[TODAY]There is no free lunch for KoreaToo much success can sometimes be the seed of misfortune. For the United States, the war in Iraq could be called such a case. There have been more American casualties in Iraq since President George W. Bush announced the end of the war in May than during the conflict. Saddam Hussein, who should either be dead or politically and militarily incapable by now, has become a faceless voice encouraging the Iraqis to resist the American occupation. For many Americans, the situation in Iraq revives nightmares about Vietnam.
The war that everyone thought was over is continuing to take the lives of American soldiers. Domestic support for Mr. Bush took a steep fall, threatening his chance for re-election next year. According to a Washington Post-ABC News survey, 46 percent of the participants opposed the way Mr. Bush had handled the war in Iraq, a 9-percentage-point jump in three weeks. Support for Mr. Bush fell from 56 percent to 52 percent.
The sense of crisis that the Bush administration feels is demonstrated by its request to its allies and friends, including Korea, to send additional troops to Iraq. In a rare event, Mr. Bush met the Korean foreign minister at the White House. In his meeting with Yoon Young-kwan, the foreign minister, Mr. Bush inquired about his “friend” President Roh Moo-hyun.
Choe Byung-yul, leader of the opposition Grand National Party, was reportedly anxious before leaving on his visit to the United States two weeks ago because he was unable to schedule any appointments with high-ranking U.S. officials. Then all of a sudden, figures like Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defense secretary, and Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, were available for meetings.
The change most likely resulted from the U.S. government’s calculations that it would be hard to convince Korea to send the level of troop support it wants without the backing of the No. 1 party in the National Assembly.
A high-ranking official in Washington last week predicted that the makeup of the Korean force that the United States has in mind is similar to that of the Polish force already operating in Iraq. He said that Washington would request at least thousands of soldiers, and he did not exclude the possibility of asking for more than 10,000. The Polish force of some 3,000 men is leading a 9,000-strong multinational division in peacekeeping duties in Iraq’s central-south region.
The United States is looking for a second “Poland” to relieve the 101st Airborne Division that it wants to bring home. The United States is now counting on Seoul after its hopes of India and Australia sending in a large number of additional troops fell through. That is why Mr. Bush met the Korean foreign minister and Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Armitage had meetings with the Grand National Party leader.
There is no such thing as a free lunch in this world. One could consider the request for troops as the bill addressed to the Blue House stating the price for having heard Mr. Bush call Mr. Roh “my friend.” Grand National Party leader Choe Byung-yul also came back from his visit with a burden as well as the fruits of having met two high-ranking officials in Washington.
It would be a heavy one to bear with the general elections around the corner next year. In particular, should the United States request that Korea relieve its 101st Airborne Division, there would be more heated opposition.
What will be the Roh government’s choice? To give the conclusion first, in the end there can be no avoiding the call of the United States. Korea would be driven to a situation where we have no choice but to send a force of some thousand soldiers at least. Setting the conditions for our troop dispatch might sound fine as political rhetoric aimed at persuading the public but it would hardly change the substance of things.
What the government should do now is to declare that it is sending troops to Iraq in accordance with the spirit of the Korea-U.S. alliance and then bargain over the size and jurisdictional area of the Korean force.
Instead of haggling over the conditions of the dispatch, we should use the dispatch as a lever in bargaining over the issue of the relocation of U.S. forces in Korea.
It was a crude international misstep for a Blue House official to have publicly spoken against sending troops to Iraq even before our official position was decided. It was a behavior that displayed ignorance of international politics and Korean-U.S. relations. It would be better for the government to leave the protests to the public.
It is needless to worry about Iraq turning into a second Vietnam. The United States, in any case, succeeded in driving Saddam Hussein out. Hussein is not Ho Chi Minh. There are no Viet Minh or Viet Cong forces in Iraq. In fact, the biggest threat to the stability of Iraq is the United States’ insatiable greed to hoard its war trophies.
If the United Nations passes a second resolution and the countries that had opposed the war ― France, Germany and Russia ― participate in the post-war recovery effort in Iraq, then finally the end of the war in Iraq could become a reality.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie