Farewell to Washington
The author was the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Dear President Donald Trump. Four years ago, I was on a plane to Washington to begin my job as a Washington correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo. During the flight, I read a news article saying you had just announced your bid for the presidency — and I burst into laughter. I did not think you had a chance.
It was not long before I realized I was wrong. On seeing thunderous crowds shouting your name as you campaigned across the nation, I regretted my ignorance about the fatigue and anger that mainstream America had harbored for eight years under former U.S. President Barack Obama. The United States was certainly changing.
You were at the center of my four-year career as a Washington correspondent. My days started at six in the morning waiting for your tweets. Four years went by as I, my company, Korea and the entire world were shocked day after day by your “big mouth.” I have actually developed some tolerance along the way. Over time, I started to ignore some of your bluff and exaggerations to help me predict what actually would happen next.
Recent polls indicate you have a 54 percent chance of winning re-election next year — which is a surprise to me because I can’t believe the rate is that high even after you have betrayed such core American virtues such as magnanimity and respect for diversity. I also can hardly believe the rate is that low considering the booming state of the U.S. economy.
A year ago, shortly after your first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, you told reporters that “provocative” U.S.-South Korea joint drills were just “war games” that had to be stopped to save the United States “a tremendous amount of money.” I was utterly shocked at that comment. You were the first American president to blatantly deny the value of the decades-old U.S.-South Korea alliance. I hope you are the last U.S. president to do so.
Dear former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. It was an honor to meet you two weeks ago at the Hay-Adams hotel next to the White House. As a man born in Germany, you said with such great confidence that you could not run for president because the U.S. Constitution states that only natural-born citizens can hold that office. Then you joked that there were also no rules banning yourself from becoming an emperor.
In reality, you certainly were the emperor of diplomacy. You negotiated the Paris Peace Accords to end America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, orchestrated the establishment of diplomatic relations with China, led negotiations with the Soviet Union to reduce strategic weapons and helped resolve the conflict in the Middle East. So I asked you, “What’s America’s policy for the Korean Peninsula? Does it have any kind of vision for the two Koreas? I heard you often advise President Trump on diplomacy, but are you okay with Trump’s ‘America First’ policy, which is increasingly isolating the United States from the rest of the world and causing conflict?”
You simply gazed at me and smiled. I still don’t know what that look meant, but I feel like I will be ruminating on it for a while.
I will be in Seoul by the time this column is published. It’s difficult to describe the United States in a single word after just four years of working and living there.
I do know, however, that America is a country that moves by its system, not merely by the actions of a few select people. When a person in that system does something wrong, the system corrects him or her.
It’s also a country that embraces diversity. No matter what a person says, even if that opinion is different, the first thing Americans tend to say is, “That’s a good point.” And that goes to show how accepting they are of different opinions, which is something I think Koreans should learn about.
I have learned a lot from my time in Washington. I remember getting so upset about some Americans shortly after arriving in Washington that I wrote a column asking whether the United States was truly a developed country as it claims. I was wrong about that. And I want to correct it by saying that the system Americans live by taught me what a truly advanced country looks like.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 26, Page 30