Does Moon have what it takes?A husband and father does not deserve the title if he cannot protect his wife and daughter from a criminal or does not avenge crimes against them. Two years ago a peaceful fishing island on the frontline border was set ablaze from sudden shelling by North Korea. The president failed to stop the attack and protect citizens. South Korea scurried for retaliatory action by deploying F-15K fighters that cost 100 billion won ($92 million) each. But they returned home without dropping any bombs on North Korean targets. President Lee Myung-bak fell short in both military intelligence and will. The victory on Yeonpyeong Island in terms of damages - four South Koreans killed from North Korean shelling versus 10 North Korean soldiers in South Korea’s retaliatory attack - is entirely credited to the navy with no thanks to the president. The Yeonpyeong skirmish is the biggest blunder in Lee’s five-year term.
A state leader must value national security more than his or her life. Regardless of what kind of trajectory one led before stepping into the presidential seat, as a president he or she must turn into the guardian of security.
U.S. President Barack Obama had been a civilian rights attorney. After graduating from Harvard Law School, he worked in a poor community in Chicago. But on national security, there is no opposition in America. Obama persisted with his Republican predecessor George W. Bush’s war campaign against terrorism and Al Qaeda after Sept. 11 and finally tracked down and killed the symbolic figurehead Osama bin Laden.
It was actually a Democratic administration that relentlessly pursued those accountable for the terrorist attacks in Sept. 11, 2001.
The killing of bin Laden helped Obama to secure another four years in office. The Obama campaign launched a multi-media attack against Republican candidate Mitt Romney by reminding voters of his interview in 2007 where Romney said, “It is not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person,” to imply that if Romney had been president, bin Laden would still be alive.
Some would argue that bin Laden is the world’s most notorious terrorist while North Koreans are part of our race who we need to persuade to not engage in war. But just half of North Koreans are our dialogue partners and the other half still pose a threat. The provocative North Koreans would have to be avenged so that the other peaceful group can gain more power.
Israelis consider Palestinians as both negotiating partners and provocative foes. They talk to Palestinian leadership and negotiate peace, but nevertheless react with full force upon sensing provocations and threats.
The Israeli leadership comes from the elite Israeli army commando unit Sayeret Matkal. President Shimon Peres had been the defense minister during the miraculous rescue mission of more than 100 Jewish hostages being held by Arab and German terrorists in the Entebbe airport in Uganda in 1976. Commander of the operation, Jonathan Netanyahu, was the only Israeli soldier during the rescue operation to be killed. He is the brother of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who also had been part of an operation to rescue hostages from a hijacked Sabena airliner at Ben Gurion Airport in 1972. Current Defense Minister Ehud Barak had been Netanyahu’s commander in the special unit on the rescue operation.
Moon Jae-in, the presidential candidate of the main opposition Democratic United Party, takes pride in his service with the army’s special forces in charge of reconnaissance and commando operations. He showed off his karate moves on a television show and included several pictures of him in a black beret in his autobiography.
His sense of pride from having trained in the elite and excruciating commando service is justifiable especially when there are so many politicians who escaped military service for various questionable reasons. But the experience alone does not ensure a resolute security perspective.
There were several incidents that undermined national security while Moon served as chief of staff to former President Roh Moo-hyun. In 2005, anti-American activists hurled rocks and tried to destroy a statue of U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur who led allied forces in an attack that turned the tide of the 1950-53 Korean War. It was a blasphemous act against a war hero who staked his life to defend a foreign state.
Another group of activists beat soldiers and smashed a guard post in a demonstration against the American army base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, in May 2006. The Roh Moo-hyun administration responded feebly to the series of violent acts against American military legacy.
Moreover, then Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook advocated for anti-base protestors’ acts of violence. Moon as the chief presidential secretary met with Venerable Jiyul to persuade her from ending her hunger strike in protest to the construction of a tunnel through Mount Cheonseong for the Seoul-Busan express railway. Despite his emphasis on communication, he did not attempt to persuade anti-base protestors.
In a televised debate, Moon criticized the government’s handling of the attacks on Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island. He said the government ran pell-mell, raising tensions to a war-like state. Instead of chastising the government for feeble retaliatory action, he blamed it for overreacting and escalating tensions. He didn’t once mention North Korea nor condemn its military actions. From his words, he sounded like a candidate running for office in another country.
Moon pledged an engaging policy toward the North. He aims to invite a North Korean envoy to his inauguration ceremony, hold an inter-Korean summit in his first year and resume the tourism program to Mount Kumgang that has been shutdown since the killing of a South Korean tourist. The South needs to renew dialogue with the North. But before we sit down for talks, we need a change of attitude from North Koreans.
They must pay the price for their provocative actions. We must seek accountability of the deadly attacks on Cheonan and Yeonpyeong whenever we can. But Moon wants to skip to dialogue without settling the issue. He is regarding North Korea and security with one eye closed. If he gets elected, we may have a president from the special forces. A brave soldier is not someone with karate skills but one who will go all out to defend and take vengeance against his nation under attack or threat.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin