Geniuses think alikePrime Minister Ro Jai-bong, who headed the war on crime during the Roh Tae-woo administration, was a hardliner. After the Roh presidency ended, he abandoned the ruling party’s proportional lawmaker seat, questioning the identity of the succeeding Kim Young-sam administration. But Prime Minister Loh Shin-yong of the Chun Doo Hwan administration was different. He was a gentle diplomat who said the Foreign Ministry was his life. Then-U.S. Ambassador to Korea Richard Walker remembered Loh as a prime minister who had faithfully followed an authoritarian leader’s reckless orders while trying to minimize the impact.
The two prime ministers were the best known officials of the Chun and Roh administrations. If Ro had served Chun and Loh had served Roh, their reputations would have been very different. In political science, research on the appropriateness of a situation is called contingency theory. It is an effort to find the most optimized resolution to a certain circumstance, not a general one that will resolve all situations. The two prime ministers have earned their high reputations because they each had great chemistry with their presidents.
Great chemistry is not just a matter of governing style. President Roh Moo-hyun named Goh Kun prime minister because he took into account the conservatives and Honam region, which were uneasy about his rule. “You have to support pebbles to find a balance,” Roh once said. His decisions to name Ban Ki-moon as foreign minister and Han Sung-joo as Korea’s ambassador to the United States are based on that theory. Roh’s attempt to find harmony allowed him to sign a free trade agreement with the United States and deploy combat troops to Iraq, despite resistance from his supporters.
The Moon Jae-in administration has been called the second term of the Roh government, but it is very different from the Roh administration. Although the Moon administration believes its appointments are most balanced, numbers tell another story. Of the Blue House secretaries supervised by Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok, more than half are former activists. They are the core of the power elite surrounding Moon. They make decisions on direction and speed. Ministries often say that they are only errand boys of the Blue House.
Of course, Moon can choose to work with people who shared similar experiences and had similar experiences. But when a group is composed of similar minds, no room is created to accept diversity. It can easily fall into the collective thinking that turns a deaf ear to critics. That was the general tendency of the Moon administration’s foreign affairs, whether it was about the Thaad deployment controversy, the Korea-Japan comfort women deal or a diplomatic conflict with the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, not only ambassadors but even posts in the judiciary are filled with people who are sharing the same “code” with Moon.
The PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games are about to open. The government’s plan to promote peace through the event is great, but Olympic peace must not distort the optics of the North Korean nuclear crisis. Pyongyang is showing no intention to denuclearize, and we cannot resolve the crisis with mere wishful thinking that the North will change. More efforts must be made to think about what will happen after the Olympic Games. And yet the government is reluctant to announce a rescheduled timetable for Korea-U.S. joint military drills because it worries so much that the announcement may upset the North.
Moon once said it is the duty of his aides to present opinions different from his own. But there has been no report that anyone has accomplished that task. President Roh Moo-hyun was different. And now is a very different time from the time of the Roh presidency. North Korean nuclear threats are an imminent danger. Speculation is high that nuclear weapons will be displayed during a North Korean military parade next week.
The government must make meticulous and relentless efforts to resolve the nuclear crisis. A peace with nuclear weapons cannot exist on the Korean Peninsula. Appointing like-minded people to top posts will not resolve the nuclear crisis and challenges of the neighboring countries. Rumors say Washington changed its choice of the U.S. ambassador a long time ago. It is not surprising that the Moon administration was kept in the dark about such an important change.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 2, Page 30
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.