The Death of an Alliance, Part 67

[Update:   As I had figured, only video really does it justice.  Just watch the body language and Bush’s expression.  And for that  matter, Roh’s.   Roh certainly has used his presidency to perfect a sublime aura of idiocy.  It’s hard for me to imagine that South Korean voters will be impressed if their media ever decide to cover this story.  There definitely isn’t much love in that room.  Click the image.


Update 1 continued below, with an AP report that does a better job of reporting the dialogue and putting it in context.]

[Update 2: A full transcript of the photo op at the end of this post. My sincere thanks to the reader who sent this.]

[Update 3: I try and fail to explain why the Korean papers aren’t reporting this, regardless of their ideology. Maybe you can explain this. Is it Korean pride? Censorship? Just not that big a deal to Koreans? None of those theories makes sense to me.]

[Update 4:   This site’s peerless commenters, several of whom are fluent Korean speakers, report that what  Roh actually said to Bush  was almost universally mistranslated to airbrush out most of the venom.  Roh’s actual words  were more like, “You keep saying the same thing…. Chairman Kim Jong Il and the Korean people are waiting to hear more from you,” or “Same story. Same story, Chairman Kim Jong-il and the South Korean people want to hear a different story.   See  also this post at DPRK Studies.  So apparently,  Kim Jong Il is the only man in North Korea who is represented by an elected politician.]

[Original Post:]

In a testy public exchange Friday with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, President Bush said the United States would formally end the Korean War only when North Korea halts its nuclear weapons program.  [AP, Tom Raum]

Does  a public argument between two lame duck presidents qualify for a DOA post?  Admittedly, it’s marginal, but this would have been unthinkable five years ago, and it says much about the migration of South Korean public attitudes that Roh would see any profit in this.  Roh may be many things, but he’s not stupid, and he’s completely capable of keeping his differences with Bush, Kim Jong Il, Hu Jin Tao,  or anyone else  private.  For obvious reasons,  Roh chose to have them out in the open instead.

[Bush and Roh]  agreed there had been progress. But then they had a before-the-cameras back-and-forth that was remarkable in the diplomatic world of understatement and subtlety. 

Roh pushed Bush to be “clearer” about his position on an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War. The two Koreas were divided by the conflict, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, meaning they still remain technically at war.

The leaders’ tone remained light, but Bush responded firmly: “I can’t make it any more clear, Mr. President. We look forward to the day when we can end the Korean War. That will happen when Kim Jong Il verifiably gets rid of his weapons programs and his weapons.”

No matter what you may think of Bush — and I’ve been very critical of his Korea policy recently — he seems to have handled this with statesmanlike maturity and a self-discipline that I do not possess (more below on how I would have reacted).  If only I had more faith in the sincerity of what Bush actually said.  For Roh, this is a new low in boobery. 

The tense moments with Roh came as the leaders each made statements to reporters after their meeting. Roh concluded his by questioning why Bush hadn’t mention the issue of the war’s end.

“I might be wrong. I think I did not hear President Bush mention a declaration to end the Korean War just now,” Roh said through an interpreter. “Did you say so, President Bush?”

“It’s up to Kim Jong Il,” Bush said.  Roh pressed on. “If you could be a little bit clearer,” he said, prompting nervous laughter from the U.S. delegation and a look of annoyance from Bush.

Instead, the White House said, “There was clearly something lost in translation during the photo op.”  If you say so. 

For its part, Yonhap did a Rodong Sinmun-quality job of airbrushing all of the unpleasantness out of the story, making no reference to the disagreement and publishing only language to suggest to its readers how peachy things must be:

Friday’s Roh-Bush meeting, the eighth South Korea-U.S. summit during Roh’s term, lasted over 70 minutes in a “very friendly and warm atmosphere,” presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-seon said, noting Bush called Roh his friend during the talks.  [Yonhap]

It goes on to report cheerfully that the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the free trade agreement and visa waiver, and if you think the odds of either item just improved at this meeting, you need to  take a closer look at  the fine print that came with your medications.  Those are two items  that (1) have some hope of being achieved, and (2) would have a significant impact on the lives of many South Koreans.  And with the crew that’s running the State Department these days, maybe a completely premature and unrealistic peace treaty is also possible.  But how many of those goals have been advanced by Roh’s choice of tactics, which have nothing to do with diplomacy and everything to do with the  short-term domestic political  goal of  showing the voters  how Roh stands up to the Yankees? 

Surely South Korea has differences with China — or should  have —  but  we didn’t  see such an  adolescent display when Roh met Hu Jin Tao last week.  When it comes to South Korea’s discussions with China and North Korea, the Blue House blows smoke about “quiet diplomacy” and leaves it up to us to infer that it’s exercising responsible statecraft and thinking of the interests of, say, thousands of  its abducted  citizens, even when reality supports no such inference.  Can anyone still argue that South Korea is an ally of the United States to any greater extent than dozens of other nations we merely refer to as “trading partners?”

Which only causes me to wonder just what will be revealed of the rest of the Il Shim Hue spy ring  story after the new crew takes over the Blue House.  Surely the shredding crew will miss something (more fuel for that speculation here).  And it wouldn’t be South Korea if the ex-president wasn’t disgraced (and quite probably, imprisoned).

Had it been me instead of Bush —  please suspend your darkest fears for a moment — I would have been unable to resist the temptation to respond just about like this:

You’re absolutely right, President Roh.  You’ve convinced me that tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been reduced so much by your highly effective diplomacy with North Korea that I’m pleased to  announce that all U.S. ground forces will be out of Korea by the end of my term.  Furthermore, I’m asking Secretary Gates to conduct a full BRAC review of all other U.S. forces in Korea. 

The United States has interests beyond  any differences over the DMZ.  Our own problems with North Korea will continue as long as Kim Jong Il continues to perfect the means to destroy entire cities, and as long as he  shows  such a  disregard for human life that moral restraint clearly does not prevent him from doing that, or from selling those weapons to others who would.  We will give Kim Jong Il until the end of this year to verifiably and completely comply with his agreement to disarm.  And if he doesn’t, the severe consequences for his misrule will begin with the overnight destruction of the palace economy that sustains his military, his weapons programs, and his luxurious lifestyle.  And not even the aid that Mr. Roh provides to Kim Jong Il will be immune.  Good day. 

See also:

*   “Material Support” Update:

Both news agencies cited remarks by a member of the 10-man leadership council of the Taliban, which are headed by the elusive Mullah Omar. “With it we will purchase arms, get our communication network renewed and buy vehicles to carry out more suicide attacks,” the senior militant figure told Reuters. “The money will also address to some extent the financial difficulties we have had.   [Chosun Ilbo]

Even the head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service has all but admitted it  (more):   

Another lawmaker pressured him further, asking if it is normal for the National Intelligence Service budget to be used to pay ransoms when a hostage crisis occurs. “I cannot answer the question, because it could amplify the doubt,” Kim said.  Asked what he will do if it is later revealed that the budget was actually used for such a payment, Kim said, “I will assume legal responsibility.  

You will recall that the current NIS head is a political hack who was installed to hush up the Il Shim Hue spy scandal, something his predecessor refused to do.  I’ll say it  again:  freeze their assets.  And for purposes of our relationship with South Korea, helping people to kill our soldiers is simply not forgiveable.

*   The ex-Uri United National Democratic Party has broken into open internecine warfare over a poll I reported two days ago showing Sohn Hak-Kyu in the lead among its candidates.  We are now two months from a general election.  In politics and construction alike, events move with amazing swiftness in South Korea, but I can’t see how they’re going to have time to unite behind  one candidate in two months.  Their situation seems hopeless.  Good.

*   DPRK Forum, which has now fast-tracked its way to my “best” aggregator, has a quaint North Korean propaganda video  featuring coquettish maidens in a bucolic farm village musing about the misery of every place that isn’t  North Korea.  It’s an excellent example of why the regime cannot survive without isolation.  It comes by way of Songun Blog, which I refuse to believe is not a parody site, although the consensus seems to be that it isn’t.

*   Japan and North Korea have ended talks in Mongolia without resolution.  The talks focused on the abductions issue, with the AP  quoting a Japanese negotiator as saying  that “[T]he North Koreans had refused to take action.”  The State Department will call it progress that the North Koreans didn’t simply walk out this time.  But Japanese citizens are still held captive in North Korea, and even Japanese people living in Japan still have to live in fear of becoming the next victims.  North Korea’s main demand, naturally, is money.  Although it links the two issues, North Korea prefers to call it “reparations,” not ransom.   This, of course,  is a transparent lie that serves denial of the fact that keeping these victims in unjust captivity is terrorism, plain and simple. That’s true regardless of what motivated the original kidnappings.

Update 1, Continued:

Bush said that during his talks with Roh, he reaffirmed the U.S. position that Washington will consider the war formally over only when North Korean leader Kim Jong Il actually dismantles his nuclear program.

Whatever Roh heard Bush say through his translator, it wasn’t good enough.

“I think I did not hear President Bush mention the — a declaration to end the Korean War just now,” Roh said as cameras clicked and television cameras rolled.

Bush said he thought he was being clear, but obliged Roh and restated the U.S. position.

That wasn’t good enough either. “If you could be a little bit clearer in your message,” Roh said.

Bush, now looking irritated, replied: “I can’t make it any more clear, Mr. President. We look forward to the day when we can end the Korean War. That will end — will happen when Kim verifiably gets rid of his weapons programs and his weapons.”

The White House immediately downplayed the testy exchange and said the meeting went smoothly.

“There was clearly something lost in translation,” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a rushed e-mail to reporters.

“I really think the interpreter must not have conveyed the president’s comments entirely clearly,” Johndroe said. “The president made clear in his opening remarks that he told Roh that the U.S. is committed to a peace agreement once North Korea complies.”

And despite Roh’s challenge for Bush to make a declaration to end the war, the war was not between the United States and the North but between the North and the United Nations, and Bush alone could not end the war with a simple declaration. “As we say, ‘all parties involved,’ ” Johndroe said, when asked about the mechanics of achieving a peace treaty. [AP, Deb Reichmann]

]The latter point being a valid one until you consider the U.N.’s irrelevance, which is much aggravated by the fact of who leads it. End Update 1.]

Update 2 to main post, continued with a Bush-Roh transcript:

BUSH: Mr. President, thank you for your time. As usual, we had a very friendly and frank discussion about important matters. We discussed our bilateral relations, which are very strong. And we thank you for your contributions to helping young democracies, such as Iraq.

But we spent a lot of time talking about the six-party talks and the progress that is being made in the six-party talks. I understand you’re having a summit with the leader of North Korea, and I appreciate the fact that you will urge the North Korean leader to continue to adhere to the agreement that he made with us.

And in our discussions I reaffirmed our government’s position that when the North Korean leader fully discloses and gets rid of his nuclear weapons programs, that we can achieve a new security arrangement in the Korean Peninsula, that we can have the peace that we all long for. You and I discussed the Northeast Peace and Security agreement — arrangement, which we support.

And so I’m optimistic. There’s still more work to be done. But nevertheless, Mr. President, when we have worked together we have shown that it’s possible to achieve the peace on the Korean Peninsula that the people long for.

So thank you, sir.

ROH: (As translated.) As President Bush has stated, we had a very constructive discussion on six-party talks and the North Korean nuclear issue, as well as other bilateral issues between our two countries.

Before we discussed these issues I reaffirmed my support for President Bush and his policies and efforts in Iraq to bring peace. I also thanked the President for his efforts in the visa waiver program — for his constructive position on this issue.

We both agreed on the positive outlook for the six-party talks. We believe that this progress is very meaningful. And I also thanked President Bush for his resolve to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asian region, for making a strategic decision to bring peace to the region through dialogue.

As is outlined in the 2005 September 19th joint statement, we have a plan for the peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, and President Bush also reaffirmed in November of last year in Vietnam of his willingness and his resolve to end the Korean War officially, once and for all. Today we revisited this issue. President Bush reaffirmed his determination to replace the current status in the Korean Peninsula with a permanent peace regime, and he stressed that he would be proceeding with this move after the North Korean nuclear issue is resolved.

We also share the view that should there be more progress in the six-party process, this will be followed by talks to initiate a Northeast Asian regional security mechanism. I also reassured President Bush that the inter-Korean summit will underpin the progress at the six-party talks, that relations — the inter-Korean relations and the six-party talks should be a mutually reinforcing relationship.
I think I might be wrong — I think I did not hear President Bush mention the — a declaration to end the Korean War just now. Did you say so, President Bush?

BUSH: I said it’s up to Kim Jong-il as to whether or not we’re able to sign a peace treaty to end the Korean War. He’s got to get rid of his weapons in a verifiable fashion. And we’re making progress toward that goal. It’s up to him.

ROH: I believe that they are the same thing, Mr. President. If you could be a little bit clearer in your message, I think…

BUSH: I can’t make it any more clear, Mr. President. We look forward to the day when we can end the Korean War. That will end — will happen when Kim Jong-il verifiably gets rid of his weapons programs and his weapons.

Thank you, sir.

Update 3: I am still intrigued by the airbrushing of The Spat in the Korean media, including both government-run media like Yonhap and those that are normally eager to report both Roh’s embarrassing fumbles and American dismay at them. Check the normally anti-Roh Chosun Ilbo: an airbrushed Arirang News report. Still, the Chosun Ilbo’s photo is one for the ages:

The Joongang Ilbo’s than Brian Lee, arguably Korea’s best journalist covering America, contributes to a report with a buried reference to a “slightly testy exchange.”

I really don’t know what to make of this reversal of the normal trend in the coverage of U.S.-Korea relations. Usually, the Korean press shouts from the summit of every molehill while U.S. press dozes on. Over here, this story was widely covered. Americans who might have let Roh pass through the pages of history blissfully unnoticed have instead seen one of his penultimate acts of boobery played over and over on Headline News. Was Roh’s performance was so embarrassing that the “Korean pride” factor restrained reporters and editors of every ideology and affiliation from running the story? If that were the case, you’d think they’d have let Roh’s many other international embarrassments pass, too.

Does this whole thing seem like less of a big deal to Koreans than to Americans? I don’t think so. First, American perceptions are often newsworthy to the Korean press, and this is a Category 3+ perception problem. Second, my unscientific sample of exactly one well-informed Korean e-mailer expresses profound embarrassment about this episode. From there, I’d ordinarily ask my lovely research assistant wife to survey Korean blogs and chatrooms. This time, that probably won’t tell us much, since the story isn’t even being covered in Korea.

Which leaves us to wonder if the Roh government’s renewed campaign of press control (two links) is responsible. That just doesn’t explain things to me; for all of the government’s worst intentions, the campaign looks like a raging failure from where I sit, though like everyone else, I’m judging the stories I get to read, not the stories I don’t get to read.

What say you?


  1. I wish I would have seen the whole exchange because as you said the unpleasantries were airbrushed from the article. I was wondering about the “If you could be a little bit clearer,” part.

    This posting cleared that mystery.


  2. Lets see if any Democrats decide to push the White House to declare the war over. Get the Democrats to confront S. Korea with a withdrawal of troops issue.

    Why are we there again? The South Koreans keep telling us to leave. the North Koreas would love to see us go. Lets just make sure we take McArther’s statue with us when we go.


  3. I don’t think the election of a Lee Myung-bak is enough to stop the rot in the ROK or change the fact that the most important politician in South Korea is the unelected fat guy who runs North Korea. Maybe the US should cut out the middleman/”balancer”/supplicant and deal with Kim — then fax redacted minutes to the Blue House 72 hours later.


  4. Roh may be many things, but he’s not stupid…

    Um, yeah, I’m gonna have to disagree with ya there.

    I think Roh is a dumbass who is far, far out of his reckoning and has been from the start. He should have resigned one of the times he threatened to a few years back.


  5. I have to side much more with Richardson on this one. Not a complete idiot but an idiot. Maybe an idiot with brains. But an idiot…

    This story reminded me of the election period which saw Roh come to power. He seems to like ambushing people in front of the media.

    I think this was when the two other big left-ish leaning candidates finally agreed to drop out of the race and throw their support behind Roh. They had a press conference out among throngs of people in the street, and the rich Hyundai (or other chaebol) son who was connected to soccer somehow, I believe it was, whose name completely escapes me —- was standing beside Roh when Roh was talking, and — as I vaguely remember it —– Roh somehow favorably mentioned the third (former) candidate in a way that everyone understood that Roh was saying he would be a good choice for the next presidential election —– and this made Rich Boy look pissy – and then Roh said something like, “Oh, did I just sy something wrong? Am I going to start a tiff in our political circles again?” with an implication of something like, “Aren’t we all big boys and girls now?”

    I remember the media take on the exchange clearly:

    Roh must have agreed to either favor Rich Boy in the next election in exchange for him giving up in 2002 or Roh had promised he would stay out of trying to influence voters when it came to picking a successor in the party leadership for the next election —– but when he got out in public, he took their endorsement then back stabbed Rich Boy….

    I would google for an article on that…..but I don’t have time at the moment….


  6. I think 8 out of 10 ajossis one could find behind the wheel in an AFES taxi line would be smarter and more internationally sophisticated than Roh.

    He did pass the ROK bar exam and dupe many in a nation of 48 million into voting for him, though….


  7. While pandering to the his parochial political base and providing the entire world a live, on-camera, demonstration of appallingly poor taste and cheap political gamesmanship, President Roh Moo-hyun manages, once again, to step on his own dick.

    Truly astonishing!

    Lost in translation? … Only in that it failed to be responsibly reported in the Korean media.


  8. A new low in boobery indeed. Read Cheonghwadae’s official Korean version of the exchange. The K-E interpreter seems to have defanged Roh’s last remark.

    ▲ 부시 대통령 모두 발언 : 대통령 각하 시간 내주셔서 감사하다. 솔직하게 중요한 얘기를 나눴다. 우리는 양국관계에 대해서 얘기 나눴다. 굳건한 양국 관계, 그리고 아프간, 이라크 신생민주국가에 도움을 줘 감사하다는 말을 대통령께 했다. 우리는 6자회담에 대해 많은 이야기 했죠?

    6자회담 중 있었던 많은 진전들에 대해 얘기했다. 북한 지도자와 정상회담에서 만나시면 그가 우리와 함께 한 약속들을 지속적으로 이행해 주시기 바란다는 말 전해주시기 바란다. (통역 수정 : 이행해 달라고 하겠다는 말씀에 감사드린다.)

    그리고 각하와 제가 얘기를 나눈 것도 북한과 관련한 많은 재확인이 있었다. 북한 지도자가 그들의 핵 프로그램을 전면 신고하고 또 핵 프로그램을 전면 해체할 경우 많은 변화가 있을 것이다. 동북아시아에 있어 평화체계가 새롭게 설정될 것이라 생각한다. 그러나 앞으로 우리가 해야 할 부분이 많이 남아 있다. 그것에 대해 긍정적으로 생각하고 있다.

    ▲ 노 대통령 : 부시 대통령 말씀처럼 6자회담과 북핵, 한미 양자관계에 대해 많은 얘기를 나눴다. 이 같은 의제를 다루기 전에 이라크에서 평화를 정착시키기 위해 부시 대통령께서 노력하고 있는 것에 대해 지지한다는 것을 다시 한 번 표명했다.

    그리고 부시 대통령께서 비자면제 프로그램과 관련해 매우 전향적이고 적극적 조치를 취해준 데 대해 매우 감사하다는 말씀을 드렸다.

    6자회담이 매우 낙관적인 전망을 하게 해 대단히 기쁘고 의미 있게 평가하고 그것을 미국 정부와 부시 대통령께서 한반도와 동북아시아 평화를 만들겠다는 전략적 결단의 성과라고 저는 평가하겠다.

    2005년 9월19일 9.19선언에서 한반도 평화체제를 위한 협상에 관해서 합의한 바 있다. 2006년 11월 베트남에서 부시대통령이 한반도 종전선언에 관한 의지를 다시 한 번 표명했다. 그 문제에 대해 다시 대화를 나눴고, 거듭 한반도에 전쟁시대를 종결하고 한반도 평화체제를 만들기 위해 북핵 해결이 되면 신속히 다음 단계로 신속 이행할 준비가 되어 있다는 말씀은 확인하셨다.

    6자회담이 순조롭게 진행될 경우 그에 이어서 동북아 다자간 안보체제를 위한 협의를 진행해 나갈 것이라는데 대해서도 의견을 같이 했다. 그리고 남북정상회담에 관해 남북관계와 6자회담이 성공적으로 수행되도록 6자회담과 함께 남북관계와 6자회담이 상호 보완적으로 촉진하는 방향으로 진행될 것이라는 것을 제가 말씀드렸다.

    각하께서 조금 전 말씀하실 때 한반도 평화체제 내지 종전선언에 대해 말씀을 빠뜨리신 것 같은데, 우리 국민들이 듣고 싶어 하니까 명확히 말씀을 해주셨으면 한다.

    ▲ 부시 대통령 : 제가 말씀드리고 싶은 것은 우리가 평화체제 제안을 하느냐 안하느냐가 중요한 것은 김정일 국방위원장에게 달려 있다. 무기를 없애고 검증 가능해야 한다. 그런 목표를 향해 진전이 이뤄지고 있지만 아무래도 결정은 그쪽에서 해야 할 것이다.

    ▲ 노 대통령 = 똑같은 이야기이다. 똑같은 얘기인데, 김정일 위원장이나 한국 국민들은 그 다음 얘기를 듣고 싶어 한다. (웃음)

    ▲ 부시 대통령 = 더 이상 어떻게 분명히 말씀드릴지 모르겠다. 한국에서 전쟁은 우리가 끝낼 수 있다. 하지만 그러기 위해서는 김정일 씨가 그의 무기에 관해서 검증 가능하도록 폐기해야 할 것 같다.


  9. Instead, the White House said, “There was clearly something lost in translation during the photo op.” If you say so.

    Clearly there was somethng lost in translation – Roh’s last remark calculated to appeal to KJI and his noisy minority of fans in the South before their summit.


  10. My take on this is that the proper translation is “You keep saying the same thing.” The body language of Roh throwing his head back and laughing at Bush is really rude and dismissive. It’s defanging indeed to render that phrase as “I think that they are the same thing, Mr. President.”

    And the translator really left out the money shot, substituting “If you could be a little clearer for what Roh really said, which was: “Chairman Kim Jong Il and the Korean people are waiting to hear more from you.”


  11. What Bush ought to do is publicly accept Roh’s offer to get the hell out of Korea. The only reason the United States remains “at war” with North Korea is because North Korea presents a threat to South Korea. If South Korea doesn’t need American assistance any more, by all means let’s take our forces home. In less than 12 months after being asked to leave, the US ended almost 100 years’ stationing in the Philippines — why wait for Korea to ask us to leave? Just leave.


  12. My sense is that the Korean makes Roh look even more boorish — as Sonagi notes, he panders to KJI, making it seem like Kim and the citizens of Korea are on one side and Bush is on the other. The Korean media have really dropped the ball on this — at a time when they owe Roh no favors for what he is doing to press freedom back home.

    Like so many of the asswipes Roh has taken from the rural schoolhouses and fishing co-ops where they should be toiling and thrust upon the national and even international stage, Roh must have been waterboarded in the 1960s and 70s by Park Chung-hee’s goons long enough to kill critical brain functions but short enough to survive.


  13. Re: Slim’s 3:33 am post: ” … must have been waterboarded in the 1960s and 70s by Park Chung-hee’s goons long enough to kill critical brain functions but short enough to survive.”

    That’s exactly what I’ve always believed about former President Kim Dae-jung.


  14. @Jack,

    I would translate the boldface text as follows:

    “Same story. Same story, Chairman Kim Jong-il and the South Korean people want to hear a different story.”

    Isn’t it telling that he left the North Korean people out of the picture?


  15. Good Morning all. With regard to slim’s first comment above, it is of concern if the election of a Lee Myung-bak would be as a bracing bucket of icewater on the younger elements of the Korean polity, or if indeed “the rot is too far gone.” Perhaps nearly immediate indicators would be a sharp rise in barber-shop receipts, and a corresponding drop in men’s haircoloring sales.

    I concur in our host’s lauding Mr. Bush’s diplomatic demeanor during this jaunt; though frankly I expect that Mr. Stanton’s suggested replacement response to Mr. Roh’s calculated importunacy would have been the needed bracing bucket of icewater.


  16. Roh may be many things, but he’s not stupid…

    My point, and I think most all of you get this, is that Roh has a high capacity to absorb facts, and would probably earn a high raw IQ score. The pass rate for the Korean bar exam is, what, 3%? Assuming Roh didn’t cheat his way through it (which would explain the contradiction) you can’t deny that that’s a pretty impressive achievement for a guy who never went to law school.

    One fact I’ve noticed is how little connection there often is between the ability to absorb fact and the ability to plug those facts into a process of dispassionate reasoning toward a logical conclusion. This is where Roh is obviously weak. Emotion can certainly be one barrier to that process. Roh seems to approach every problem with a solution already derived from a rather skewed hierarchy of emotions. Just as Roh is adept at absorbing facts, he’s adept at throwing out cold, hard facts that undermine his predetermined conclusions.

    So I suppose it depends on how you define “stupid.” If you opt for Forrest Gump’s definition, there’s no doubt about it: Roh does and therefore is a stupid man. How ironic for him to be elected to lead a nation that has produced some extraordinarily intelligent and fertile minds. But Roh was also “smart” enough to have made his way (if ever so briefly) to the top of the conniving and treacherous world of Korean politics. His term of office far outlasted this summiting, of course. More to the point, he’s smart enough to realize that he was picking a public spat with the POTUS for a reason.

    [typo and run-on sentence fixed]


  17. Greetings Joshua Stanton. Your analysis of Mr. Roh’s raw mental potential is on the mark, and his awareness of the same may explain why he claimed to be Korea’s Abraham Lincoln, another lawyer of exceptional professional skill who was entirely lacking in formal legal training. Alas, the comparison leaves off there; in the conduct of his presidency Mr. Roh more closely resembled Lincoln’s immediate predecessor James Buchanan.


  18. “One fact I’ve noticed is how little connection there often is between the ability to absorb fact and the ability to plug those facts into a process of dispassionate reasoning toward a logical conclusion. “

    Indeed. As a teacher, I can attest to that truth. You might be familiar with the work of Harvard professor Howard Gardner, who introduced the idea of multiple intelligences. Among the eight different types of intelligence, modern formal education focuses on two, verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical, over the others, visual/spatial, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal (self-reflective), bodily kinesthetic, and naturalistic (an understanding and appreciation of natural laws, patterns, and order).

    I am not a keen follower of Korean politics, so I don’t know Roh as well as you do, but I surmise from his background that he is high in interpersonal and possibly verbal/linguistic intelligences, depending on the strategies he used to memorize his way through the bar exam.

    As much as I have always disliked Bush Jr., I object strongly to name-calling him as “stupid” or “idiot.” Like Roh, Bush didn’t get as far as he did by being dumb. Bush isn’t high in verbal/linguistic intelligence, but he probably has brilliant interpersonal skills.


  19. My guess on why the Korean media is ignoring it is Korean pride plus. They don’t want to look foolish or bad on the international stage. They also don’t want to get or keep a boat rocking on that stage by doing this up in the Korean press and perhaps giving CNN or even Japanese media more food for a possible feeding frenzy.

    However, I think one reason Roh did this, and perhaps one reason why the press isn’t gungho to cover it, is that Koreans see Bush as the most hated man on the planet.

    They see him being beaten up constantly by the American press and in American politics, and they see the kind of typical Euro-centric hate that gets spit out over him, and Roh figured Bush was fair game….

    He, and Korea, isn’t familiar with the subtleties of Western culture and diplomacy enough to know that a Chirac would not go about busting Bush’s balls in this manner in that setting (but would do it in other ways….).

    Even when Chirac was staying Tony Blair must have had a lower class upbringing, he didn’t do it with Blair sitting in an armchair beside him at the time…..


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