Has spring come?John Bolton is the new White House national security adviser. He went to Yale Law School with former President Bill Clinton and First lady Hillary Clinton. He called Hillary “a radical.” On Bill Clinton, Bolton said, “He rarely went to class and that he was always kind of shooting the breeze with people, and networking and that kind of thing.” Unlike the popular and affable Clintons, Bolton was an outsider.
He was not one of the cool kids at high school either. His father was a firefighter in Baltimore, and his family and friends had blue collar jobs. He was not economically well off, but was outstandingly smart. He received a scholarship to one of the best boarding schools in Baltimore, and was bullied by kids from affluent families. Discrimination led to more discrimination, and young Bolton became more guarded.
In a memoir published shortly after stepping down as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2007, Bolton wrote about the election of Ban Ki-moon as the secretary general in 2006. He wrote that Japan had opposed Ban’s candidacy in the straw vote. He met with the Japanese ambassador and persuaded him not to be isolated. In the third straw vote, there were 13 “encourage” votes, one “discourage” and one “no opinion,” and in the final straw vote, it changed to 14 “encourage” votes and one “no opinion” vote. Japan claims that this was not true. In fact, there were rumors that the United Kingdom supported candidates from India and Sri Lanka, former British colonies, and France was reluctant to support the pro-America Ban as the secretary general. There is no way of learning the truth. But there are concerns and anxiety that Bolton looks down on Asia.
In fact, it is not just Asia. As the U.S. ambassador to UN, he clashed with many other ambassadors. While in the Department of State, he fired employees who opposed him. In short, he does not tolerate any country or opinion that is different from him. Still, he calls himself a pragmatist on the grounds of a “reinterpretation of Daniel Webster.”
Daniel Webster was the secretary of state in 1837. The British forces advanced to U.S. territorial waters and sank the Carolina ship of the Canadian rebels that called for the independence of Canada. Daniel Webster scolded the British, saying that the necessity for self-defense must be “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” This became international common law. Now, Bolton makes an absurd argument that the principle can be used to preemptively attack North Korea. As the concepts of time and space and the destructive power of weapons have changed in 181 years, the principle can be reinterpreted. That sounds strange, but this is how Bolton works. No one can predict what he will do.
Some hoped that he would change once he joins the administration. But humans hardly change. Bolton’s destructive instinct should be treated as a constant, not a variable. Unfortunately, a man just as challenging to deal with as Trump has joined the game.
North Korea’s Vice Chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party Kim Yong-chol, joked, “I am Kim Yong-chol, who is called the mastermind of the sinking of the Cheonan warship by the South Korean people.” A South Korean K-Pop girl group that had been denounced as “capitalist punk” recently made the cover of the Rodong Sinmun.
The spring seems to have come to the Korean Peninsula. With the rise of Bolton, however, Washington’s spring seems still distant. And the difference in temperature is worrisome.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 4, page 30
*The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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