Tuesday, July 27, 2010

America's North Korea Clericy

No GuamDiary is not commenting on either the revival of Buddhism or restablishing a Second Jerusalem of Presbyterianism among Korean from the North or the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea]. We are referring to the priesthood of American specialists and watchers of North Korean affairs. A great majority have benefitted from the largesse of the US government either as bursaries or a career in America's department of state, department of defence, the treasury,or any number of the slots in intelligence, or through US funded NGOs [Non Government Orangisations], so on and on.
Consider the National Committee on North Korea [NCNK] is a good place to start. According to its website inspiration for its creation came about during the Musgrove III Conference--'Mercy Corps'--discussing the future of US DPRK relations in 2004.
Ostensibly a 501(c) tax exempt corporation and with the status as an NGO. Among its goals it sets itself is to 'promote and facilitate engagement between citizens of the DPRK' [and the American people?]; to 'seek the reduction of tensions and promote peace on a [divided] Korean peninsula'; to stress 'concrete actions [by] addressing specific problems'; and to 'address humanitarian needs'; and to build 'sustained partnerships to avoid conflict on the Korean peninsula'.
A perusal of the directory of its members [and we are not sure it is a complete list] reveals former diplomats, military, and spooks. Now as private citizens, they work in all key sectors of American economic and academic life, and each can appeal to a network of contacts when they were in government. Many or all have degrees of fluency in Korean, as well as proficiency in Chinese and Japanese.
GuamDiary cannot and will not comment on NCNK's funding save that it serves as a conduit of government funds which sustain NGOs, be it through the filter of foundations or the 'largesse' of wealthy individuals or special university grants.
But where are the investment bankers or the 'captains of industry' or even to the officers of think tanks of former White House officials? Like anchorites, they work a sphere of their choosing, yet do maintain relations with the extended priesthood.
Nonetheless a group mentality prevails. It is a studied manner of provincialism. Among the clerics there are various and at times contradictory approaches to dealing with the DPRK. Saying this, there is a certain threshold that they dare not cross lest the ban of excommunication is pronounced cutting them off from influence, money, and personal prestige. Overall, this clericy 'runs with the hares but feasts with the hounds'. In brief, they know which side of the bread is the butter!
During the calm season of mildly unsteady US contact with the DPRK, they have been able to forge ahead in establishing positive results. Humanitarian aid comes easily to mind, especially during times of famine and natural disasters or poor agricultural yields. Some lead bankers and businessmen to the DPRK to break the ice and to explore areas and opportunities for cooperation and joint ventures. Others use the prestige of universities to welcome North Koreans for training in information technology in the US. Still others go on study tours or serve as interpreters to other western businessmen taking the lay of the land for future projects, and they do go into the DPRK hinterland which is not unusual. On the cultural level the high point came through arrangements of the Korea Society [two senior officers of which figure among NCNK members.]for the performance of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in Pyongyang in February 2009.
Since then relations have soured and turned into a sea squall. Heightened war tensions aroused war scares on the eve of the 60 anniversary of the Korean War. The sinking of the ROK [South Korea aka South Korea] courvette the 'Cheonan' played a key role. It prompted a media blitz by the Obama administration against the DPRK. The US campaign to pin the blame on the DPRK failed in the UN Security Council. [GuamDiary has commented on the questions surrounding the sunken 'Cheonan'.] US secretary of state Hillary Clinton followed up with yet more sanctions against North Korea and the US department of defense beefed up 'Invincible Spirit' of joint US ROK military exercises safely out of harm's way in the Busan perimetre in the East Sea and nowhere near North Korean waters.
Escaping the international community's Scarlet Letter of blame, the DPRK has twice met at the DMZ [Demilitarised Zone] with US lead and controlled UNC [United Nations Command], to discuss the sunken 'Cheonan'. It also announced its willingness to return to the stalled six party talks in Beijing under certain conditions.
Let's look at the clericy's response to the current state of war of words which raised fears of turning a frozen Korean armistice into a renewed hot war.
This priesthood has a low ceiling of political will. It turns and runs at the least hint of contraversy or backs down into silence of complete approval of Washington's policies. Its ranks rarely admit new blood and easily slips into metaphysical hair splitting during unsettling times. Although some may see more clearly suggesting not to rush into where angels fear to tread, but exhibiting realism shying away from propaganda. Its mindset being what it is, and believing in lowering the life boats of conformity, its fears and discomfort are trumped by the reflex of self preservation.
Let's see how this translates into today's terms. Six of its members [25 per cent] signed onto the CFR [Council of Foreign Relations] special report on 'US policy towards Korea'. For all the accumulated years of experience and wisdom of these clerics, the best they could advise the US government was to 'rollback' the DPRK.
Here we are with the clock setback 60 years to the days of the outbreak of the Korean War, in the fever pitch of the age of containing the advance of communism.
Cut to the chase, the only ones 'rolled back' was the US led UNC by the North Koreans and the Chinese Volunteer Army, to the 38 parallel where the Korean peninsula remains divided to this very day.
GuamDiary among others has to finger worry beads that the 'best and the brightest' of America's North Korea clericy can find no other expression of advice or policy than a return to the past, not only does not speak well for its expertise and experience, but inspires little confidence in the advice US leaders sollicit or rely on.
We are thus treated to the old bugaboos, waffling, and proof of a pronounced ignorance of the DPRK. And this in the face of what the priests who have visited North Korea, talked with its leaders, made on the spot visits here and there in the country, hosted North Korean students and officials in the US...something is rotten in the field of North Korean studies in America!
What we do see in reading the mainstream press online and off, is a high degree of complancy and arrogance. Consider the pronuncimento on Kim Jung un, the alledged chosen successor to his father Kim Jung il, by a former senior US diplomat, ex president of the Korea Society, and now a vice president in an influential Washington think tank: dismissing him as the equivalent of a squirt, he announces that this kid without any experience 'may have his finger on the [nuclear] button'. Well here is a seasoned clerc who should and does know better, but cannot pass up the opportunity to monger fear and go for the cheap shot. And here's a man who at the time of being president of the Korea Society thought the successful and triumphal visit of the Philharmonic to Pyongyang, which alas had not follow up: he thought this cultural breaking of ice was handing Kim Jong il an advantage on a silver platter! A man who knows full well that value of the core leadership to Kim Jong il and whoever succeeds him, in the running of the North Korean state.
This kind of mindless thinking and owing to membership in this North Korea American clericy colours opinions. So like a weather vine spinning in all kinds of weather fair or foul, such priests cut their opinion to the received wisdom of the day.
It is misleading to say the least and dangerous to say the worst.
It is hoped that brighter days are head when the US government and this clericy will abandon the facile urge to propaganda and return to a spirit of realism more receptive to cooler heads and calmer tempers in dealing with North Korea.

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