[Outlook]The president’s friendsThe truth is so precious that it must be attended by a bodyguard of lies. That’s what Winston Churchill said during World War II. That remark is witty indeed, as Churchill was himself. Any people in power wrap the truth with lies when initiating new political works. However, it is hard to cover the truth entirely. Rumors swirl; like the Chinese saying goes, “When the wind blows, there are ripples.”
Right after North Korea conducted a nuclear test, rumors spread about a possible summit between South and North Korea. That turned out to be true. A person who had business with North Korea and worked for the government as a go-between revealed that a person close to the president had made unofficial contact with the North in order to hold a “get-together of the top brass from South and North Korea.”
The Blue House explains that immediately after North Korea’s nuclear test, it was contacted by North Korea and it sent a “person close to the president” to investigate. The Blue House says it halted the contact right away.
But the question is not about how serious the contact was, or how long the contact took place.
The problem is that a civilian who was not a special envoy or an official government representative became a link, just because North Korea wanted him.
When Seoul and Pyongyang meet with one another, there are certain formalities and procedures that we need to follow. The government may say it is a natural to use unofficial associates in diplomacy; however, it is wrong to employ an ordinary citizen for a matter that would have tremendous effects.
Being one of the president’s inner circle does not qualify him.
Of course, people close to power can take part in state affairs. The United States, a country that has used a presidential system for some 200 years, has many unofficial aides who are acknowledged members in political circles. Even though they do not hold official positions, they do not evaporate the moment the people they work for disappear. They specialize in certain areas; for instance, elections or diplomacy.
President George W. Bush’s aide, Karl Rove, is a good example, but Edward Mandel House, who was the closest advisor to President Woodrow Wilson, is more representative. Even though he was never soldier material, he earned the nickname Colonel House. He was a rich person in Texas. He could live off interest at the bank so he did not need to work at all.
In 1912, he helped Wilson, the governor of New Jersey at the time, win the presidency, and he became the person closest to the president. He did not have any official titles, but he crossed and recrossed the Atlantic Ocean directing U.S. diplomacy before and after World War I.
President Wilson designated two rooms in the northern part of the White House as a residence for House for six years, a very special favor that current workers at the Blue House who are famous for strong connections to the President can barely copy.
House was not the type who simply took pride in mixing with the powerful. He was a specialist on policies who handled the president’s work. In 1910, he wrote an anonymous novel, “Philip Drew: Administrator.” In the book, Philip Drew rises to power. He introduces a social security system, supports workers participation in management and a progressive tax, and creates an international security body, something close to the United Nations of today. These policies were actually realized and became the policy line of the Democratic Party after the New Deal in the 1930s.
At the Paris Peace Conference held after the end of World War I, Wilson suggested forming an international body.
But House deserves credit for this concept. Later, House had a disagreement with Wilson, so he bolted from the circle of close aides. But House did not disappear; he left a mark in history.
House gathered some 150 scholars, including Walter Lippmann, and formed a research group called “Inquiry” to study the world order after World War I. This group was officially established as the Council on Foreign Relations, and the council has functioned as a think tank that directs U.S. foreign policy even today.
It’s been nearly 60 years since Korea adopted a presidential system. Now, we even have started an adventure, breaking trade barriers with Washington.
First, we need to rethink the idea of “close aides.” We need to modernize aides. We do not need people who, based on personal bonds alone, share the destiny of people in power.
We need aides who specialized in certain sectors such as foreign affairs the economy and education, and who can look forward into the future, just like Edward Mandel House.
*The writer is a professor of international relations at Kyungsung University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Gweon Yong-lib
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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