[OUTLOOK]Roh must put country first

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[OUTLOOK]Roh must put country first

President Roh Moo-hyun has been pushed to the edge of a cliff by North Korea’s brinksmanship. Kim Jong-il earned international sanctions after a nuclear test, but he knew that he himself would be pushed to the edge of a cliff if he went ahead with his provocation. However, Mr. Roh had insisted that we should engage North Korea, instead of pushing it into a corner, in order to make it drop its nuclear ambitions. The president was totally betrayed. Nobody can deny that the North’s nuclear test means Mr. Roh has failed in his policy on North Korea.
Last month, in a meeting with political leaders of the ruling and opposition parties, Mr. Roh said the North’s nuclear test was a small problem. He also said “I would like to take time in analyzing the argument that our policy of engaging the North led to its nuclear test.” That means he did not want to admit his failure. However, I wonder how many South Koreans agree with him.
Mr. Roh needs to have a better perception of reality. He should realize that he, along with Kim Jong-il, is up on the edge of a cliff. He should understand that he is a president in a crisis. Otherwise, he cannot escape the situation. If one tries to cure a disease without knowing the exact diagnosis, the disease will likely only worsen.
Mr. Roh has time to repair his failure. The question is what he should do. History can give him some direction. Mr. Roh said he most respects former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. The South Korean president wrote a book “Roh Moo-hyun Meets Lincoln.” The great U.S. president is a great teacher to learn from.
After entering office, Mr. Lincoln acted differently than he had pledged when it came to the issue of slavery. For instance, when General John Fremont of the northern states of the federal union ordered the liberation of all slaves, Mr. Lincoln immediately rescinded the order and fired General Fremont. The president feared that Missouri would resist the measure proposed by Geneneral Fremont and secede from the union, risking the collapse of the union.
African-Americans and proponents of the liberation of slaves said that Mr. Lincoln had broken his pledge.
But the president made it clear that he, as a public official, believed that the most important of his duties was to retain the union, not to protect or abolish slavery, in a letter to the New York Tribune. For Mr. Lincoln, his country came before his personal political convictions. It is worth remembering that Mr. Roh wrote in his book that he respected Mr. Lincoln’s patriotism.
Stephen Grover Cleveland, the former U.S. president who served two non-consecutive terms, is another good example. As a member of the Democratic Party, he can be said to have been the first U.S. president to truly understand workers. He legalized labor unions and created a department of labor. In 1886, in the president’s annual message to Congress, Mr. Cleveland said he would never accept labor exploitation. Workers called him a friend.
But in 1884, when a railway union staged a strike in Chicago, paralyzing the railways, Mr. Cleveland changed his stance. As dialogue failed and the situation worsened, he mobilized the military and ended the strike, saying he had no choice but to send troops in to protect law and order. When he passed away in 1908, Mr. Cleveland was called president who served America, not his political faction, by the London Morning Post.
Mr. Roh is now required to act decisively, as did Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Cleveland. Mr. Roh should exert the leadership and courage to deny his personal convictions and ideology. I hope he can break his silence and present a stance determined enough to make North Korea step back. I hope he does not fear that if South Korea provokes North Korea, the Korean Peninsula will become unstable, but that instead he can make North Korea fear South Korea.
Ronald Reagan is one of the five U.S. presidents that Americans respect the most. He cultivated peace while fighting the former Soviet Union. Although North Korea is not the same as the former Soviet Union, Mr. Reagan’s determination made the Soviet Union come out in favor of peace. Mr. Roh is being criticized even within his own party, so he has almost nothing to lose. But still there are things he needs to drop ― his persistence and personal convictions.

* The writer is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Sang-il
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