America's Permanent, Entangling Alliance With Korea

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POHANG, SOUTH KOREA — “To mark the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Koran War, a resolution to further strengthen the bilateral alliance between South Korea and the U.S. was submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives last week,” reported an April 22 editorial of the Korean Dong-A Ilbo daily (US Congress Resolution on the Korean War). Of course, “the resolution got bipartisan support.”

Americans, I’m sure, will be happy to learn that this “relieves Seoul’s worry over national security,” one of our most pressing concerns. Americans might also like to know that, according to the editorialist, “the National Assembly in Seoul is doing nothing to express the country’s gratitude for the sacrifices made by countries that sent soldiers to fight in the Korean War, including the U.S.”

Why should one of the world’s most prosperous nations have to worry about its own defense, after all, when Uncle Sam has willing to do the dirty work for six decades? As an expatriate who pays taxes to the Korean government, I thank my fellow Americans, who, through their duly elected representatives, have agreed to reduce my tax burden here and pick up the tab themselves. Koreans will not be thanking you. You can rest assured that your sons (and daughters) will remain here within distance of the Dear Leader’s artillery and missiles, protecting Koreans from themselves.

In related news, a Dong-A Ilbo story on the same day reports that “Korea and the U.S. have agreed to delay Washington’s transfer of wartime operational command to Seoul that had been scheduled for April 2012″ (Korea, US Agree to Delay Command Transfer). Seoul has convinced Washington to maintain responsibility should the Korean War flare up again. Madeleine Albright was right; we’re indispensable.

You’d think Koreans, famous for their nationalism (and now their wealth), might want to take over defense of their own country. But Koreans are also famous for their intelligence, and they know a good deal when they’ve got one, and how to keep it going. Here’s how they convinced us, according to the report: “The two countries reportedly agreed to the postponement considering factors such as South Korea’s troop deployment to Afghanistan; U.S. consideration for its ally; Korea’s participation in the U.S. missile defense system; and instability on the Korean Peninsula stemming from the sinking of the Korean naval ship Cheonan.”

South Korea’s troop deployment to Afghanistan was negligible and deployed so as to suffer no danger of casualties (smart of Seoul to support its troops that way); no mention was made of the ally’s consideration for the U.S.; the U.S. missile defense system defends South Korea; and how is “instability on the Korean Peninsula” an American, not a Korean problem? At least Washington consulted the people about this decision, albeit not the American people, the story informs: “The U.S. has also listened to public opinions in Korea on the postponement.”

The above-mentioned “sinking of the Korean naval ship Cheonan” is a worrisome development that illustrates how easily the United States might be forced to exercise wartime operational command on this peninsula. One month ago, on the night of March 26, the ship sank near North Korean waters after an explosion. There has as of yet been no official explanation of the sinking of the ship.

An April 10 Asia Times Online editorial by Aidan Foster-Carter suggested that “the [South Korean] president’s Blue House would rather you not think about it, and they’ve been pretty successful” (The Cheonan cover-up). He wrote:

Quick to deny any North Korean role (while never quite ruling it out), Seoul’s spin-doctors set to work. First they focused on the quest to rescue anyone who might have survived — long after it was clear that they couldn’t possibly have. It was cruel to keep false hopes alive, but politically it did the trick of distracting the populace for several vital days.

A second tack, essential to defusing any sense of crisis, was to put out alternative theories. Could the Cheonan have run aground or hit a reef? May its own munitions have exploded? An oldish craft, built in 1989, might it be unseaworthy as some family members suggested?

Well, maybe. But none of this sounds very convincing. It was getting harder to deny that something had hit the Cheonan, even before the survivors — whose sequestering for nearly two weeks was itself suspicious — confirmed on April 7 that an external blast was to blame.

But what? Enter the mine hypothesis. An old mine — either the South’s or the North’s, left over from the Korean War or soon after — may have come adrift and floated into the unfortunate Cheonan’s path. Or perhaps been floated? Or maybe not a mine, but a torpedo?

It was not until almost a month later, on April 22, that what most suspected at the time, “that the North attacked with a heavy torpedo,” was semi-officially reported, based on “intelligence gathered jointly by South Korea and the United States,” according to a story filed by Joseph Yun Li-sun of AsiaNews (For South Korea, a torpedo from the North sank the ship). According to Mr. Yun’s source, “no formal charges will be made” because “the United States hopes that the North can be brought back to the nuclear disarmament table.” The source suggests that with “heightened tensions between the two Koreas…. will stop any real inquiry into the sinking.” The source clarified, “Washington is still hoping to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table, and an open accusation by Seoul would bury that hope forever.”

So, Seoul is unable to even confirm an attack that claimed 46 of its sailors, an attack which could have easily brought Washington into a full-fledged war on the peninsula, so that Washington might continue the ongoing negotiations, stalled since 2008, that began with the Clinton administration, which have produced nothing. Our true policy toward North Korea should be one of benign neglect.

The American Conservative blurb introducing Doug Bandow’s latest on the subject said it best: “the South Koreans would be better served by having a freer hand — without U.S. interference — and the U.S. would be better served without a South Korea that may eventually drag them into another war” (Time To Leave Korea).

“It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world,” said our first president (George Washington’s Farewell Address). Our third counseled “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none” (Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address). “They call upon us to supply American boys to do the job that Asian boys should do,” said our thirty-sixth (Lyndon B. Johnson Quotes).

America has already had troops on this peninsula for more than a quarter of our country’s existence. Isn’t it time to leave Korea to the Koreans, whether they want their own country or not? Isn’t our bankruptcy excuse enough to finally cut and run?

An American Catholic son-in-law of Korea, Joshua Snyder [send him mail] lives with his wife and two children in Pohang, where he lectures English at a science and technology university. He blogs at The Western Confucian.

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