[VIEWPOINT]Weakening the U.S. positionAmerica’s political conservatives have been practicing the sort of impractical foreign policy utopianism once associated with world-reforming liberals. Nowhere is this more evident ― or dangerous ― than in our deteriorating relationship with South Korea.
South Korea’s populist President Roh Moo-hyun has been bitterly criticized by the U.S. right for making friendly gestures toward North Korea. Likewise, his predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, made a point of being the first foreign head of government to call on newly inaugurated President George W. Bush, only to find himself verbally worked over for initiating the “sunshine policy” toward the North.
When the Korean War began in 1950, the Cold War was pervasive, communism seemed to have the global initiative, and the stakes were ultimately nuclear in nature. The war confirmed the wisdom of restraint along with force and demonstrated the complexities of the diplomatic world. We did not liberate the North but did firmly defend the South. Restraint mixed with firmness has kept the peace for half a century. South Korea, meanwhile, has performed nothing less than a modernization miracle.
When the next major war developed, in Southeast Asia, South Korea repaid American support. Throughout our direct involvement in that conflict, Seoul maintained approximately 50,000 combat troops by the side of the Americans and South Vietnamese.
Today, rising tensions and a weakening military posture on the Korean Peninsula are the direct result of the radical confrontational approach of the Bush administration and its ideological allies.
The draining demands of the Iraq occupation, unexpected and unplanned for by the administration, have resulted in the withdrawal of U.S. troops and large amounts of armor from South Korea. An important military card in the long-term duel with North Korea has been surrendered with no diplomatic gain for our side.
In economic terms, the diplomatic distance between Seoul and Washington can only strengthen the hand of Beijing as China steadily grows in economic and military might. Fully 20 percent of South Korea’s exports are now going to China, and that trend will only continue to grow.
The Bush administration, through narrow fixation on Iraq and alternating bullying and neglect of our once close ally South Korea, is greatly weakening our position in Korea, Asia and ultimately the world.
*The writer is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin and author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press).
by Arthur I. Cyr