[Outlook]Time for teamwork

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[Outlook]Time for teamwork

The storm that Barack Obama created has calmed a little. It is now time to think about the implications his victory has for South Korea. Few would deny his win was historic. Africans say Obama has his origins in their continent. Muslim fundamentalists don’t dare ignore or hate him because he was named after Muslim prophet Barack Hussein.

Critics say the United States has become an empire that depends solely on power to maintain its dominance. To become a world leader, a country needs not only military and economic power but also soft power, such as culture that makes good impressions abroad and respect for the opinions of international society. But the U.S. has ignored this since George W. Bush took office.

The country has pursued unilateralism instead of international cooperation, and military power rather than dialogue. All the world’s countries are happy about Obama’s victory because they expect the U.S. will change.

The U.S. has given people hope since it was founded. While Old Europe had difficulty with royal regimes, the U.S. founding fathers created a country based on freedom, equality and individual dignity. Whenever the U.S. has become lost in the course of history, it has managed to find its way back to the founding fathers’ dreams. Obama was elected thanks to these dreams as well. Pursuing them, the U.S. will become a better country, which is good for the entire world.

So will be the world more peaceful? Will Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden stop terrorist attacks? Will North Korea give up its nuclear ambitions and return to the world order? Has the era of anti-Americanism come to an end? Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the case.

Woodrow Wilson during World War I, Franklin Roosevelt during World War II and Jimmy Carter after the Vietnam War each pursued idealism. It is natural for Obama’s idealism to emerge after the harsh reality of neo-conservatism.

The problem is that idealism doesn’t always guarantee peace. Countries tend to take care of their own interests and international order is based on power. That won’t change easily.

If in the rebound from the Iraq War, Obama gives up interventionism and chooses isolationism, the space the U.S. used to fill in the world order will become hollow, and the planet will likely become more insecure. As for economic issues, Obama has already revealed his emphasis on protectionism rather than free trade. Obama values moral and international cooperation but he pursues his own country’s interests.

Obama’s appearance may create a more desirable climate in the world but it won’t necessarily benefit Korea. This is why it isn’t easy to figure out what we should focus on in diplomacy. Obama opposes a free trade agreement with South Korea because he wants to protect the U.S. auto industry and he thinks the deal is disadvantageous to his country. If the U.S. leans more towards protectionism, the effect will be fatal to us because we are heavily dependent on exports.

As for North Korea’s nuclear issues, Obama will be in an ever bigger hurry to resolve them than Bush. But North Korea’s nuclear arms don’t pose a serious threat to the U.S. The only thing Washington has to do is prevent North Korea’s nuclear weapons and technologies from spreading. But the North’s nuclear weapons threaten us directly.

Naturally, the United States sees the issue from a more global viewpoint while we focus on North Korea. To be honest, benefits that we have enjoyed so far as a U.S. ally will inevitably be reduced by Obama’s election.

We participated in the G-20 summit, renegotiated a beef import deal and signed a won-dollar currency swap deal to mitigate the foreign exchange crisis, mostly thanks to the South Korea-U.S. alliance. But the U.S. under Obama will think more about the entire world than a specific alliance.

It remains to be seen how Obama’s appearance will affect anti-American sentiment inside South Korea. Our country’s anti-Americanism is closely related to North Korea. Just as it is difficult for the North to become pro-American, anti-American forces in South Korea won’t easily reverse course, although the degree of their sentiments may weaken.

We can’t ignore the fact that even an idealist like Obama prioritizes his country’s economic interests. We should think seriously about how we can advance our national interests to the fullest. If the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration becomes estranged from Obama, the progressive opposition party must work to win the American president over. The same is true for North Korea’s nuclear issues. If the opposition party works toward this goal, we will feel secure if they assume power in the next administration.

*The writer is the vice publisher and chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Moon Chang-keuk

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