Washington — Ho hum, how are we to respond to the South Korean government’s sudden standoffishness? We do have our plates full with the war against terrorism and with Saddam Hussein. Now long-simmering anti-Americanism in South Korea seems to be coming to a boil. There have been large anti-American demonstrations in South Korea. During the recent elections there were prissy references to us from candidate Roh Moo Hyun. After his December 19 election Mr. Roh has displayed a reluctance to join with us in opposing the North Korean nuclear threat. In fact, Mr. Roh has even postured that he might serve as a mediator between the United States and North Korea. It is all very perplexing given the fact that after the Cold War about the only reason for the United States to station 37,000 troops in South Korea has been to demonstrate that we stand by South Korea in its defense against the bully to the North.
After all what does it matter to us if the North invades the South and turns it into a playground for Kim Jong Il? There is no vast geopolitical game going on there as was the case during the Cold War. Then North Korea could be seen as a Communist pawn against the Western democracies. A gain for the Communists was a loss for us. North Korea was part of a Communist camp arrayed against the West. Today North Korea is part of no international movement that I recognize unless it be an international movement of dissolute playboys with a yearning to stay in power by threatening nearby neighbors.
For some not very well thought out reasons, Mr. Roh seems to think that the United States is the reason North Korea is a brutish tyranny. He blames the Bush Administration for not being more sympathetic to the North. He seems to think that Kim Jong Il is a reasonable man with whom he can do business. I say let him do business with Mr. Kim. In fact I say it is time we save ourselves the expense of those 37,000 rowdy troops in South Korea and bring them home. Let Mr. Roh deal with Mr. Kim unimpeded by Washington.
Admittedly Mr. Roh’s predecessor, President Kim Dae Jung, was not terribly successful in appeasing his North Korean counterpart. His Sunshine Policy, as it was felicitously known, won him a Nobel Prize for creating ties between the South and the North. Yet the North continued to build its nuclear potential in contraventions to signed treaties. Now President Kim Jong Il appears more of a menace to world peace than ever. Perhaps Jimmy Carter whom President Kim lied to about his nuclear intentions is not the only appeaser who should return his Nobel Prize. He and the author of the Sunshine Policy could return their prizes together.
Frankly I would have thought that the South Koreans would want their steadfast American allies to remain in South Korea. What is known about the North Korean dictator is not reassuring. His father, who preceded him as dictator, was recognized as a tough old Stalinist. There was always something reliable about him. His son suggests unreliability. He is a sybarite, given to drink, gourmandizing, and licentiousness. Worse he has a murderous record.
Not only is he allowing his countrymen to starve, he has a record of terror. James R. Lilley, our very able and wise ambassador to South Korea from 1986 to 1989, has told ABC News that while serving as apprentice dictator to his father, Kim Jong Il “plotted, for instance, the sabotage of KA-858 in November 1987, when 115 South Koreans were blown up. There’s also indications that he may have been behind the Rangoon bombing when 17 people from the highest echelons of the South Korean government were killed and the president missed being killed by a few minutes.”
If South Koreans now feel comfortable living in this man’s backyard after he has armed himself with nuclear weapons, I say it is time we get our 37,000 troops out of harm’s way. This would not be a withdrawal from all Asia, for we already maintain sizable forces in the region. What is more they are stationed in areas where they are treated hospitably. For too many years America’s willingness to defend weaker nations has been taken advantage of. This is one opportunity for us to step aside and let the prima donna beneficiary of our strength go it alone. I say good-bye Seoul. Call us when you need us.