Where is the president?Despite ongoing crises on a variety of fronts, the president’s presence can barely be felt. As if ridiculing the UN for its sanctions, North Korea is ratcheting up tensions on the peninsula through nuclear and conventional weapons. Its vow to launch a “new attack” was not a bluff if we take as evidence the latest cyberattacks against television networks and banks in the South. In addition, our economic outlook gets dimmer and the government lowered the growth it expects for this year to 2.3 percent. Tax revenues are expected to decrease by 12 trillion won ($10.8 billion) this year, which will have to be covered by issuing more national bonds.
Most worrying, however, is the alarming fall of President Park Geun-hye’s approval rating, which hovers around 40 percent.
The president’s chief secretary Huh Tae-yeol’s apology to the nation for the fiasco surrounding the appointments for the new administration lacked sincerity. The 17-second apology fell way short of explaining what exactly went wrong. Many of the nominees for high-profile government posts had been picked by Park before Huh took the job as chief of staff. As such, Park herself should have apologized for the decisions.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un continues to threaten South Korea. He summoned his top brass to an operation room to supposedly plan attacks against specific targets in the South and the United States. The North Korean government declared a “wartime situation.” Despite the impression that it’s a bluff, such statements are potent enough to make South Koreans nervous. And the North’s latest cyberattacks prove it’s not entirely bluffing.
Yet South Koreans don’t really know how their commander in chief perceives the situation and what countermeasures she has in mind. Adding to their concerns about the first woman president’s lack of military experience is Park’s vague rhetoric at official events. Our citizens don’t know how well the president is prepared for an unexpected military crisis. A press conference on national security would help them be assured of presidential leadership at times like this.
The president may think it’s the job of the defense minister or the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. But the North’s Yeonpyeong attack in 2010 tells us otherwise. President Lee Myung-bak, without military experience, could not order immediate retaliation as top commander. He regretted it in a post-term interview. In a country like South Korea, the president must be fully aware of the security situation as a military strategist. Park must give the North a stern warning as convincingly as possible.