[TODAY]As a president dreams, he will ruleLee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, once said, “Ferdinand Marcos drained and ruined the Philippines during the 20 years he ruled the country, turning millions of Filipinos into housemaids and construction site workers wandering around the world. One five-year term of office by a bad president dries up the resources of a country. Two five-year terms, and two generations become bankrupt.”
When Mr. Marcos was elected president in 1965, the Philippines’ gross national product per capita was $233, which was much higher than Korea’s $125 under the Park Chung Hee government. I had the good fortune of holding a breakfast interview with Mr. Marcos shortly before he was inaugurated.
I still remember the breakfast vividly. There was no one waiting on the table and the soon-to-be first lady, Imelda Marcos, offered me some papayas, brought in the breakfast and served tea. In her mid-30s at the time, Mrs. Marcos’s glamour and vivacity gave her an aura of strong vitality. The Marcoses, at the time, looked like the perfect couple for the Philippines.
Ferdinand Marcos explained to me his grand vision of turning Manila into the financial center of Asia. Thanks to his devoted efforts, Manila, not Tokyo, would become the site of the Asian Development Bank headquarters. I had thought that Mr. Marcos, with his vision and ambitious spirit, would turn the Philippines into the wealthiest country in Asia.
Instead, Mr. Marcos, after 20 long years of dictatorship, transformed the Philippines into the world’s biggest exporter of maids. He was ousted by a popular revolt and fled to Hawaii, a sick man. His plight brought to mind the words of Wizing, a revered servant of Emperor Taizong of the Chinese Tang Dynasty, “A lord is a ship and the people are the water. The water sets the ship afloat and lets people embark on the ship, but it can also overturn the ship.”
In 1986, the year Mr. Marcos was ousted, the Philippines’ GNP per person was $555, a sharp contrast to Korea’s $2,250. Now, the average Filipino earns $1,100 per year while the average Korean earns $10,000. Considering the abundant natural resources there and the advantages of leading an English-speaking country, Mr. Marcos must have been a terrible president to have let his country fall so far back.
Iraq has more than 100 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. It is second only to Saudi Arabia, and oil is not its only resource. Its tourism value is potentially as great as that of Egypt, Greece or Israel. From the southernmost city of Basra to Nineveh in the north, the entire country is an outdoor history museum. Abraham’s homeland, the Garden of Eden, from which Adam and Eve hailed, and the ruins of the Tower of Babel are some of the sites mentioned in the Old Testament that can be found in Iraq. The cuneiform character set, possibly the first set of characters used by humans, was developed 6,000 years ago in the Sumerian kingdom of Iraq.
Saddam Hussein had kept the national income of this country to a mere $2,500 per person. Even if some feel the attack on Iraq by the United States was not justified, Mr. Saddam’s rule of tyranny was hardly something that was justified.
Nevertheless, we have matters closer to home than Iraq to worry about. I am not talking about North Korea. Worrying will not help there because no amount of worrying will tell us where Kim Jong-il will lead North Korea. I’m talking about our own president, Roh Moo-hyun. Is Mr. Roh displaying the vision and the leadership fit for the capabilities of the Korean people? Does he have what it takes to become a “good president?”
The reality surrounding the nation is gloom-inspiring. The political sector, especially the government party, is too far up to its neck in strife to care about the welfare of society. The public dispute over the Saemangeum reclamation project and the nuclear waste treatment facility planned for Buan have reached such intensity that they seem to have gone out of the control of the government. The government’s plan to use the people’s tax money to start a self-promoting online newspaper is an idea worthy of a below-average intelligence. It is only an extension of the government’s tendency to blame everything on the media. As Mr. Saddam wasted the resources of Iraq, so the Roh government is wasting the only resource that Korea has, the intelligence of Koreans.
What makes good leaders walk in evil ways? Irish poet William Butler Yeats said that all responsibilities began with dreams. When a leader holds a distorted dream, as Mr. Marcos, who dreamed of holding on to power forever, or Mr. Saddam, who fell into an expansive delusion, or Kim Dae-jung, who desired to leave his name in history forever, he loses his clear sight, and those in the upper class will indulge in corruption.
We will be watching him some more, but Mr. Roh seems to hold on to a confusing dream. Let alone other countries, the two leaders on the Korean Peninsula should have their dreams straight.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie