[Viewpoint] A tale of two parties“How are we going to persuade all these people?”
They say Chairman Chyung Dai-chul and Policy Committee Chair Chung Se-kyun of the then-ruling New Millennium Democratic Party sighed as they thought this over before dispatching troops to Iraq in 2003.
After all, more than half of the assemblymen were against the dispatch of troops.
After much deliberation, the two leaders started to call each representative to persuade them one by one.
“I fully understand your thoughts, assemblyman. However, let us take responsibility as the representatives of the ruling party and think of the public interest.”
Even assemblymen with firm positions started to open their hearts to the strong appeal of Chyung and Chung, and the bill to dispatch troops made it through the National Assembly. Korea sent around 3,000 soldiers to Iraq - the third highest number after the United States and Britain - contributed to reconstruction of the local field and ended up raising the national dignity of Korea, too.
The Democratic Party today, led by Chung Se-kyun, is raising its voice against the dispatch of troops to Afghanistan, an issue that will be voted on in the National Assembly this month.
However, recalling Chairman Chung’s maturity when troops were dispatched to Iraq, I do not believe he is genuine about the party’s claim this time. Chairman Chung is a politician who knows the public interest. He focused his energy on exporting nuclear power technology when he was the minister of commerce, industry and energy during the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
Even when the progressive camp claimed that the export of nuclear power did not fit the age of green development, he had the courage to dismiss the view by saying, “Why should we kill the technology and human resources of the field over which we have secured large international superiority?”
Since Chung had this attitude, I believe he is well aware of the need to dispatch troops, just like other influential Democratic Party assemblymen who served as ministers or generals in the former Kim Dae-jung or Roh Moo-hyun administrations.
U.S. President Barack Obama is experiencing a very difficult time right now. According to Rasmussen Reports, his support rate has fallen to two-thirds of its original figure after just one year in office, and his Democratic Party suffered a miserable loss in the Senate race in Massachusetts, a stronghold of the Democratic Party, for the first time in 38 years.
Supporters are complaining that his policies are not as progressive as they thought, and Republican opponents are attacking all agenda items from domestic politics to diplomacy, as if they had been waiting to do so for a long time.
All this political tumult in the U.S. casts Korea’s Democratic Party in a strange light. The DP here is assaulting the Lee Myung-bak administration regarding the North Korea problem, but is supporting Obama, saying it will soon attempt talks with Pyongyang. However, what Obama actually desperately wants from Korea is the dispatch of troops to Afghanistan.
If opposition from the Korean Democratic Party causes problems for the sending of troops, Obama could end up in a bigger political predicament than just fending off attacks from the Republican Party that he failed to not only handle the U.S.-Japan alliance smoothly, but also the U.S.-Korea alliance.
This is not good for the Korean Democratic Party. The Democratic Party claims that it is concerned about the safety of troops in Afghanistan and that public sentiment is negative.
However, the safety of troops and opposition of the public were big obstacles during the Iraq War, too. Nevertheless, the Roh Moo-hyun administration thought of the benefit that a troop presence there could bring first. Based on this perspective, it found a safe posting and made efforts to persuade the public, and ended up sending troops.
If the Democratic Party is a party that picks up where the Roh Moo-hyun administration left off, it will know that the safety of troops and public opposition are problems that need to be solved through efforts to reach out, not justifications to reject the dispatch of troops.
* The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kang Chan-ho