[Viewpoint] Learning from Dubai’s desert folly

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[Viewpoint] Learning from Dubai’s desert folly

‘The wise have knowledge of all things, but place the most important first. The benevolent love all things, but first have affinity for the virtuous.

“Yao and Shun did not know all things, but they did place the important first. Yao and Shun did not love all people, but they did focus on growing intimate with the virtuous.”

Mencius emphasized in “Jin Xin” that every matter is of different importance, and therefore of different priority.

Something could be important and necessary, but you need to prioritize first. Mencius rebuked those who got involved in a less-urgent matter before attending to something of a higher priority.

If Mencius were alive today, he would give a lesson to a certain Middle Eastern leader who did not understand correct prioritization.

Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai was too greedy and rash. He ambitiously promoted the building of the tallest artificial structure in the world, the Burj Dubai, and the creation of artificial islands in the shape of a palm tree, The Palm Islands. But he should have pushed only so far as he was capable of keeping things under control.

Even if he could not foresee the global financial crisis, if he had taken one step at a time, he could have kept from slipping and falling down the stairs.

At the same time, we can’t treat the sheikh’s fall as some foreign matter, because the diligent Korean president is just as ambitious and hasty.

Korea may not be pursuing a parade of construction projects that add up to six times the gross domestic product, as Dubai did, but there are certainly too many things on our plate.

The explosive Sejong City project is serious enough, but the president is meddling with nearly everything - the four rivers project, educational reform, the administrative district reshuffle, public corporation reform, the labor issue, even constitutional revisions.

He is eager to resolve every single problem in this country in the remaining second half of his term. He has a logical argument for each. Just as the senior secretary for public relations explained, all these issues are old and deep-rooted problems, and their resolution must not be delayed.

We all understand how the president truly feels. When problems are so evident, he won’t want to look away and pass them on to his successor.

However, the president alone cannot handle everything. It was not possible even in the days of the wise kings Yao and Shun, and it would be even more challenging today. We are not living in an authoritarian era when the opposition can be quieted forcibly.

A nation is not a business where employees have to follow the decision of the CEO even if they oppose it.

The president should have set priorities. He should contemplate the weight of each matter and decide its urgency, especially when the opposition party is against everything he does, and even rivals inside the ruling party are challenging his authority.

But he decided to extend the front to cover all issues, so he cannot put his utmost efforts into any single one.

Despite all the noise and fury, not much progress is made anywhere.

The president apologized, but the opposition party responded by carrying out some kind of “resistance strugle.”

I am afraid that the president may end up getting nothing done.

A similar fiasco took place during World War II.

The German tank divisions, the Panzers III and IV at their head, completely destroyed the Maginot Line, thought to be impregnable. Six weeks after its fall, France surrendered to Germany.

At the time, French forces were no less strong than German forces. Equipped with thick armor and 75 mm howitzers, the French Char B1 tanks were far stronger than the Panzers, with 37 mm guns. However, the French forces were defeated for two reasons. The tanks were spread across the 750-kilometer-long (466-mile-long) Maginot Line. And the Char B1 did not have radio communication, which Panzer tanks were equipped with.

Even Germany considered the French forces the strongest in the world, but the French were helpless as Germany made concentrated attacks on single spots after exchanging information and coordinating operations over the radio.

There is no “if” in history, but it is a privilege of the contemporary to imagine a history that did not happen. If you understand urgency and priority, you will learn a lesson from the defeat at Maginot - narrow the front and reinforce your communications.

And, as seen in the Panzer, internal communication is of the highest priority.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hoon-beom
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