[Viewpoint]Learn from Roh’s mistakesPresident Lee Myung-bak’s visit to the United States scheduled for the middle of next month will be full of colorful events. President Lee will stay in the state guest house right across from the White House; an address at a joint session of Congress is being discussed; and a meal with Vice President Dick Cheney is planned.
Following the meeting with Cheney, Lee will head to Camp David in Maryland for a summit meeting and dinner with President George W. Bush. Camp David is a presidential retreat. President Bush only invites heads of state with whom he has a special partnership. It is a treat no previous Korean president, including former President Roh Moo-hyun, has ever had the chance to enjoy.
On the other hand, however, Lee is burdened with a heavy sense of responsibility. The United States might have been acting in its own national interest in giving Lee such a high level of protocol.
The United States will pay attention to Lee’s words and deeds during his stay there.
There is no need, however, for Lee to be nervous about that. There are not many pending issues Bush and Lee need to resolve. It will be good if the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement is rectified, but that issue needs to be addressed by the U.S. Congress and the Korean National Assembly, not the administration. Also, there are no pressing or urgent problems the two countries need to handle. Moreover, the summit meeting is going to occur with only about nine months left in Bush’s term. Therefore, they will naturally avoid dealing with large-scale, long-term projects that should be dealt with by the next U.S. administration.
What Lee should focus on before and during his U.S. visit is reopening the hearts of the people in both countries. Lee and the Grand National Party have promised to “revive the Korea-U.S. alliance that has been ruined over the past 10 years.” However, as Michael Green, a former senior director for Asian affairs at the U.S. National Security Council, pointed out in an article he wrote for the JoongAng Ilbo, during President Roh’s term, all pending issues related to the Korea-U.S. alliance were resolved the way the United States wanted. Green even said, “The Korea-U.S. alliance has become stronger during President Roh’s term.” I find it hard to agree with him because that way of thinking only considers results.
In the process of arriving at those results, the Roh administration created unnecessary dissonance and failed to get as much as it gave. There was no reason to say, “It is rational for North Korea to possess nuclear weapons.”
General Burwell Bell, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, made a courtesy call at the Blue House right after he arrived in Seoul two years ago, but did not get a response for two months. He is said to have complained “it was very painful,” because it marked the first time a commander of the U.S. Forces Korea had to endure such cold treatment. Pentagon officials in charge of Korean affairs were also apparently shocked when high-ranking Blue House officials they met insisted on using Korean even when they exchanged greetings and intentionally depended on interpreters.
Since Americans place importance on trust, they probably thought Koreans were not committed to the alliance. Even still, Korea dispatched troops to Iraq and agreed to realign the U.S. military bases in Korea. It ultimately provided the background for the U.S. decision to transfer wartime operational control of Korean troops to Seoul early, according to diplomatic sources.
Lee must learn from his predecessor’s failures. First, he should show Bush that Korea is a faithful ally with the same ideology as the United States. It is also important to offer the appropriate level of support for the U.S. effort to stop terrorism. If Korea has a different view from the United States, it should be honestly acknowledged.
In addition, President Lee must show he is trying to raise the morale of working-level officials of the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of National Defense and the Korean Embassy in the United States, who make contact with Americans everyday and listen to their reports.
Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, a small European country with a population of only 5 million, made such efforts and established a special relationship with President Bush, which led him to be invited to Camp David and Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch retreat six or seven times. That made it possible for him to call Bush anytime he wished. In order to restore and strengthen the Korea-U.S. relationship, which has gotten much more complicated during the last 10 years, Lee should make sincere and wise efforts.
*The writer is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kang Chan-ho