong Il’s guns. It prevents us from making a clean break from South Korea’s appeasement policy, or taking effective financial measures to disrupt the flow of South Korean money that keeps Kim Jong Il in power and allows him the choice of not disarming. Without U.S. ground forces in Korea, our options for dealing with North Korea widen, and South Korea knows that.
Aside from further alienating its American benefactor, South Korea will continue to pay a price in other ways, because terrorists never strike an easy victim just once. The leader of a self-described ally has probably just handed the Taliban a second heaping helping of material support, thus stamping “kidnap me” in fluorescent letters in every Republic of Korea passport. Yes, these particular hostages’ choice of itinerary made them especially vulnerable, but next time, the Taliban will reach out further for new victores.
Finally, a reader takes note of the deafening silence of the “silent majority” of moderate Muslims that supposedly exists … somewhere. I can’t recall having heard a murmur from them during this entire episode. How about you?