What victory looks like from Pyongyang (Parts 1 and 2)

Part 1

David Straub’s “Anti-Americanism in Democratizing South Korea” has resonated with me in several ways, but none of them more than Straub’s deep ambivalence about Korea in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a time when I also served there as a young Army officer. Straub admits that in writing his book, he struggled to reconcile, and to show his readers, an honest-yet-fair portrayal of a society that earned his affection, and also caused him much exasperation, even as he was forever bound to it by experience, study, love, and marriage. So it was with me. Indeed, Staub is kind enough to cite this blog in his acknowledgments in his book, and much of what he writes reminds me of my own congressional testimony, from very nearly a decade ago.

What also resonates in Straub’s book is how disturbed he was — as I also was — by the incapacity of so many South Koreans on the political left to perceive the danger North Korea represents to the peace, prosperity, and liberty their parents worked and fought so long and so hard to achieve. Korea is as polarized as we are becoming. Its left is very far left; its right is very far right. The left lives in a Hankyoreh reality; the right lives in a Chosun Ilbo reality.

The Korea I remember then, and the one I continued to read about after my DEROS in 2002, was a place that seemed to find no fault with North Korea and no virtue in America. As Kim Jong-il poured his nation’s resources into developing a nuclear arsenal, Seoul indirectly bought him that arsenal with billions of dollars in cash, no questions asked. (Meanwhile, in cost-sharing negotiations, Korea constantly demanded that U.S. taxpayers subsidize greater proportions of Korea’s defense.) The ever-receding promise that this subsidy to Kim Jong-il’s regime would buy reform and peace was quickly forgotten in a haze of nationalist emotion. Protests against North Korea were suppressed, sometimes forcefully, either by South Korean police, or by far-left activists who operated without official state sanction (but with government subsidies).

Pyongyang’s influence operations had not only opened Seoul’s wallet, but they had also enlisted its government to silence and censor criticism of Pyongyang. By 2005, Pyongyang had effectively silenced Seoul as a diplomatic critic on the North’s crimes against humanity. It had introduced reluctance into Seoul’s legal and moral obligations to accept refugees from the North. It had extracted public statements from Seoul that it was effectively a neutral party — a “balancer” — in any potential conflict between the U.S. and China or North Korea. There were endless demands to renegotiate the countries’ status-of-forces agreement, always to the procedural disadvantage of U.S. military personnel tried in Korean courts. The U.S. began to reduce its forces in South Korea. Although it strongly denied that this represented any diminution of its commitment, it was increasingly difficult to identify what interests and values the two states shared. The alliance was growing apart, and I have little doubt that had Chung Dong-young won the presidential election in 2008, it would have effectively dissolved by now.

No doubt, others who lived in Korea during those years — especially those who harbored more sympathy than me for the Sunshine Policy — may see my view as too apocalyptic. So be it.

The assumption behind most U.S. and South Korean planning and policy is that North Korea’s goal is a military conquest of South Korea. In fact, the situation that existed in South Korea during the Roh Moo-hyun years was far more favorable for Kim Jong-il than a military conquest. War is expensive and destructive, and by 2000, Kim Jong-il knew he could not win it. Rather, he knew that Seoul was worth more to him alive than dead; after all, you can’t milk a cow you’ve slaughtered, and he had already squeezed most of the blood out of North Korea. Surely he must have imagined the effect on his shriveled conscripts from Hamhung and Chongjin to see the cars, skyscrapers, and markets of Seoul, even as occupiers. No rational dictator could harbor the fantasy of occupying a state with twice the population, many times the economy, a vibrant culture, and a much higher standard of living. To dominate South Korea ideologically was the best situation Pyongyang could possibly hope for. During the Roh Moo-hyun years, between 2003 and 2008, that goal that was within sight.

That is to say, I believe Kim Jong-il came much closer to winning the Korean War than most Korea-watchers believe or acknowledge. Indeed, he had everything he wanted from Seoul without any of the costs of war. I still believe Kim Jong-un stands a chance of winning it.

Ironically, just as the North Korean elites and military seem to be losing their cohesion and confidence in Kim Jong-un, the U.S. and South Korean elections of 2016 and 2017 could put Kim Jong-un on a path to winning the Korean War within the next decade. To Kim Jong-un, victory does not look like overrunning the Pusan Perimeter. Instead, it looks like a one-country/two-systems hegemony over the South as the North gradually seizes political and economic control. I’ve said that predicting history is a fool’s errand. Having said this, I predict that within the next five years, one of the two Koreas will abandon its political will to preserve its system of government. It’s just a question of which one will lose its will first. 

Part 2: They will call it peace.

How can an impoverished failed state overcome one of the world’s most prosperous and wealthy nations? Just as a character in “The Sun Also Rises” went bankrupt: “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” Rich states have succumbed to poorer, more determined ones countless times since Sparta defeated and absorbed Athens in the Peloponnesian War. Only the strategies have varied.

North Korea has waged a war of skirmishes against the South almost since the end of World War Two, but escalated it again with the 2002 naval skirmishes in the Yellow Sea, the 2010 Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island attacks, the 2015 land mine incident, and a series of nuclear and missile tests. Seoul’s response to each of these skirmishes was constrained by the long leash of a weary American ally, and by its own calculation of North Korea’s capacity to destroy its cities. As Pyongyang’s destructive power grows in the coming years, Seoul’s deterrence will be nullified. Pyongyang will grow bolder, and the scale of the attacks will escalate to an apex within the next five years, when Pyongyang will become a full-fledged nuclear power. Without the capacity to deter Pyongyang, public and political opinion will demand a diplomatic de-escalation. Pyongyang will be ready to offer one, but peace will come at a high price.

Every time Pyongyang has raised fears of a second Korean War, the easy and popular decision for the South Korean government was to make some small sacrifice of its freedom or security to de-escalate a potentially catastrophic conflict. Each compromise, viewed in isolation, seemed like the sensible thing to do at the time. Never mind that Pyongyang premeditated each of these war threats to begin with, apparently with a calculated political purpose. In each of these cases, South Korea’s political left (and more often than not, its political right, too) was willing to make these small, “pragmatic” sacrifices for peace.

Recent history tells us precisely how Pyongyang’s censors will extend their reach over the South to suppress its critics. In recent years, Pyongyang has repeatedly demanded that Seoul muzzle or censor political criticism of it as the price of peace. The second of the 2000 inter-Korean agreement’s eight points required the two sides to “work for mutual respect and trust in order to overcome differences in ideology and system.” Seoul obliged, and used the police forces of a nominally free and democratic society to enforce the point against the few troublemakers — and there were very few of them, most of them defectors — who protested against the North. For the next decade, many of the films that emerged from South Korea’s movie studios — which benefited from preferential government “screen quotas” — were anti-American enough to have been ghostwritten by the United Front Department in Pyongyang itself. Foreign films that offended Pyongyang were sometimes banned from South Korean theaters.

In 2014, Seoul agreed to Pyongyang’s proposal that each state should cease its “slander” of the other, as part of a deal allowing family “reunions” — in reality, short visits with relatives, often people abducted by the North, under the close supervision of North Korean minders. It was never clear exactly how the two sides would define “slander,” or whether Pyongyang would interpret this as an agreement by Seoul to censor criticism of Pyongyang by private South Korean citizens or activist groups. (Pyongyang prefers vague agreements. It can interpret them freely at moments of opportunity.)

As the world learned from the Sony cyberattack later and since then, Pyongyang recognizes no limits to its censorship and no distinction between the speech of governments and private persons. Pyongyang’s new skill in cyberwarfare is its newest and greatest weapon to censor its critics abroad. The greatest impact of the Sony attack may be the films that were never made because the studios submitted to their fears. Pyongyang will deny responsibility for these cyberattacks, of course, but studios, newspapers, and the government in Seoul have learned that it is wiser to avoid criticizing Pyongyang.

There will also be more direct methods of extortion. In the short-lived 2015 agreement after North Korean troops planted land mines that maimed two South Korean soldiers, the South agreed to stop loudspeaker propaganda announcements along the DMZ, and to work toward “dialogue” and “cooperation.” These are not bad things in themselves, of course, except for the troubling circumstances. Pyongyang had walked away believing that it had won a financial payoff from talks that began with an armed and unprovoked attack. At other times, the North has sent assassins to murder its critics in the South, or threatened war to stop activists from launching leaflet balloons — and plenty of South Koreans wanted their government to comply. Television stations and newspapers that broadcast criticism of Pyongyang were hit with cyberattacks in 2013 and directly threatened with artillery strikes in 2012.

Some experts have estimated that North Korea could have road-mobile ICBMs by 2018, or perhaps 2020. At some point in the not-too-distant future, it may also have submarine-launched missiles that can hit America’s coasts with nuclear weapons. It may be able to put a nuke on a medium-range missile now. Its reliable and accurate short-range missiles are the greatest direct threat to the South, especially if combined with large volleys of artillery rockets. It’s difficult to see how a missile defense system can protect Seoul from a large number of accurate and reliable short-range missiles flying at lower trajectories. Even if they can’t carry nuclear warheads, those missiles can probably carry chemical and biological weapons. 

Pyongyang’s goal, of course, isn’t to use these weapons, except in dramatic demonstrations or shocking-yet-limited skirmishes. Its goal is to shift the balance of power and terrorize South Korean society into slow submission. As its nuclear capability rises, so will the stakes, and so will Seoul’s temptation to make small sacrifices, one at a time, in the name of peace — by stopping anti-North Korean broadcasts and leaflet launches, by encouraging studios and financial backers to abandon their support for plays or films critical of North Korea, or by launching tax audits of newspapers that print critical editorials. If these suggestions seem fanciful, they shouldn’t. If you’ve read the links I’ve embedded in this post, you already know that similar occurrences took place during Roh Moo-hyun’s presidency.

Korea’s extreme-left tide has receded since 2008, but the pendulum will swing back, and voters grow weary of one-party rule. South Korea will hold its next presidential election in 2017. Despite some earlier flirtations with moderation, the recent direction of South Korea’s political left isn’t encouraging. The newly elected leader of the main opposition Minjoo Party is Choo Mi-ae, a disciple of Moon Jae-in, who is himself a disciple of Roh Moo-hyun. In 2003, Roh appointed Choo to serve as his special envoy to the United States on the North Korean nuclear crisis, where she “set out a series of bold proposals for promoting peace on the Korean peninsula and for resolving the international deadlock with the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.” 

One of Choo’s most prominent policy positions today is a promise to lead her party’s opposition to American’s deployment of THAAD missile defense batteries. She gives every indication that she intends to steer Seoul in a more anti-anti-North Korean direction and return it to policies like Roh Moo-hyun’s. This would mean a sharp left turn for South Korea’s security policies, diplomatic posture, and its enforcement of sanctions against the North. The foreign policy establishments in both Seoul and Washington are universally — and understandably — terrified that the election of Donald Trump would destroy our alliances in Asia, invite Chinese hegemony and North Korean aggression, and destabilize much of the region.

What no one is saying is that the election of Choo Mi-ae could present just as great a danger.

For years, Pyongyang’s sympathizers have demanded that the U.S. sign a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War. Recently, Pyongyang has raised that demand itself. In reality, North Korea doesn’t really want peace; after all, the perpetuation of conflict with foreign enemies is its raison d’etre, the justification for its oppression and its abysmal standard of living. For the same reason, it doesn’t even want a peace treaty. What Pyongyang really wants is a peace treaty negotiation. It wants the concessions it will demand and get as preconditions to keep the “peace process” moving forward. Above all, it wants to buy time. It needs, if only briefly, the relaxation of sanctions and subversive challenges to its legitimacy while it rushes to complete its nuclear arsenal. With this accomplished, its bargaining power will be greatly enhanced, and U.S. and South Korean options to deter its threats will narrow to a vanishing point.

Would the Clinton administration simply go along with this? I suspect so. In the dozen-plus years I’ve watched Korea policy in Washington, it has never ceased to astound me how much Washington defers to Seoul’s preferred approaches to Pyongyang. A new administration might waste months on policy reviews it should be doing now, and the policy review it should be doing now is premised on the preferences of a lame-duck president in Seoul. Already, we can see the calls for a peace treaty metastasizing from the pro-North Korean fringe into the U.S. foreign policy establishment, through the usual suspects.

U.S. experts and former officials secretly met several times with top North Korean officials this year, and some of them have emerged believing the regime of Kim Jong Un is ready to restart talks about its nuclear program. [….]

“The main thing they are interested in is replacing the current armistice with a peace treaty. In that context, they are willing to talk about denuclearization,” Joel Wit, a nuclear expert with the U.S.-Korea Institute, told me. “They made it fairly clear that they were willing to discuss their nuclear weapons program, that it would be on the table in the context of the peace treaty.”

Wit traveled to Berlin in February with other U.S. experts and met with Ri Yong Ho, who in May was promoted to North Korea’s foreign minister. He said the Pyongyang delegation sent signals that the door was open for resumed negotiations.

Robert Carlin, a former U.S. official and North Korea negotiator, was on the Berlin trip. In July, he wrote an article analyzing a new statement from North Korea in which Pyongyang also talked about denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula as part of a grand bargain with the United States.

Other Americans who have met recently with the North Koreans are skeptical that real signals are being sent or any real opening for negotiations has emerged. Victor Cha, the top Asia official at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, was at the same meetings as Wit and Carlin but came away with the opposite conclusion.

“They don’t seem like they are speaking in a leaning-forward quasi-official capacity,” he said. “They seem to be just spouting talking points.” [Josh Rogin, Washington Post]

It’s not hard to imagine what the North’s opening demands for that peace treaty will look like. It will demand “mutual respect” and an end to all forms of “slander” against its system. Quietly, Seoul will again suppress the criticisms of defectors and activists. Newspapers that “slander” will lose government funding, investors, leases, and tax exemptions. Seoul’s already-considerable internet censorship with tighten, perhaps with friendly technical assistance from China. High-ranking and high-profile defectors from North Korea, already bullied by the far left’s lawfare, will be intimidated out of fleeing to South Korea. Many will choose to take their chances in Pyongyang instead. Seoul will pressure the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights office in Seoul to slow-walk its work and dilute its criticisms of Pyongyang. Seoul’s diplomats would return to abstaining from U.N. resolutions, or quietly lobbying to soften their language.

Pyongyang will demand more aid and “engagement” projects that increasingly amount to transfer payments from South Korean taxpayers to the North Korean elites and military. The demands will grow steadily until the lifestyles of North Korean elites reach parity with South Korea. Instead of leveraging its substantial diplomatic talent toward the enforcement of U.N. sanctions against the North, Seoul would re-initiate “engagement” projects that would refill Pyongyang’s coffers and deprive sanctions of the leverage they would need to disarm Pyongyang.

There will be more demands to suppress South Korea’s capacity to defend itself — an end to military exercises, the cancellation of THAAD and other missile defense systems, and South Korea’s withdrawal from the Proliferation Security Initiative and intelligence sharing agreements. Slowly, its alliances with democratic states will be eroded to nullity. Eventually, Pyongyang will insist that the very existence of an alliance with the United States is an impediment to the peace process. South Koreans would turn from a distant America toward the appeasement of North Korea to guarantee their security, with China as the final adjudicator of its appeals. That will put Seoul on an irreversible course to domination by Pyongyang and Beijing.

The fall of Seoul will not begin with a massive artillery barrage or an armored thrust through Panmunjom. It might begin with a missile attack on an empty mountaintop near Busan, the burst of a single shell at Camp Red Cloud, or an unexplained bombing at Hannam Village, where the families of American soldiers live. World-weary Americans, with their own cities now within range of North Korean submarines, might well decide that an unfriendly, ambivalent South Korea isn’t worth defending. I wouldn’t blame them. We’ll have problems enough of our own once Pyongyang feels no restraint about selling nuclear weapons to any bidder willing to pay the purchase price, and after the global nuclear nonproliferation framework collapses completely.

Once North Korea has an effective nuclear arsenal, it may demonstrate its new capability dramatically, perhaps with a nuclear explosion in the waters off Cheju Island. Then, the North’s attacks — for one pretext or another — will grow bolder. A limited artillery attack might drive thousands of refugees south from Uijongbu and cause a collapse of the real estate market in northern Kyonggi Province. A mine in the Yellow Sea might block a crucial sea lane, or an artillery strike on Incheon Airport might destroy South Korea’s tourist industry and force an evacuation of American civilians. Perhaps North Korean special forces will seize Baekryeong Island, and stage demonstrations by residents welcoming their new “liberators.” Any of these events would trigger capital flight or a market crash, throw South Korea into recession, and leave investors clamoring for appeasement. They would serve the secondary purpose of narrowing the differences between the living standards of the North Korean elites and South Koreans. These things are almost as unthinkable today as the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island were in 2009, but none of them will be cause, by itself, to start a nuclear war, especially if South Korea’s next president believes she can negotiate peace.

The fall of Seoul will not end with the crash of tank treads through the Blue House gates, or by renaming Seoul Kim Il-Sung City, but with signatures, handshakes, smiles, clicking shutters, and the praise of editorialists that two warring states “de-escalated tensions pragmatically” by embarking on a “peace process.” The surrender will be too gradual, and the terms too vague, to be recognizable as such. It will have something like the consent of the governed — that is to say, the soon-to-be-ruled — through the assent of elected leaders who will approve a series of easy, lazy decisions to yield to Pyongyang’s calculated confrontations, embarking irreversibly toward the gradual strangulation of free debate, and then, a slow digestion into one-country-two-systems hegemony on Pyongyang’s terms.

It may or may not involve the dismantling of South Korea’s nominally democratic system, but with no opposition press, and with the South Korean people held hostage to nuclear blackmail, it may not have to. The pendulum might even swing back — a little — but it won’t be able to swing very far. Thus ends the “gradually” portion of our program, and thus begins our segue into the “suddenly” portion. The way in which this portion will play out is, naturally, much harder to predict, although the way this story ends should be clear to everyone.

But at the time, they will call it “peace.”

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N. Korea calls for S. Koreans to join “patriotic struggle to check and foil the U.S. imperialists.”

Following North Korea’s post-hoc support for the slashing of U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert, my two main questions where (1) whether the North had a role in inciting the attack (for which I’ve seen no direct evidence thus far); and (2) whether the North is calling for more violent anti-American attacks.

KCNA’s latest helps us answer the latter question in the affirmative. It isn’t specific about its favored methods of “patriotic struggle,” although its recent approval of the slashing of diplomats should give you a fairly good idea.

Full text below the fold.

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Roh Moo Hyun’s ex-campaign manager just hates it when politicians exploit tragic isolated incidents

The good news is that Ambassador Mark Lippert has been released from the hospital, and is recovering well.

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[Joongang Ilbo]

Give the South Koreans credit for making lemonade from lemons — the news coverage here has been filled with images of well-wishers greeting Lippert, or expressing regret for the attack on him. The greetings look both staged and sincere,* but because of that reaction, most Americans will see Kim Ki-Jong as one small turd in a vast, sweet, fizzy bowl of gachi gapshida.

lippert 2

I’m not sure I quite agree with that image now, and I certainly wouldn’t have agreed with it nine years ago. In today’s environment, however, I’d guess that Kim’s actions, Lippert’s obvious gift for public diplomacy, and the imagery of the pro-American reaction will shift public opinion in a more anti-anti-American direction, at least until something shifts it back. But as we’ll also see in a moment, the reactions of other Koreans seem oddly conflicted.

Lippert’s assailant, Kim Ki-Jong, has been charged with attempted murder. The Men in Blue have established that Kim visited North Korea not six, not eight, but seven times between 1999 and 2007. Which does raise a rather obvious question:

“We are investigating whether there is any connection between the suspect’s visits to North Korea and the crime committed against the U.S. ambassador,” Yoon Myeong-seong, chief of police in Seoul’s central Jongno district, told reporters. [Reuters]

It’s hard for me to believe that North Korea ordered a hit on the U.S. Ambassador, but then, I never thought they’d order a hit on a South Korean warship or build a nuclear reactor in Syria, either (or get away with both of those things, but I digress). It’s still the sort of thing you expect the police to investigate when someone slashes a foreign ambassador, especially when the assailant’s preferred country-of-destination publicly approves of the attack.

The police are doing a forensic analysis of Kim’s hard drive, and looking at what his phone and financial records say about any accomplices or foreign sponsorship. They’re also going through his library, and have concluded — to the astonishment of no one with any sense at all — that it has some pro-North Korean content.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t want the police to investigate a man’s political views. I don’t believe it should be illegal to hold any political belief, but as we’ve established, Kim Ki-Jong fits the American legal definition of a terrorist, and the motives of a terrorist have to be probative of something in a criminal investigation. Not that there should be much question, based on Kim’s words, actions, target, and timing, that Kim was a North Korean sympathizer. Right?

Opposition leader Moon said that he expressed his appreciation to Lippert as his calmness and online messages helped the alliance remain on a firm footing.

“I believe Lippert’s attitude helps enhance the alliance, but if this incident is politically used (by the ruling party), which claims pro-North Korean followers are behind it, such a move will rather hurt the Seoul-Washington ties,” Moon said. [….]

The liberal NPAD says the attack was an “isolated incident” committed by an extremist nationalist, urging the Saenuri Party not to use the case politically. [Yonhap]

That’s right. Roh Moo Hyun’s former campaign manager and successor party earnestly hope that conniving politicians won’t exploit emotions arising from a tragic-yet-isolated incident for political gain.

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Because that could hurt the alliance. Nice of him to warn us about that.

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Also, does anyone else see anything off about Moon passing judgment on the attitude of the guy who just had 80 stitches? Couldn’t he have at least waited for Lippert to come home from the hospital before deconstructing the sensitivity of his tweets? In what sense is “the alliance” responsible for Korean politicians doing what politicians do? And why, by contrast, is Moon so rigidly non-judgmental about Kim Ki-Jong’s motives? He isn’t even waiting for the police to finish their investigation to rule out the McCarthyist smear that Kim Ki-Jong, who slashed the face of the American Ambassador while shouting, “The two Koreas must be reunified!” and protesting joint military exercises, might just maybe have been a North Korean sympathizer.

With this risible statement, Moon not only opened the door to rebuttal about Kim’s views, he opened the door to questions about his own grasp of reality.

Before you get too worried that Moon’s election to the presidency would be the second coming of Roh Moo-Hyun, at least take comfort in the fact that it would be a terrific opportunity to withdraw two brigades from South Korea and put the OPCON handover on a six-month timetable. And if you think hard enough about the insecurity and dependency from which Moon’s attitudes grow, you’ll start to see why that would be a healthy thing for South Korea’s sense of nationhood, self-reliance, and sense of responsibility for its own policies. I’d prefer to see our alliance with Korea become more like our alliance with Israel.

Oh, and since Kim Ki-Jong lawyered up, he now denies having ever been to North Korea, that (in Reuters’s phrasing) his actions were “connected in any way with North Korea,” or that he intended to kill Lippert. Not that I have any great interest in the success of Kim Ki-Jong’s legal defense, but it’s a hard thing to stand by and watch legal malpractice. So, as a man with some experience defending criminal suspects, I’ll offer this gratis consultation to Mr. Kim’s lawyer: get your client under control and shut him the f**k up.

Below the fold, for your enjoyment, I’ve posted excerpts from the delectable inter-Korean dialogue that has broken out over the question of whether slashing Ambassador Lippert’s face was the moral equivalent of Korean patriots resisting the Japanese occupation. (Yes, Pyongyang is doubling down on that one.) I can’t imagine that in the 1930s, a popularly elected Korean government (had one existed) would have lobbied Tokyo to stall the transfer of OPCON back to Seoul. I see that Marcus Noland also found that analogy objectionableWhat I did not see is where Moon Jae-in did. Anyone?

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* A regular reader, based in Seoul, and with strong connections to conservative groups there, writes in to say that the pro-Lippert demonstration shown in this photo was not staged by the Korean government, and describes the organizer as “a grass-roots, pro-US conservative” woman.

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N. Korea’s support for slashing of U.S. Amb’r might be state sponsorship of terrorism

Yonhap and The Washington Post are reporting that North Korea’s official “news” agency, the Korean Central News Agency or KCNA, has expressed its support for an extremist’s slashing of U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert yesterday, calling it “a just punishment.” You won’t find those words in the English version of KCNA’s report, whose headline is a dry, “U.S. Ambassador Attacked by S. Korean,” although you will see that KCNA spelled the Ambassador’s name “Report.” The Korean-language headline of the same article, however, translates to something like, “Act of just punishment for war-crazy America.” Here’s a screenshot of the original Korean.

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KCNA has as bad a reputation for malware infections as Tijuana has for infections of other kinds, but if you’re willing to risk it, here’s a link. You’ve been warned.

The linguistic disparity looks like another case of KCNA code-switching for Korean- and English-speaking readers, in the same way it chose not to translate its most racist attack on President Obama. KCNA must assume that English speakers won’t notice, and that Korean speakers won’t care (which says a lot about what kind of Korea KCNA believes in). I’ve pasted the full English-version KCNA article below the fold. Here are some excerpts:

Kim Ki Jong, representative of the Uri Madang, a civic organization demanding peace against war, suddenly stormed with a knife Mark, shouting the south and the north must be reunified and he is opposed to a war. [….]

He didn’t stop shouting slogans opposing war and the U.S.-south Korea joint military exercises, being walked away by police.

Because you can’t really say you love peace unless you’ve slashed a diplomat’s face for it.

KBS, CBS, MBC and other broadcasting services of south Korea reported the news, screening Mark shedding blood from his face and wrist. The AP and other foreign news agencies promptly aired the breaking news.

This is my cue to remind you that the AP is a business partner of KCNA, through two memoranda of agreement that the AP refuses to disclose. According to leaked drafts, however, the AP agreed to “serve the purpose of the coverage and worldwide distribution of policies of the Worker’s Party of Korea and the DPRK government.”

CNN, quoting south Korean media as reporting Kim was opposed to the joint military exercises, said that his remarks were prompted by his anti-American feelings.

The puppet police are strictly guarding U.S.-related facilities allegedly to cope with emergency.

The recent case amid mounting anti-Americanism reflects the mindset of south Korean people censuring the U.S. for bringing the danger of a war to the Korean peninsula through the madcap saber-rattling. -0-

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Discuss among yourselves.

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Ambassador Lippert’s wounds were ghastly:

Surgeon Jung Nam-sik of Yonsei University Hospital, speaking at a televised briefing, said 80 stitches were needed to repair Lippert’s facial wound, which was more than four inches long and one inch deep. The cut did not affect his nerves or salivary gland, the surgeon said. Lippert also suffered significant knife wounds to his left wrist while apparently struggling to push off his assailant.

The ambassador is expected to be able to use his hand after four weeks of treatment, but due to tendon damage, a more complete recovery will take longer because of the loss of sensation in his little finger, his doctors said. [N.Y. Times]

According to the doctors, “it will take several months for Mr. Lippert to recover full use of his injured fingers.” If there’s anything fortunate about this ugly incident, it’s the fact that it happened in the world’s plastic surgery capital. It’s never a good thing to have your face slashed by a knife-wielding extremist, but if it happens, there’s no better place to get reconstructive surgery than Seoul. The attack must have been horrifying for Lippert and his wife. That Pyongyang would support this openly tells you plenty about its easy, casual embrace of crimes that cause human suffering.

The attack will mean the end of Lippert’s brave walks through Seoul without bodyguards, but if anyone in the State Department reads this, I hope they’ll encourage the Ambassador to go right back onto the streets, scars and all — with bodyguards — as a vivid reminder of what Kim Ki-Jong’s ideology stands for. As soon as he feels well enough, of course.

Kim sounds like the sort of left-nationalist whose ideology was at its apex when I was in Korea, as I described it in my congressional testimony years ago. That sentiment has since ebbed, although latent extremism is a hard thing to poll. South Korea wants us to see this as an isolated incident, which, strictly speaking, it is today.

Kim Ki Jong

[Kim Ki-Jong at a protest at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, one year ago]

That wasn’t always the case. In 1989, left-nationalist thugs occupied U.S. Ambassador Donald Gregg’s residence, occupied the U.S. Information Service building in Seoul, and tried to burn down the U.S. Cultural Center in Gwangju. In 2006, others blocked former Ambassador Sandy Vershbow from going to an interview.

There is a small-but-significant constituency in South Korea that agrees with Kim Ki-Jong’s sentiment, if not necessarily his methods. Some commenters at the far-left, U.S.-based Minjok Tongshin are expressing their support for the attack. (Yes, I’m assuming that some of them are South Koreans.) One even compares Kim Ki-Jong to Yun Bong-Gil, who orchestrated an anti-Japanese bombing in 1932, and who is considered a national hero in South Korea. The intersection of nationalism and socialism is an especially ugly place.

Other commenters disagree with Kim’s violent methods. Overall, the vast majority of Koreans will be repelled by the attack.

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Having established that the reports of North Korea’s support for the attack are accurate, let’s examine the legal significance of that support. Under Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, the Secretary of State may designate a state as a sponsor of terrorism if he finds that the state has “repeatedly provide[d] support for acts of international terrorism.” There are no authoritative definitions of “support” or “international terrorism” for purposes of a SSOT listing, but we can get a good idea of what those words mean from the various definitions of “terrorism” scattered around the U.S. Code, and in the case of “support,” from other, less authoritative sources.

We’ll take the simpler question first. Was the attack international terrorism? Based on the facts reported so far, pretty clearly so. It was a premeditated, violent, politically motivated attack by the head of a violent, extremist subnational group (it calls itself Uri Madang) against a noncombatant target. The attacker knew where and when Lippert would be speaking and may have had a hand in inviting him to breakfast. His political motive was to protest annual U.S.-Korean military exercises. Targeting an ambassador makes the attack international terrorism. As such, it would meet the definitions at 22 U.S.C. 2656f and in the Criminal Code, at 18 U.S.C. 2331(1). It would also meet the definition of “terrorist activity” in the Immigration and Nationality Act, which is the definition the State Department uses to designate Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

Also, Kim reportedly told the police, “Today I committed a terrorist act.” So there’s that.

The question of “support” is the harder one. Although KCNA’s statement certainly fits one plain-usage meaning of “support,” as far as we know, the support was only post-hoc, verbal support. There’s no evidence that KCNA has ever referred to Kim Ki-Jong or “Uri Madang,” the group he led before today. On the other hand, Kim had visited North Korea six times, which is pretty rare for South Koreans who aren’t involved in some kind of cross-border business venture. Kim even tried to build a Kim Jong-Il* monument in Seoul. It seems unlikely that the North Koreans could have failed to take an interest in him by his third visit, but that’s just my speculation.

By itself, KCNA’s statement of support doesn’t prove that North Korea encouraged, facilitated, or planned the attack. But what does “support” mean, legally? The answer isn’t clear. There are only two places where anyone wrote anything in official sources approximating a definition. One of them is a (non-binding) 1989 congressional report, quoted here. That report lists some categories of conduct that would qualify, including providing materials, money, training, sanctuary, or planning or directing attacks. KCNA’s post-hoc verbal support isn’t any of those things, but that list isn’t exclusive.

A more authoritative source is this section of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 1988 and 1989 (the same section that defines “international terrorism,” as codified in Title 22). It doesn’t, strictly speaking, define “support” — no statute does that — but it does describe conduct that the State Department is required to report in its in annual Country Reports on Terrorism. That conduct includes political support. That suggests Congress wanted State to consider conduct that falls short of material support, but which nonetheless encourages terrorism. And a fair reading of KCNA’s reaction to the attack on Ambassador Lippert would be, “More like this, please.”

Did the North Koreans say anything before the attack that could be viewed as inciting it? Well, read this and this from Pyongyang’s Rodong Sinmun from a few days ago and ask yourself how Kim Ki-Jong would have interpreted it. For example:

The whole Korean nation and the peace-loving people all over the world are required to resolutely check and frustrate the anti-DPRK nuclear war drills by the U.S. and south Korean puppet group that harass the peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity.

Rhetoric like this is common in North Korean propaganda. We have no way of knowing whether Kim Ki-Jong even read this, of course. It’s technically illegal to read the Rodong Sinmun in South Korea. Regardless of whether you believe Pyongyang incited this attack, however, it pretty clearly means to incite the next one.

Is there any precedent for the State Department considering the mere incitement of attacks to be the state sponsorship of terrorism? There is. State’s 1991 Country Reports on Terrorism cited Saddam Hussein’s call for “all of his terrorist allies to attack coalition targets, frequently through announcements on Iraq’s Mother of Battles radio.” The 1997 report (among others) cited the Ayatollah Khomeini’s offer and broadcast of a bounty for the first guy to kill Salman Rushdie for writing “The Satanic Verses.” The 2009, 2010, and 2012 reports cited Syria’s hosting of al-Rai radio, a pro-Baathist radio station that “transmitted violent messages in support of terrorism in Iraq.” So there’s ample precedent for State to consider incitement of violence as the state sponsorship of terrorism. And it’s certainly not above Pyongyang to directly incite the very sort of act that Kim Ki-Jong committed:

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 11.36.54 AM

Could State re-list North Korea as an SSOT because of its approval of an attack on a U.S. Ambassador? The legal standards are vaporous, but yes, it could. There isn’t much evidence that Pyongyang actually caused this incident or intended for it to happen, although its statement today encouraged more like it. The incitement of terrorism was enough to justify the SSOT listings of Iran, Iraq, and Syria. It could justify a re-listing of North Korea.

Should State re-list North Korea as a SSOT for expressing its support for this attack? No. State should re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism because of its multiple attempted or completed assassinations of activists and defectors in China and South Korea. It should re-list North Korea because of its long relationship with Hezbollah, in which North Korea helped Hezb dig a tunnel system, and was caught shipping it two boatloads and one plane-load of weapons, including MANPADS. It should re-list North Korea because of its threat against audiences for “The Interview,” right here in the United States. It should re-list North Korea for the kidnapping and murder of the Reverend Kim Dong Shik, for which Barack Obama personally promised, in writing, to oppose removing North Korea from the list to begin with.

All of those things meet any reasonable interpretation of what “support for international terrorism” means. Of course, if none of those things was enough for our State Department, I don’t suppose this will be, either.

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* A previous version of this post said Kim Il-Sung. Since corrected.

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Breaking: U.S. Ambassador to S. Korea slashed by guy who really hates bloodshed

Here’s a link to the story, and here’s a picture:

Hat tip to Sung Yoon Lee. More to follow, but initial word I’m hearing suggests a political motive.

~   ~   ~

Update 1: AFP’s report has more details.

Seoul (AFP) – The US ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was injured in an attack by a razor-wielding assailant Thursday in Seoul, police and television reports said. The YTN news channel, citing police sources, said a man with a razor blade concealed in his right hand had attacked Lippert as he was attending a breakfast function in central Seoul. The channel carried a picture showing the bleeding ambassador holding his right hand to his right cheek, with his left hand smeared with blood. Lippert, 42, was taken to hospital, but his injuries were reportedly not life-threatening. The assailant, who was immediately taken into custody, reportedly shouted an anti-war slogan as he lashed out at the envoy, who only took up his post in Seoul last October. The United States and South Korea launched annual joint military exercises this week, triggering a surge in tensions with North korea.

It will be interesting to see if North Korea praises this, although it’s hard to see even them being stupid enough to order it.

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Update 2: Some of you will recall that in 2006, Park Geun-Hye was also the victim of a similar slashing attack. I never saw it reported that the North was behind that attack, although one of the few things Park ever did to impress me was to react coolly afterward. As for the assailant’s motives, well, let’s just say I’m adding a “Fifth Column” tag to this post. The Chosun Ilbo is reporting that the assailant shouted, “The two Koreas must be reunified.” Yonhap adds:

The suspect shouted his opposition to the annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises that started Monday, police said. The exercises are part of Seoul and Washington’s efforts to better deter threats from North Korea.

I loved the next sentence.

Police said they were questioning the suspect to determine the motive for the attack.

In July 2010, Kim received a suspended two-year prison term for throwing two pieces of concrete at a Japanese ambassador to Seoul. He published a book last year in which he details his assault on the Japanese envoy, Tosinori Shigeie. 

Kim is the head of a liberal organization that protests Japan’s territorial claims over South Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo. He changed the address of his family register to Dokdo in 2006 after the Japanese prefecture of Shimane designated a day named after Takeshima, which is what the islets are called in Japan.

I wish we’d stop calling people like this “liberal.” That’s an insult to conscientious liberalism. Shall we set up a little pool for the first reporter to call the slasher a “peace activist?”

So a serial assailant of foreign diplomats was allowed to run loose on the streets, lead his own organization, and attack again? Look — you can believe that Shinzo Abe is a repulsive human being and a war crimes denier, and still see that this is the sort of conduct you should expect in a society where any political leader can earn cheap applause by vilifying a former enemy. Or so it has been said.

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Update 3: This is what’s known as “premeditation.”

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Post-Sunshine South Korea is sober, pragmatic, and grouchy.

In this post last week, I cited polling data showing how South Koreans’ views of North Korea have hardened in recent years, representing a dramatic swing since the fervent anti-Americanism and pro-appeasement sentiment of the Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun years. I reckoned that the 2010 Cheonan and Yeonpyeong attacks were the tipping point in this shift, but a wealth of polling data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project changes my mind about this. I wish the data directly measured South Koreans’ views of North Korea, but they do measure other indicators that turn out to have a logical relationship to them.

In the decade between 2003 (the height of the anti-American wave) and 2013, the polls tell us that South Koreans’ views shifted steadily toward what we usually associate with “conservative” views — their opinion of the U.S. became 32% more favorable, unfavorable views of the U.S. fell 30% to just 20% in 2013, and 15% more South Koreans believed that the U.S. considers their country’s interests “a great deal” or “a fair amount” in making international policy decisions.

Between 2008 and 2013, the percentage of South Koreans viewing the U.S. as a “partner” as opposed to an “enemy” rose 18%, from just 51% to 69%. Between 2002 and 2013, favorable views of China fell 20%, to 46% (up from the 2010 nadir of just 38%). Very few South Koreans see China’s growing military power as “a good thing.” About a quarter of South Koreans view China as an enemy, but that figure has hardly shifted since 2008, when it was first measured.

The results I had really hoped to show you come from a poll by the Asan Institute, which I’d picked up as a paper booklet at a conference last summer. The poll gave a detailed generational breakdown on South Korean attitudes toward the North, and showed that Koreans in their 20’s were the most conservative age group in two generations. That’s immensely relevant; unfortunately, I’ve managed to lose the pamphlet in one of my stacks of paper, and I can’t find the results online, so you’ll have to settle for the next best thing — this report from Asan’s Kim Jiyoon, which shows us the same image in lower resolution:

When examined by age group, there is an interesting but consistent tendency. The young generation of South Korea exhibits conservative attitudes toward national security issues. They are quite a different species from the young generation ten years ago. Conventionally, a conservative South Korean tends to be hostile and assertive toward North Korea and friendly toward the United States. Much like those who are in their sixties, a disproportionate number of the youngest generation of Korea chose to support the United States (64.8%) in the hypothetical match against North Korea. This is the second highest proportion following the oldest generation’s support 72.8 percent. The most ethnically bound generation was in their forties—the so-called 386 generation. 

Surprisingly, most of this shift occurred between 2007 and 2009. The trend was underway before the election of Barack Obama, the Cheonan Incident, the Yeonpyeong Incident, the killing of Park Wang-Ja and the closure of Kumgang, or any of the events Americans might be tempted to think catalyzed this trend. It’s more likely that a steady stream of evidence gradually undermined the grandiose and wishful unifictions of the Korean left. The incidents of 2010 were not the cause of the shift, but probably solidified it just as people were growing tired of Lee Myung Bak, and prepared to listen to criticism of his policies.

There is also evidence that the Yeonpyeong attack shook off many South Koreans’ disbelief that North Korea sank the CheonanThis report by the International Crisis group cites a poll showing that Yeonpyeong attack convinced 17.7% of South Koreans that North Korea sank the Cheonan.* It’s human nature to view evidence as self-affirming, and I suppose plenty more South Koreans who were at least willing to entertain Cheonan conspiracy theories before Yeonpyeong decided, after the event, that they knew all along that North Korea did it. And overwhelmingly, they wanted to hit North Korea back.

The data suggest a zero-sum ideological contest between North Korea and the United States. The good news is that the contest has shifted away from North Korea lately (I care much less whether it shifted toward us). The bad news is that the shift is more a withdrawal of interest, of investment, of hope, and of fear. It does not look forward to reunification and has no desire to hasten it. It is the grouchy hangover that follows intoxication. I have no quarrel with pragmatism; it’s the selective apathy I can’t stand. And young Koreans are as blindly nationalistic as their elders, despite their immersion in the global culture.

The rejection of appeasement in its most masochistic forms, in a favor of a more rational, interest-based calculus, should not be confused with a complete rejection of inter-Korean exchanges or dialogue. It especially should not be confused with affection for the United States, or for the young, libidinous, and occasionally drunken American soldiers gallivanting around Seoul, Pyongtaek, and Uibongbu.** What it means is that South Koreans think they need us, and that the Sunshine fad is over.

Later this week, I’ll examine how South Korea’s changed media environment may have contributed to these changes, and why, even if the Democratic Party wins the next elections, it will be on a far more moderate platform than that of its predecessor, the Uri Party. It all sort of fits together. Trust me.

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This particular study also makes the mathematically impossible finding that 83.6% already believed that North Korea did it. The study concluded that South Koreas were moving to the left, but based this conclusion on a snapshot of public opinion during the second and third years of the Lee Administration, a point in the political cycle when voters usually grow disenchanted with the party in power. No wonder the study wrongly predicted a DP victory in the 2012 election.

** Except me, of course. I’m sure I was a lot nicer than the other drunken, libidinous young soldiers.

Update, Feb. 10:

Many thanks to Steven Denney for providing two links to studies relevant to this post. The headline is that ethno-nationalism is on the decline in Korea, but when I read the actual texts, I’m more inclined to think that the character of Korea’s ethno-nationalism has changed from generation to generation. Nationalism is no longer seen in explicitly political terms that militate union with the North. Instead, the younger generation invests its national pride in the South Korean nation, rather than in the Korean race. Says CSIS:

Koreans have begun to view themselves and their republic in a way that reflects political, social, and economic realities. Korea’s new nationalism is based less on 

ethnicity than previous strands of nationalism, views the state with an increasing level of confidence, and presumes that South Korea is on the rise in East Asia and the world. …

The 2013 data makes it clear that the South Korean public judges North Korea on its actions, with public opinion turning sharply against the North following tensions in early 2013. Of course, if North Korea can become a responsible neighbor, attitudes would improve. The question is if the North can achieve this before the youngest South Koreans decide that they, and their country, are better off seeing the Republic of Korea as a completely separate political and national entity. In 2012, while 11 percent of those in their 60s expressed no interest in reunification, 23 percent of those in their 20s stated the same. Notably, it was those in their 20s (60 percent) who were most in favor of reunification on South Koreans terms, indicating a less accepting and less tolerant attitude toward the North. …

The most important point to make is how sharply South Koreans in their 20s have broken in their views of North Korea with those in their 30s and 40s. In 2011 and 2012, those in their 20s were the least likely to identify the North Korea as “one of us.” Indeed, in 2012 this cohort was more likely to define the North as an enemy (24 percent). Following heightened inter-Korean tensions in the first quarter of 2013, the response “one of us” decreased by 9 percentage points.

I suppose if push came to shove, it would still be a case of “my brother and me against my cousin, my cousin and me against the stranger.” And I would hesitate to conclude that we’re seeing the emergence of a post-racial Korea. Still, we’ve at least seen the decline of an explicitly political racism in South Korea, something that disgusted me enough to inspire the very creation of this site. That is good news, because political racism never ends well.

Young South Koreans were also more confident in their country than their elders, and more resolute in the face of North Korea provocations. I can’t help thinking that insecurity is often the root of nationalism in its most extreme forms.

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Gates: Roh Moo Hyun was “anti-American” and “a little crazy,” and Lee Myung Bak wanted to bomb the crap out of Kim Jong Il.

This must be the most controversial understatement of the year, so far:

Reading a new memoir by former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, South Koreans may be quite surprised by his characterization of the country’s late President Roh Moo-hyun as “a little crazy.”

I estimate that approximately 63.8% of them won’t be in complete shock about that.

Gates recalls a November 2007 meeting in Seoul with the liberal-minded president, whose diplomatic and security policy is still being debated. He calls Roh “anti-American and probably a little crazy.”

Roh was quoted as telling Gates that “the biggest security threats in Asia were the United States and Japan.” [Yonhap]

He said that to the U.S. SecDef’s face, and the SecDef thinks he’s a little crazy? If anything, Gates was too kind. I’m tempted to make the case that Roh’s policies were detached from reality, but I did enough of that when Roh was alive, and besides which, there’s someone willing to argue that about every politician.

Instead, evaluate Gates’s description on its literal, medical merits. If you must, pick some less pejorative adjective, like “unbalanced.” A retrospective examination of Roh’s public statements while in office, which clearly foretold his cause of death, could have been grounds to commit him to an institution for his own safety. Not only did Roh seem to lack the will to govern, I often sensed (correctly, as it turned out) that his suicidal ideations didn’t have an exclusively political character.

I worried more that Roh was projecting those ideations onto his entire country.

Gates also confirms that Lee Myung Bak had intended to carry out a “disproportional” response using “both aircraft and artillery” after North Korea’s attacks of 2010, but that the Obama Administration forced Lee to call off the strikes.

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Sometimes, a missile is just a missile

Every time North Korea tests a rocket, Hans Blix sheds a little tear and Ban Ki Moon’s fluffy white tail stops wagging, because North Korean rocket tests violate three U.N. Security Council Resolutions — 1695 (which bans “all activities related to its ballistic missile programme”), UNSCR 1718 (ditto, and requires N. Korea to “re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching”), and 1874 (which bans “any launch using ballistic missile technology”).  North Korea’s official response is that it is launching peaceful satellites, not testing ICBMs.  You may be wondering if anyone on the Outer Earth is still fool enough to believe this.

There’s little reason to doubt North Korea’s claim that it simply wants to put a satellite into space.  [John Feffer, Foreign Policy in Focus]

Maybe John Feffer just needs more reason, so he can reason his way to what’s obvious to the rest of us.

North Korea exhibited the fuselage of what is presumed to be the long-range rocket it launched in December, and explicitly called it a ballistic missile, despite its claims to the outside world that the Unha-3 was part of its peaceful space development program, a report said Monday.

The report by Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun quoted North Korean sources as saying that the fuselage was displayed under the name “Hwasong-13” among the exhibitions of the country’s missile lineup in an exhibition hall in Pyongyang. The Hwasong line also includes shorter-range scud missiles, which the country has produced since the 1980’s.  [Yonhap]

Well, you say, if they’re missiles, then they must be for strictly defensive deterrence.  No need to infer any malicious intent here, right?  So we now have this, via North Korea’s quasi-official Uriminzokkiri:

Uriminzokkiri roughly translates to “among our race only” and is aimed at South Korean norksimps. It is reportedly run from China, a country that selectively decides what speech should be permitted based on the state’s value judgments about its content.  Or so you may have heard.  (Hat tip)

If your memory is long enough, may recall that other norksimps in South Korea, the Korean Teachers’ Union, produced an equally sickening video for schoolchildren before the 2005 APEC Forum in Busan, featuring replays of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, set to “What a Wonderful World.”  A theme seems to be emerging.

I’m sure that all across the more progressive quarters of this world, there are fevered minds with room enough for the conflicting lunacies that the Jews and neocons pulled off 9/11, and also that on 9/11, nineteen great martyrs fulfilled a divine mandate of vengeance against toddlers, flight attendants, and office workers.  Similarly, there’s clearly some market in some quarters of Korea for fantasies of North Korea’s peaceful satellites destroying American cities.  I hope that market is a whole lot smaller than it was a decade ago.

If nothing else, it’s a useful reminder that the North Koreans aren’t just fucking around.  We already know what they’re capable of, morally speaking.  Faster, please.

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A Quick Thought on this Psy business

My ten year-old can already tell you that one of my life’s newer objectives is to die an old man without having heard “Kangnam Style” even once. Pop culture has never been my thing, but I sure did get tired of all the forced Kangnam-Style allusions and cliches in just about everything written about Korea during Psy’s 15 minutes.  Anyway, if you’re wondering whether I’m even a little bit surprised that Psy once sang, “Kill those fucking Yankees …. Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers …. Kill them all slowly and painfully,” well, no, I’m not surprised.  Not even a little.  In fact, I’m sure there was a whole mob cheering those applause lines when he sang them. Some of the rhetoric in South Korea in those days would have made Hamas blush.  It also enjoyed a significant amount of encouragement from — and exploitation by — South Korea’s ruling party. If you doubt me there, then you haven’t read that last link.

You know who made a lot of good points about this? Someone I disagree with more often than not, The Metropolitician.  I agree with him that Psy’s apology was certainly insincere, and the fact that Psy’s “art” has as much to do with Korean culture as a Samsung knockoff. (I allow that Psy may have been just one more ambitious person who exploited the popularity of anti-Americanism for his own selfish reasons, but that excuses nothing.) Having served as a soldier in Korea at the time when Psy was spewing his hate, I don’t deny my feelings of satisfaction that Psy, unlike me, was capable of making millions of Americans aware of the depth of many South Koreans’ hate. I worry that he may also make South Korea as a whole infamous for hate. Like many other things in life, including South Koreans’ own views of America and its soldiers, this would be unfair.  Psy’s promoters must be awfully thankful that their client shares a peninsula with an even more repulsive individual, who provided a timely distraction.

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What Don Rumsfeld Got Right

Writing at Korea Real Time, Evan Ramstad quotes from a memo written by Don Rumsfeld in late 2002, shortly after Roh Moo Hyun was elected President of South Korea on a wave of anti-American rage:

“As you know, the new President-elect [Roh] has stated that he wants to review the relationship,” Mr. Rumsfeld wrote. “Rather than pushing back, I think we ought to accept that as a good idea. If we had recommended it, we could be accused of destabilizing the peninsula, but he recommended it.

Over the next two years, Mr. Rumsfeld’s Pentagon and Mr. Roh’s defense ministry negotiated a substantial drawdown of U.S. troops in South Korea, from about 39,000 to about 28,000. As well, they began the discussions that led to an agreement in 2006 for South Korea’s military to take control of its own troops in wartime. Since the Korean War of the 1950s, U.S. commanders have had wartime control of South Korean troops.

Mr. Rumsfeld so wanted to see a change in the U.S. position in South Korea that, in 2005, he quickly agreed to Mr. Roh’s request for wartime control. “You’re pushing through an open door,” Mr. Rumsfeld told Mr. Roh’s defense minister at the time.

Mr. Roh initially wanted the wartime control transfer to happen in 2009, but later agreed for 2012. Last year, current South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, representing conservative forces who were alarmed by Mr. Roh’s aggressive push to reduce South Korea’s reliance on the U.S. military, forged a new agreement with the U.S. to delay the transfer of wartime control until 2015.

But Mr. Rumsfeld’s desire for change in the U.S.-South Korea alliance was clear in that December 2002 memo.

“We have been there since 1950,” he wrote. “It is time to rearrange the relationship and put the burden on the South Koreans.

The irrational, manipulated anti-Americanism of the bleating herd isn’t directly mentioned here, but it’s the subtext of the whole discussion. A few months later, Rumsfeld was in Korea, telling American soldiers there that the Pentagon was thinking about “making some adjustments” to USFK force levels. Suddenly, the same Roh government that had whipped up and exploited anti-Americanism for its political advantage (and would do so again) began telling the protesters to dial it back. Rumsfeld went forward with the troop cuts anyway, in a move that apparently shocked Roh’s people.

If it were up to me, the Eighth U.S. Army would be commanded by a Staff Sergeant stationed on Cheju-Do. But given the power and influence of the Korea lobby in Washington, Rumsfeld probably did as much as he could. Events have proven Rumsfeld right. The shelling of Yeonpyeong and the sinking of the Cheonan have shown the limits of U.S. deterrence, notwithstanding its financial cost to American taxpayers. In the meantime, South Korea spent about seven billion dollars extending the survival of the North Korean regime and financing its capacity to threaten not only the South Korean people, but Americans who might one day be the victims of weapons proliferated by Kim Jong Il.

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Where’s the Outrage?

South Koreans’ unifiction mania may have cooled for the moment, but B.R. Myers tells us that public anger toward North Korea doesn’t approach that directed against America after the 2002 accident, and that plenty have made the decision to disbelieve the evidence that North Korea sank the Cheonan:

It would be unfair to characterize these skeptics as pro-Pyongyang, but there is more sympathy for North Korea here than foreigners commonly realize. As a university student in West Berlin in the 1980s, I had a hard time finding even a Marxist with anything nice to say about East Germany. In South Korea, however, the North’s human rights abuses are routinely shrugged off with reference to its supposedly superior nationalist credentials. One often hears, for example, the mistaken claim that Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Il-sung, purged his republic of former Japanese collaborators, in alleged contrast to the morally tainted South. [….]

South Korean nationalism is something quite different from the patriotism toward the state that Americans feel. Identification with the Korean race is strong, while that with the Republic of Korea is weak. (Kim Jong-il has a distinct advantage here: his subjects are more likely to equate their state with the race itself.) Thus few South Koreans feel personally affected by the torpedo attack. [….]

This urge to give the North Koreans the benefit of the doubt is in marked contrast to the public fury that erupted after the killings of two South Korean schoolgirls by an American military vehicle in 2002; it was widely claimed that the Yankees murdered them callously. During the street protests against American beef imports in the wake of a mad cow disease scare in 2008, posters of a child-poisoning Uncle Sam were all the rage. It is illuminating to compare those two anti-American frenzies with the small and geriatric protests against Pyongyang that have taken place in Seoul in recent weeks.

If demographics are destiny, accounts like Myers’s suggest that our alliance with South Korea has no long-term future. Like Robert, I don’t think this is the time to speed up our disengagement or appear to abandon South Korea, but it’s as appropriate as ever to proceed with an orderly transition to an independent South Korean defense from which both countries will emerge stronger.

Hat tip to a reader.

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Mad Cow Revisionism


The Hankyoreh reacts
to comments by President Lee by reinventing the Mad Cow riots of 2008:

During a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, President Lee said, “It has been two years since the candlelight vigil demonstrations and although many suppositions proved untrue, not one of those intellectuals or medical sector figures who participated back then has engaged in any reflection. The president also said, “Without reflection, there is no development of society. He added, “I would like to say that it is positive that one daily newspaper reevaluated this in the form of a focused feature piece to mark the second anniversary.

Let me state my agreement with the truth of the matter Lee asserts while questioning whether it might have been wiser to let this dog sleep. That being said, I can scarcely add up all the layers of delusion in the Hanky’s response, but start with the one about how this really wasn’t about beef at all.

He also pledged to improve his communication with the people, reshuffle positions in the Cheong Wa Dae (the presidential office in South Korea or Blue House) and Cabinet, and abandon his plans for the Grand Korean Waterway. This was an admission by President Lee that the candlelight vigil demonstrations were not only about the dangers of mad cow disease from U.S. beef, but also an expression of negative popular sentiments regarding the one-sided governance and expediency tactics he showed early in his term and the appointments of wealthy Gangnam elites and Korea University, Somang Church and Youngnam region individuals, the so-called “Ko So Young,” to prominent positions.

So … the guy they voted for didn’t win, I take it. And then again, maybe it was about beef after all:

Ahn Jin-geol, director of the Public Welfare Hope Team for People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, said Tuesday, “It is brazen for President Lee to apologize twice for giving concerns to the people and even promise to carry out additional beef negotiations, and then turn around and tell the people they need to reflect. Ahn also said, “This proves that the president’s apologies back then were lies.

No, Lee apologized for his “handling” of the beef import issue, which isn’t the same as acknowledging that the public panic that caused the mass demonstrations had any scientific basis. In his first apology, he just about called the scare “unfounded” before concluding that the angry mob was in no mood to listen to any amount of objective, scientific information — much less his own assertions. While the specific reasons for Lee’s apology remain somewhat vague, the main reason seems to have been to appease the mob and politely request that they shut up and go home (eventually, after the most of them got tired of the protests and did). To an extent, Lee was also apologizing for mishandling the P.R. aspect — not doing enough to get accurate information to gullible people soon enough. I don’t think that Lee was apologizing for the terms of an FTA negotiated during the Roh Administration, nor was he apologizing for not implementing the minutiae of trade policy through a series of popular plebiscites before misinformed voters panicking over false reporting and irrational, unscientific rumors. At that point, Lee would have thrown the Wonder Girls into an active volcano to appease the mob and get them to put down their their pitchforks and torches bamboo poles and candles.

The Hanky also predicts a groundswell of Roh-stalgia, just weeks after South Korea buried its dead from the Cheonan. I suspect that there will be sympathy for Roh, the troubled human being, but I doubt there will be much nostalgia for Roh, the man who should never have been the President of the Republic of Korea, and whose policies have been thoroughly repudiated by events during and after his term. My hopes are actually rising that South Korea’s unrequited infatuation with its abusive North Korean cellmate is about over with. Is it possible that South Korea is growing up at last? I hope so. I’d be disturbed, and surprised, if the Hanky is right and I’m wrong.

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Just for the Paulbots: Why the U.S. Army Should Leave South Korea

Even an imbecile like Ron Paul accidentally happens on the truth now and then. And while the election of Lee Myung Bak has reduced the degree to which South Korea actively undermines U.S. policy toward North Korea, the continued existence of Kaesong and Kumgang up to this moment refutes any suggestion that South Korea has really joined it, either, or restored South Korea as a bona fide U.S. ally on a global or regional scale, or tapped into South Korea’s considerable tax revenue to modernize its own Army and relieve U.S. taxpayers of the cost of defending one of the world’s richest nations from one of the world’s poorest. Instead, South Korea seems to have decided that dependence is cheaper than — and therefore, superior to — independence, and that it can sleep under America’s blanket without contributing anything to America’s own security.

I’m not blind to the fact that for the moment, South Korea’s anti-Americanism seems dormant, until it isn’t, and that either the soldiers in Hongdae are on their best behavior or the Korean press is more occupied with its other xenophobic obsession: hippie Canadian English teachers who goes to bars and hit on Korean girls. Fine, but does anyone expect that trend to continue through the next election season?

Go here to read the rest.

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Don’t Know Much About History

Just the latest example of historical myopia from the kids in South Korea.

As the university was announcing the plans, the Chosun Ilbo reported a Gallup poll in Korea that showed 62.9 percent of teens and 58.2 percent in their 20s did not know when the Korean War broke out. Also, only 43.9 percent of those surveyed said North Korea is to blame for starting the Korean War, with the figure among teenagers 38 percent and 36 percent for 20-somethings. Some 18 percent of teens and 25 percent of those in their 20s said both North and South Korea are responsible.

Until just a few years ago, some teachers who are members of the hardline Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union have been teaching that the Korean War was a battle for liberation led by the North. During the Roh Moo-hyun administration, a state-run broadcaster aired a documentary on Memorial Day praising China’s Mao Zedong, who backed the North in the Korean War. [Chosun Ilbo]

One of the points I’ve made for years about the USFK is that it’s an impediment to South Korea’s progress toward political maturity, which is in turn impeded by its lack of a confident sense of self-sufficient nationhood. That may be the only thing North Korea has today that South Korea doesn’t, and you can see emotional hunger for this sense among certain demographics in South Korea, though no to the same extent as the North Koreans’ physical hunger for South Korean rice and ChocoPies. Somehow, I don’t think Koreans would be so prosaic about the genesis of their form of government if they had to mobilize to Israeli proportions to defend it.

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Christopher Hitchens on Brian Myers’s “The Cleanest Race”

Hitchens writes:

All of us who scrutinize North Korean affairs are preoccupied with one question. Do these slaves really love their chains? The conundrum has several obscene corollaries. The people of that tiny and nightmarish state are not, of course, allowed to make comparisons with the lives of others, and if they complain or offend, they are shunted off to camps that–to judge by the standard of care and nutrition in the “wider” society–must be a living hell excusable only by the brevity of its duration. But race arrogance and nationalist hysteria are powerful cements for the most odious systems, as Europeans and Americans have good reason to remember. Even in South Korea there are those who feel the Kim Jong-il regime, under which they themselves could not live for a single day, to be somehow more “authentically” Korean.

There are times when I think the North Korean people are more comprehensible than the South Korean people. The careful observer of reports from North Korea these days will see a people disillusioned with the official ideology, unburdening themselves of lies as quickly as they can find the truth, and mostly concerned about money, food, and the small comforts that substitute for hope as we know it (see, e.g., this post by Horace Jeffery Hodges for another description of this, via a Japanese journalist). This is, for all its limitations, at least rational.

What is neither rational nor explicable is how so many South Koreans, despite all the comforts their system and society afford, reserve a degree of sympathy and even reverence for North Korea’s system of government, or refuse to perceive how evil it is. Racism and its frequent companion, anti-Americanism, certainly have significant constituencies on the South Korean street, among radical groups, and among the politicians who sympathize with them.

The only thing that explains the residual appeal of Kim Jong Il’s death cult in both Koreas is the racist xenophobia of which Myers speaks. That element of North Korea’s ideology will survive after all of its other elements die.

Hat tip: Robert Koehler.

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Kim Dae Jung, Fallen Liberator (1925-2009)

A few days ago, a well-informed reader and commenter on this site informed me that former President Kim Dae Jung would soon pass on, yet the time proved inadequate for me to work out my own internal conflicts about Kim, or “DJ” as many called him. Maybe Kim’s contradictory legacy just isn’t amenable to mutual reconciliation. Much will be said in the coming days — deservedly so — of DJ’s role in democratizing the South. Less will be said of all he did to forestall democratization in the North, a nation that is dying for want of a government that is accountable for its errors, crimes, and atrocities.

The great symbol of DJ’s legacy will be one act that symbolized so much else about his era — the illegal payments he asked ex-spymaster Lim Dong Won to make to Kim Jong Il, which he used to buy himself his Nobel Peace Prize and to accelerate a North Korea policy that not only failed completely to realize its stated objectives, but which probably extended Kim Jong Il’s misrule for a decade and, by extension, probably resulted in tens of thousands of North Korean deaths at the very least. The Sunshine Policy eventually meant turning a blind eye to the suffering of North Koreans in bilateral relations, at the U.N., and at South Korean consulates where refugees would be discouraged and occasionally betrayed. These things will be just one more source of bitterness that will impede the reunification process for decades.

Unlike his successor, Roh Moo Hyun, however, DJ’s legacy contains legitimate accomplishments and redeeming qualities.

For example, I’ve sometimes thought Kim’s election forestalled South Korea’s collapse into chaos in the bitter years of the Asian financial crisis. I still remember how bitter Koreans were in those times. Characteristically, they found a way to turn the bitterness outward toward foreign scapegoats — chiefly, the IMF for insisting on austerity measures as a condition of its financial rescue of the Korean economy, much more than at on the chaebol and government policies that caused the crisis in the first place. As president, Kim had such cred with the unions and the left that protests were (or so I speculate) relatively muted.

I don’t think anyone can dispute that DJ was personally courageous, that he put his life on the line for his beliefs, or that he made a significant contribution to South Korea’s democratization. Certainly he wasn’t the only prominent political figure who pressed for democratization, something that was probably inevitable one way or another given growing U.S. pressure for change. But in the course of fighting for it, DJ suffered more than other politicians of his time. The most dramatic example must be his remarkable hair-breadth survival after being abducted by South Korean agents in Japan, who had already brought him to the middle of the Sea of Japan, drugged him, and tied the weights to his legs. It may have been the bitterness of Park Chung Hee’s hatred of Kim that marked his transition from being a relatively benevolent dictator (compared to Syngman Rhee and Kim Il Sung, he certainly was) to an increasingly isolated and malevolent one. South Korea’s abortive descent into tyranny under Chun Doo Hwan was terminated in part by the massacre at Kwangju, but also by the combined efforts of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan — through outgoing Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke and incoming National Security Advisor Richard Allen — to spare Kim from execution on trumped-up charges.

Some (I would not be one of those) would find it ironic that Allen is now one of the leading lights of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

It’s less well-known, however, that DJ’s first close scrape may have been when he was jailed by the North Koreans in 1950 and scheduled to be shot. Then, it was the Incheon landings that saved him — the North Koreans fled before they got around to massacring the prisoners. If this vignette is true, it’s telling that Kim Dae Jung said very little about it in his later years (was the story embellished to give Kim anti-communist cred in the 1960’s, or was Kim’s silence just another case of covering for the North Koreans?). The North Koreans arrested Kim for being a “capitalist;” Kim had taken over the Japanese shipping company for which he’d worked until the end of the occupation in 1945. Like Park Chung Hee, Kim found his own accommodation with the Japanese and began his rise before their departure.

In any event, you would think that a man whose life was saved by the Americans no less than three times might have come to recognize the United States as more of a positive influence, but in his later years, Kim turned positively anti-American. Or maybe you forgot that back in 2006, he constructed this elaborate theory for blaming “neocons” and the military-industrial complex for the North Korean nuclear crisis:

“How North Korea will do with its missiles and nuclear weapons”¦ Those will be just children’s toys in front of the U.S.,” Kim was quoted as saying in the interview. [Kim Dae-Jung] also blamed Japan’s right-wing politicians, including Shinjo Abe, for exploiting North Korean issues to boost their popularity. “Shinjo Abe, certain to become Japan’s new prime minister, eventually garnered more popularity by attacking North Korea,” Kim said.

Kim said America’s military industry has enjoyed windfall gains by selling their weapons to Japan and others throughout North Korea’s nuclear standoff. [Le Monde, via Yonhap, archived here]

It gets worse:

Former President Kim said, “We give the United States everything to give, and yet we don’t hear good things. After mentioning Vietnam, the deployment of Korean troops to Iraq, the transfer of the Yongsan Garrison, the redeployment of the 2nd Infantry Division to rear positions and the KoreUS FTA (sic), he said, “Americans don’t talk about that, and ask why we’ve forgotten their help. [….]

Kim explained, “Refusing dialogue with North Korea, U.S. neocons keep pushing North Korea down a mistaken path while misusing [the North Korea issue], and this is because of China. He added, “Neocons, thinking of China as a hypothetical enemy, is expanding its armaments like missile defense (MD) and re-arming Japan”¦ It’s looking for an excuse to do this, and that’s North Korea. [….]

About Japan, he said, “You have to solve the kidnapping issue as the kidnapping issue, and handle dialogue as dialogue, but Japanese rightwingers are boosting their popularity by attacking North Korea”¦ North Korea should see through the meaning of the hardline policies of U.S. neocons and Japanese rightwing forces and do the opposite, but instead it keeps wrecking the situation by giving them excuses. [Robert Koehler]

DJ’s suggestion that those policies were “hardline” or “neocon” would later be undermined by none other than President Barack Obama, who continued and expanded North Korea’s economic isolation in the face of more North Korean provocations, and North Korea’s refusal to disarm in exchange for significant U.S. concessions.

Nor did Kim ever come to terms with the failure of the Sunshine Policy, its failure to change North Korea, or North Korea’s responsibility for destroying the crumbling facades it built at Kaesong and Kumgang. Toward the end of his life, Kim’s criticism of the current South Korean president grew increasingly shrill and distanced from the reality of North Korea’s refutation of Kim’s own legacy. Most bizarre was the juxtaposition of Kim’s accusations against Lee of “dictatorship” and “strong-arm politics” with his criticism of Lee for failing to censor North Korean defectors who floated anti-Kim Jong Il leaflets across the DMZ to their homeland.

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South Korea: Always There When They Need Us

South Korea, whose main contribution to the war in Afghanistan so far has been to pay the Taliban a $20 million ransom, has ruled out sending troops there to help fight them.

Who still thinks that the unsound fundamentals of the US-ROK alliance have suddenly renewed under President Lee, or doubts that Lee’s decision was an acknowledgement of the anti-American sentiments of South Korean voters, sentiments that can only remain latent for so long?  Who still thinks that Obama’s election has changed that?  Certainly not those of us who were posted in South Korea during the last years of the Clinton Administration.

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