A welcome to be wary ofEveryone becomes hopeful in a new year. Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France, who was placed under house arrest at the Tuileries Palace following the French Revolution, would have dreamed of returning to the Palace of Versailles where she indulged herself and was hopelessly out of touch with the masses. President Park Geun-hye, also isolated in her palace, may harbor similar hopes. So must her friend Choi Soon-sil, imprisoned at the Seoul Detention Center.
Hopes differ. The sick wish to get better. The poor wish for riches. Some wish to get into schools or companies and others pray for promotion. Life becomes meaningless if one loses hope. We endure today’s hardship on the hopes we maintain for a better future.
Ban Ki-moon, coming off of two terms as the chief of the United Nation, must also have New Year wishes. He returns home a veteran diplomat with impressive credentials.
At the age of 73, Ban still has the energy to work, but may be fearful of venturing into an entirely unfamiliar field. The career diplomat could hardly have imagined he would end up at the pinnacle of diplomacy in New York. The chance was unexpected, and he did not waste it.
From what I observed from long experience of covering the diplomatic community, Ban was better at assisting than commanding.
Nicknamed “the slippery eel,” he is well-rounded and does not make enemies. He is a typical career diplomat, committed to his work.
Someone does not reach the top position at the UN entirely through own capabilities and endeavors. One must have luck. From the effort the government extended to place him in that position, he surely was blessed with luck. President Roh Moo-hyun fielded then-foreign minister Ban hard for the position in 2006. Under careful consideration, Ban traveled to Africa five times that year and the Latin American region twice in five months to gain support from UN Security Council members with voting rights. It was an outright campaign tour at the expense of national diplomatic resources, but was condoned by the presidential office and media.
He is now blessed with a second round of luck. He is being courted by the conservative and centrist camps to be their candidate in the next presidential election. Conservatives are clinging to him as if he is their only chance of preventing the Blue House going to the liberals. They fight over him like speculators seeing a fortune in a prospective real estate deal.
They do not care about the moral questions about a former UN Secretary-General fresh out of office running for the presidency. They have no idea whether he was successful in his post at the UN. Whether he is fit to command domestic affairs politically and ethically is of little importance to them. What matters is that Ban has been at the top of popularity polls.
We are in today’s mess because we were blinded by the image of Park Geun-hye as the daughter of Park Chung Hee, a strongman who nevertheless brought economic development to the country. The price of that reckless choice has been too dear. A lesson should have been learned. But political opportunists learned little and are buzzing around Ban like bees around a honey pot. The star-struck accolades and blind pledges of allegiance emit the ominous smell of sycophancy surrounding former celebrity political figure Park Geun-hye.
Ban may be on Cloud Nine over all the hoopla around him and on the likelihood of a red-carpet welcome home. But his mindset is as old as his age. His rhetoric about devoting his life to the country is borrowed from the crusaders of the industrialization campaign under the authoritarian regime in the 1970s. His principles can be questioned over the way he praised the Saemaul movement, a signature rural modernization campaign of Park Chung Hee, and the controversial pact between Seoul and Tokyo to settle the issue of wartime sexual slaves known as comfort women last year.
Ban is free to dream whatever he wants. But we should note that he has yet to prove any vision, philosophy or values as a leader. Nor does he show boldness and any ability to survive in the cutthroat political world. What we see is a man not willing to forfeit a windfall he has barely earned.
He should brood hard on what is best for the country and whether he is it. Ban must contemplate why there has not been a single UN chief who immediately ran for the presidency of his homeland. There is still time for him to think things through.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 3, Page 31
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.