[Viewpoint]U.S. should prepare an elegant exitIsn’t it a sign of getting old and growing up that people start to realize that there are many things that cannot be done with ambition alone?
There were people who thought there was nothing that the United States couldn’t do, if only the country wanted to do it. It started from the time when the United States was labeled as “the sole superpower in the world” at the end of the Cold War era. Even a new word, “hyperpower,” which goes beyond superpower, was coined for the United States.
The excessive self-confidence derived from the absolute hegemony the country openly enjoys that no other imperial power ― from the Roman Empire to the British Empire ― could enjoy in the past, gave birth to U.S. unilateralism.
It was the belief that the United States could do anything on its own without intervention from others as long as the country intended to be a “good Samaritan.” The unilateralism of the U.S. empire seemed to have reached its height when neo-conservatives gained power and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an apocalyptic catastrophe, occurred. But it didn’t take long for the United States to realize that such an idea is nothing but immaturity.
The Bush administration invaded Iraq, risking opposition from the international community. It succeeded in removing the dictator, Saddam Hussein, but failed to accomplish the goal of transplanting democracy in Iraq.
Although the Bush administration belatedly realized that there are things that can’t be done at the will of the United States, it was too late to fix its past wrongdoing. Iraq has already turned into another Vietnam.
Although the administration has decided to dispatch an additional 20,000 troops besides the 140,000 already deployed there, there is no guarantee the situation will improve.
Iraq is now turning into the graveyard of U.S. unilateralism.
The agreement reached at the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament on Tuesday was nothing but a unilateral and complete retreat, and a concession made by the United States.
North Korea, which has become a nuclear power by completing a nuclear test, has earned the guarantee of enormous political as well as economic gain simply by giving up its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, which are nothing but a useless mass of scrap iron. One million tons of heavy oil is nothing compared to the normalization of relations with the United States, which had been the pending issue between the United States and North Korea for the past 50 years since the Korean War. Also provided is the turning point, where the North can get rid of the critical stigma of being an enemy state and a terrorism-sponsoring country.
The Bush administration refused to have direct negotiations with North Korea in the past, as it stuck to the principle that it did not engage in direct dialogue with “rogue states.”
However, Washington has abandoned that principle with the adoption of the agreement this time. In addition, it has even presented a comprehensive aid package to the North as a means of inducement.
President Bush must strongly believe that the Kim Jong-il regime in the North is a bad government that should be replaced and vanish from Earth. But he must have realized that what he wanted was one thing and what can be done was another.
As a result, he has chosen to concede to the North and compromise. It is a grand transition from unilateralism to diplomacy based on realism.
At the moment, the hegemonic status of the United States is under challenge in various places in the world. Using the opportunity from the weakness the United States has revealed in Iraq, Russia, which has rich natural resources, is aiming to establish a multi-polar system that will replace the present U.S.-centered international order. China and India join hands with Russia in the background with the rapid economic growth they recently accomplished.
The U.S.-centered international order will be maintained for the time being, but it cannot last forever. There is a prediction that it will last a maximum of 30 years.
The United States has to prepare for an elegant exit. Clinging to one’s original place and refusing to admit one’s limited abilities is not nice to see. It can bring serious bad side effects. One should admit what should be admitted and have the wisdom to know when to step forward and when to retreat.
The complete turnaround of the Bush administration’s foreign policy deserves to go down in history as an important turning point in 21st century U.S. diplomatic history.
Hopefully, it will serve as an opportunity for the United States to lay the foundation for preparing an elegant exit by recognizing the international political reality and turning from unilateralism to realist diplomacy.
*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok