[OUTLOOK]Sometimes we forgive too muchSouth Korea’s President Roh Moo-hyun is a fortunate man. Why? Because his people are very forgiving. Observers might say it makes no sense to call him fortunate. After all, Koreans are facing hard times and now the North has claimed to have conducted a nuclear test negotiating national security policy has become like walking on thin ice. Let me explain.
The U.S. President George W. Bush is the most powerful man in the world. That is the reality whether he likes it or not.
In a speech to the U.S. Congress on Jan. 28, 2003, Mr. Bush said that Great Britain’s intelligence agency had evidence Iraq was making attempts to import uranium from Africa. That implied Iraq was pursuing nuclear weapons. But when the United States attacked Iraq, it found nothing to prove that.
Ever since then, Mr. Bush has been criticized by the media. In briefings at the White House, reporters continue to ask about Saddam Hussein’s lack of nuclear materials. They say, “The president told the people a lie, We need explanations.” Journalists even confronted the president, asking “When did Iraq import uranium?”
As a correspondent from Korea, I find this hard to understand. President Bush never said that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons. All he did was quote Britain’s intelligence agency. But the media has persistently confronted the world’s most powerful man as if the faulty British intelligence was his direct responsibility.
“Isn’t this too much?” I asked an American reporter I met at a seminar in Washington, DC. He answered, “The president should take responsibility for everything concerning national security.”
Now, maybe it’s clear why President Roh is a fortunate man. For every mistaken assessment by Mr. Bush, President Roh seems to have made ten. In July of 2003, in an interview with ABC, he said “There is no evidence that North Korea has reproduced 8,000 nuclear fuel rods.”
In November 2004, in Los Angeles, he said North Korea’s rationale [for its nuclear ambitions and missiles] was partly reasonable. In July this year, when North Korea test-fired a salvo of missiles into the East Sea, a presidential advisor said “they were not aimed at South Korea.”
Immediately after North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Monday, President Roh held a press conference at the Blue House. I wanted Korean reporters to confront him, American-style, on behalf of South Koreans, asking, “How would you explain to the people your misjudgments on national security and your remarks on the North’s nuclear program?” But no one asked him to take responsibility.
President Roh accepted questions from only three reporters, while occasionally smiling as if the situation posed no threats to his composure; then he left the room.
President Roh once said he found it hard to serve as a president. However, I think our media, which is too tame, make South Korea an easy country in which to be president.
One more thing. President Roh has lost a golden opportunity. After the nuclear test he could have seized the initiative. He could have taken his approval rating out of the basement. He could have shown his capacity to be a leader. But he failed to do any of these things.
Mr. Bush did not make this mistake after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Then Mr. Bush had a poor approval rating which had been sinking since he took office. Many regarded him as incompetent. However, in that national crisis, he was determined to been seen as the president of the country, it’s undisputed leader in times of trouble. Standing center stage at the White House, he declared he would never forgive or compromise with terrorist attacks. Wearing a safety helmet, he went to the Ground Zero and embraced fire fighters.
It’s easy to argue now that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a mistake. However, Mr. Bush took the tough decisions required of a leader who wishes to unite his country when chaos threatens in a time of a crisis.
If only President Roh had visited the truce line immediatley after the North conducted its test, to shake hands with our soldiers there who have to risk their lives to protect the people, I think we would have all felt a lot more relieved.
If he had said, “Fellow citizens, please trust me. I will protect your way of life no matter what,” instead of making vague speeches at a sterile press conference, then I might have beem moved to tears instead of scorn.
* The writer is the city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk