[GLOBAL EYE]Say a eulogy for U.S-Korea tiesThe Korea-U.S. alliance is dying, if not already dead. Government officials too often insist that the Korea-U.S. bond is solid and intact, which only shows how serious the situation is. Their attitude of denial and their attempts to cover up the situation are the key problems. They lack a sense of reality, or even worse, want to look elsewhere even when they realize there are problems. In any case, we cannot hope the situation improves by itself.
The alliance began to crack a long time ago. What has torn the two countries apart? First of all, Korea has changed. Once we achieved a coveted democracy by our own hands, Koreans started to believe that Korea doesn’t need to submit to the United States to legitimize our government. Korea was once pressured to open its market, even at the expense of our national pride, because of its huge trade surplus with the United States. But now we no longer have to swallow our pride in order to enter the American market. Our pleas for help after the country’s sudden economic collapse in 1997 are now just a distant memory. In fact, back then some people blamed the United States for putting us in a difficult position.
More recently, the voters have chosen a president who has no debt to the United States. That certainly made Washington nervous. The president has chosen Blue House aides who can say “no” to Washington, which is part of the reason that talk about dispatching additional troops to Iraq has created so much unnecessary controversy.
But I am not here to blame them for the death of the alliance. They have their reasons to oppose Washington. They grew up hating their predecessors who were submissive to the United States.
It is not just Korea that has changed. The United States is no longer what it used to be, especially after the devastating 9/11 attacks, which caused the entire country to panic. American society has picked up on the hysteria, and we can no longer expect the generosity of the most powerful country in the world.
Washington is obsessed with the idea that it has to guard its status as the sole superpower at any cost. Aside from the neoconservatives in the White House, President George W. Bush is different from his predecessors. A born-again Christian, Mr. Bush sees the world in terms of black and white, no gray. Koreans cheered when he said he wouldn’t try to change the political system in Pyeongyang, but in his mind, he still thinks the North Korean leader presides over one part of the “axis of evil.” To Mr. Bush, Kim Jong-il is no different from Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Washington might reluctantly accept North Korea in talks, but it has never even dreamed of coexisting with such a country.
North Korea is one of the key reasons for the death of the alliance. Seoul has defined the North as a nation we need to embrace and care for, and has asked Washington to join this cause. However, this request began the rift between the United States and Korea. If North Korea is not an enemy, why do we need the United States? As our stance on North Korea has softened and the government has pursued the tolerance-based “Sunshine Policy,” Washington was bound to become estranged from us.
The more Washington mentioned the military threat North Korea poses, the more Koreans started to see the United States as an obstacle to the grand reconciliation of the two Koreas. I understand why some of the president’s aides give Washington the cold shoulder. After all, they are supposed to be devoted to reconciliation and cooperation with the North.
It would be ideal if we could keep the inter-Korean cooperation and maintain the useful and beneficial alliance with the United States. But that is too much to ask for. The United States has become an unpopular partner to us as well as to the rest of the world.
Even though the few so-called “Korea watchers” in Washington are exhausted from their efforts to preserve the U.S.-Korea alliance, I feel the need to stop talking about the United States. The bond cannot be saved now. We can only delay its destined death.
It might be too early to play a requiem in honor of the Korea-U.S. alliance. But I have spoken on behalf of the soon-to-be-dead in the manner of a living person writing his own obituary to boost what life he has left.
* The writer is an editorial writer and director of the JoongAng Ilbo Unification Research Institute.
by Kil Jeong-woo