[OUTLOOK]Balance shifts in the U.S.The U.S. midterm elections were in fact an evaluation of President George W. Bush’s six-year rule. Mr. Bush suffered a crushing defeat when Democrats gained a majority in the House for the first time in 12 years.
Mr. Bush was distrusted by Americans due to his bossy unilateral diplomacy in general and the Iraq War in particular. Within three months of the beginning of the war, Baghdad had been seized and the Saddam Hussein regime toppled. But the United States is now stuck in problems in Iraq and cannot escape from them. Americans are totally frustrated.
As soon as the defeat of the Republicans was confirmed, the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who is known as “Mr. Iraq War,” was announced. That shows that Mr. Bush took the people’s stern verdict on the Iraq war humbly and gravely.
Congress can check the administration with powerful means, namely, legislation hearings and approval of the budget. Unlike the past six years, Mr. Bush cannot now do anything without bipartisan cooperation from Democrats in Congress. The era of Mr. Bush’s domination is over. In other words, he has entered a lame duck phase. In diplomacy, he will have to go forward to achieve peace and stability through allies, international organizations and international law. Borrowing the rhetoric experts often use, the keynote of his foreign policy is unlikely to change, but the style of it is. As style is as important as the keynote in the process of policymaking, the result of the U.S. midterm elections will have a significant influence not only domestic but also on international politics.
What will happen to North Korea’s nuclear issue and the U.S.-North Korea relationship, the two issues that interest us most? Experts in South Korea and the United States warn that it would be unwise to expect a change in the basic principles of North Korea policy from the Bush administration. Mr. Bush’s North Korea policy is based on his religious belief that North Korea is evil and he cannot negotiate with evil. Democrats who now dominate Congress also do not favor a North Korean regime that arms itself with expensive nuclear weapons and missiles while allowing its people to starve.
However, we should remember two good things that happened before the midterm elections. One is the North’s agreement to return to six-party talks and the other is the U.S. Congress’ call for U.S.-North Korea talks.
Now that North Korea has conducted a nuclear test and declared itself to be a nuclear state, even if the six-party talks are resumed, they will not go smoothly. It is unclear whether or not North Korea will abandon its nuclear ambitions. But to become exhausted while trying to resume the talks and to have a tug of war during the talks are two different things.
In regard to whether Mr. Bush will change his North Korea policy or not, a far more important thing is that Congress has called for U.S.-North Korea dialogue. In September, Congress passed a 2007 budget for national defense that had a request to employ a head of a North Korea policy review team. On Oct. 17, Mr. Bush signed the bill, without vetoing the request.
Mr. Bush has to employ the head of a North Korea policy review team within 60 days from when the defense authorization act becomes effective, which is by Dec. 17. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry headed a North Korea policy review team and has left a good example for this position. He reviewed and adjusted policy from different government bodies, set direction for a policy on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles and reported to the president and Congress. The Perry process broke the stalemate of the North Korean nuclear issue. This defense authorization act reflects the general atmosphere in Congress that calls for U.S.-North Korea dialogue. Requests from Congress are bipartisan.
When Mr. Perry enthusiastically traveled between Seoul, Pyongyang, Beijing and Tokyo and listened to opinions from each, the Kim Dae-jung administration worked hard to persuade Mr. Perry to make sure his reports would be in line with its Sunshine Policy.
It is an idle attitude to simply assume that the Bush administration will not change the principles of its North Korea policy even though it was defeated in the midterm elections. The defeat in the elections and the resignation of Mr. Rumsfeld signal that the balance between the neo-conservatives and the moderates who emphasize negotiation is leaning toward the latter. The atmosphere in Washington will change. Let’s be optimistic about the defeat of Mr. Bush. What will we say to the new head of a North Korea policy review team? We should prepare that well.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie