Monday, August 30, 2010

Obama's flat footed approach to North Korea

US president Barack Obama [BHO] has issued expanded sanctions against the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea]. They re enforce earlier sanctions against individuals, firms, and agencies. Will these sanctions prove more successful than the previous ones which did not achieve desired goals? Probably not.
The enforcer is the Stuart Leavey in the department of justice. He is no stranger as the US hit man to use the full licence of his office. A hold over from the Bush administration he threw his full weight in seizing a mere us$23m in a North Korean account in Banco Delta Asia in Macau. In the end the US had to resort to legal hocus pocus to release these funds, owing to the sad effect it had on US China and US DPRK policy.
So it is of little surprise that Mr. Leavey is sharpening his tools of search and seizure. GuamDiary asks how will he perform the due diligence of his task when the object of his mission is North Korean firms headquartered say in Iran? Simple answer, he cannot. What form of retaliation can he take against friends of the US who violate the sanctions and do business with North Korea? The question answers itself.
BHO's decision to harden sanctions, and with an eager hawkish Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, to use her muscle to employ them to the full extent of the law, is founded on teaching Kim Jong il & co. a lesson. It is predicated on the belief that owing to a declining economy, a country on the verge of famine, turbulance in the transition of power, and a general feeling that stronger coersion especially economic will in the end fell an 'axis of evil' state.
It is also founded on the conviction that the DPRK torpedoed the ROK [Republic of Korea aka South Korea] courvette 'Cheonan' in March 2010, resulting in the loss of 46crew. North Korea firmly denied blame and even went so far to issue its own findings and expressed a willingness to go to Seoul to examine South Korea's and US' evidence. Permission was firmly denied.
Now after months of shilly shalling the ROK Lee Myung bek government is going to release the full report on the sunken 'Cheonan'. And suddenly the report as Steve Chao reports from Seoul, it is the object of contraversy. Immediately, South Korean naval experts suggest that the report's findings are not only questionable but reveal a government cover up. [GuamDiary has oft reported that others have established that the Lee government had tampered with the evidence and officers on the 'Cheonan' at the hour of its sinking, were drunk. And if that was not all, the South Korean government took its time to alert the US embassy and the US led UNC [United Nations Command] of the true timing of the ship's going down.]
As we know, the sunken 'Cheonan' proved a bonanza for the US and the ROK to wage a war of propaganda against the DPRK. It failed. China and Russia refused to march in lock step with the US at the UN Security Council.
BHO's proclamation of harsher sanction comes on the heels of Jimmy Carter's errand of mercy to Pyongyang to seek the release of the convicted and imprisoned naive Aijalon Gomes who illegally entered the DPRK to bring the good tidings of evangelical Christianity.
Once again BHO missed an opportunity to take advantage of renew dialogue with the DPRK. [It repeated it ham handed attitude after Bill Clinton came home with two journalist sentenced to 12 years of hard labour for violating North Korea's territorial integrity.]
Mr. Obama's pen scraching on the sanctions document is further proof that the 'war party' still holds the upper hand in dealing with the DPRK, even though the 'peace party' avocating a nuanced, more flexible approach begin to make their voices heard.
America's North Korean clerisy who depend on US governmental largesse and access to information and high ranking bureaucrats and elite, are of the opinion that confrontation is the programme of the day. [GuamDiary has commented on the CFR [Council on Foreign Relations] report of the grand pooh bahs who chew and rechew the cud of failed policies towards the DPRK. The report grandly entitled 'US policy towards Korea' is not only stirs the cold embers of the Cold War but it is a waste of tax or ratepayers monies. You cannot turn the clock back to the late 1940's & early years of the Korean war!]
Mr. Obama's signature is a sign of failure. It is an indication of how deep in the mud US thinking on North Korea remains. And it is a sure sign of impotence and senseless rage.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

No other tool in the tool box for the US but to 'engage diplomatically' North Korea

The US does not seem to get its act together in approaching the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea]. It let slip through its fingers two chances to talk with Kim Jong il.
In the past 13 months two former US presidents have come to Pyongyang expressly seeking the release of US citizens who illegally entered North Korean territory. First arrived Bill Clinton in July 2009 to take home two women journalists tried and sentenced to 12 years of hard labour. Thinly veiled as an errand of mercy, it was from the first an orchestrated trip with the White House's blessing.
There was no follow up to Mr. Kim's gesture but a photo with him and Mr. Clinton's entourage.
It took six months for Stephen Bosworth, secretary of state Hillary Clinton's special envoy to the DPRK, to visit Pyongyang in December 2009. His trip yielded little. It did however indicate that at Foggy Bottom and the White House, the US lacked a supple approach to North Korea. If anything, the hard liners, it seemed, held the upper hand.
And into their lap fell the sunken 'Cheonan'. The sinking of the ROK [Republic of Korea aka South Korea] courvette at the NLL [Northern Limit Line] dangerously close to North Korea's territorial waters, resulting in the death of 46 crew. Immediately South Korea and the US pinned blame on North Korea even though the evidence left many questions unanswered--including the ROK's tampering with the evidence and the fact that the ship's officers were drunk. The DPRK firmly denied culpability. It issued a dossier with proof of its innocence, offering to come to Seoul to examine the South's evidence, which the global media either pooh poohed or ignored.
The US and ROK began a propaganda war replete with joint military exercises, diplomatic pressure, and harsh economic sanctions, and a report by foreign experts that established the North's 'guilt'. The ROK did not release the full 150 pages of the report, only a slick thin handout heavily weighted to prove its side of the story. Little bruited was the fact that the expert from Sweden refrained from signing the report's findings, while the ROK and US blared from its loud speakers that the experts all agreed with the report's conclusions.
The moment of truth came at the UN Security Council when the US seconded South Korea's call for a resolution condemning the DPRK for the sunken 'Cheonan' and more harsh sanctions. But China and Russia would not go along, so the resolution failed and though the Obama administration and Lee Myung bek tried to put a smile on a failure in the international arena, the US hardened the tone and the war of words with North Korea.
Now two American evangelical Christians crossed illegally into North Korea with the express purpose of witnessing for Christ the conversion of the DPRK. One, an American Korean, a pastor, tried and convicted, recanted. And he was let free to go. The other, Aijalon Gomes, a naive but convinced Evangelical Christian influenced by the right wing churches in South Korea where he taught English for a year,'bravely' entered North Korea to witness for Christ. Caught, he was tried and convicted to 8 years of hard labour and fined us$700.000.
And though out of sight during the US 'Cheonan' campaign, he was never out of the Obama administration's mind. His freedom took second place to the 'war path spirit' among lawmakers and America's North Korea celerisy [See, GuamDiary's 'America's North Korean clericy']whose appetite for confrontation on the paper is best found in the special CFR [Council on Foreign Relations] report on 'US policy on Korea'. Reading it, you cannot escape the feeling that it is a Cold War document based on a consensus of foreign diplomats, military, and spooks, and academics closely tied to US government's purse.
Indecision, confusion, and a general inability to go beyond the failure of its hard line tack towards the DPRK, nonetheless, provided a breathing space to argue for diplomacy and a show of steely patience in dealing with Kim Jong il & co.
And behind the scenes, we discover that Kim Jong il would be willing to welcome an old friend in the person of Jimmy Carter. [For those with short memories, Mr. Carter, to the distaste of Bill Clinton, took it on his own to go to Pyongyang in 1993. There he met with Kim Il Sung. Marshall Kim decisively cut the knot of Mr. Clinton's willingness to use nuclear weapons, by agreeing to enter into negotiations on the DPRK's nuclear programme. Mr. Carter's diplomatic coup notwithstanding, Washington turned a cold shoulder to him. Still, during his years in the White House jaw, jaw, jaw held sway with North Korea. Ill advised, Mr. Clinton was dissuaded from taking a leaf out of Nixon's trip to China, by going to Pyongyang.
George W. Bush's tack towards the DPRK, now described as an 'axis of evil' state sent temperatures to sub arctic temperatures. His administration did everything in complete condescension to 'dis' Kim Jong il and the DPRK. This puerile policy had a sorry conclusion: North Korea tested a nuclear device thereby dramatically joining the nuclear club of 8 nations and further improving and developing advanced rocketry.
Mr. Bush did an about turn, but with a jagged edge in doing everything not to deal directly with North Korea about its nuclear programme. Hence the subterfuge of the six party talks in Beijing which the US used to escape from common sense in negotiating with North Korea. Needless to say, the talks ground to a halt.
With the arrival of Barack Obama in the White House, his secretary of state Hillary Clinton exemplied the continuation of the Bush 'smash 'em in the face' approach to the DPRK. The carrot party at Foggy Bottom took a back seat to the stick continguent. Mme. Clinton at first suceeded in even twisting the arm of North Korea's neighbour and ally China and Russia to go along with sanctions as punishment for detonating a nuclear device. Ridding on a crest of triumph, the US policy crashed in the UN Security Council in May 2010 [see above, 'Cheonan' resolution].
In sum, the US had painted itself into a corner. Mme. Clinton had taken lightly during her trip to Beijing in November 2009, the import of a senior military officer's analysis as to why China had purchase on the survival of the DPRK.
President Obama's team had been counting on China to do what the US refused to do in dealing directly with North Korea. Beijing, it was expected, needed to crack the whip to tame the North Korean tiger. The US has yet to absorb the significance and the full weight and baggage of Deng Xiao ping's citing the Southern Sung metaphor during a trip to the DPRK: stressing the close relationship of the two countries as 'lips [covering or protecting]the teeth'.
This may have not escaped or was completely ignored or lightly dismissed as fluff by America's North Korea clerisy: the debt the Chinese Communist Party owes Kim Il Sung and North Korean anti Japanese fighters during Japan's brutal war against China. Were it not for the North Korean soldiers and communists the northern wing of the Chinese party would have been greatly weakened if not destroyed at a time the Party had not begun its forced Long March to Yenan. At that time party membership in northern China counted 80 per cent Korean members! And let's not forget the role of the entrance of the Chinese Volunteers which turned the tide of the Korean War. It forced a roll back of the US led UNC [United Nations Command], resulting in the stalemate and frozen armistice at the 38 parallel 60 years later.
With this history, could the US reasonably expect China to do its dirty work, or speak in an scolding voice to Kim Jong il? China and Russia too, preach patience and a longer view of steps to resolve outstanding issues, but the US puts a stamp of 'non recevoir' on the suggestion!
If the simple and knowable lessons of history have gone over the head of leaders of the US, little wonder America's strategy towards North Korea is defective. Is it a matter of oversight? Maybe. Yet, GuamDiary cannot but wonder whether ideological blindness trumps?
Now America's North Korean clercisy follows to a micro level what it preceives as the twists and turns among North Korea's leaders and elites. More oft than not, these 'experts' who feed from the public's trough, take the reflexion of their image in the mirror of ideology. Distortion therefore feeds public policy. And for more than 60 years, the US' grasp of what's happening in the DPRK remains opague at best and fanciful at worst.
And into this house of confusion arrives Jimmy Carter. As noted, among the DPRK nomenklatura, he is considered a friend. In fact, to lance the Obama administration's boil of hostility, Kim Jong il had through back channels let it be known that he would welcome Mr. Carter as an intermediary to release the hapless Mr. Gomes, and offer an opportunity to lessen tensions. His request sowed angst and disbelief among the hard liners surrounding Mme. Clinton and the White House, a decision was put off until the Greek kalends. Meanwhile as mentioned the sinking of the 'Cheonan' provided a 'heaven sent' opportunity, to 'bash' hard and fast the DPRK.
In the end, in spite of the US bamboozling policy, the best the US can say that the US remained stymied in its goals in forcing the DPRK to cry Uncle! At most, Washington's strategy had reached a deadlock.
As Jimmy Carter's aeroplane touched down in Pyongyang, Kim Jong il's train was heading to China. A high level delegation in the person of the head of the Supreme People's Assembly warmly greeted him. He told the former US president that the DPRK was ready to resume its seat at the six party talks in Beijing. [Did Mr. Carter briefly see Kim Jong il? According to North Korean tea leave readers less than 60 minutes were open to such an encounter. However, it was sufficient for him to receive from the highest level the signal that Kim Jong il was looking to ease tensions. In fact, it was a restatement of North Korea's intentions the more especially since the US and ROK failed to brand the DPRK as the evil hand in the sunken 'Cheonan'.]
Kim Jong il pardoned the luckless Aijalon Gomes. Mr. Gomes upon his release hugged his 'rescuer' fellow Evangelical Christian Jimmy Carter, and off he flew with him directly to Boston where the extended Gomes family joyously embraced its prodigal son by forming a prayer circle.
Jimmy Carter has had to communicate Kim Jong il's message to the White House. Will there be any change in US policy? Possibly. There are some indications: South Korea's president Lee Myung bek had given the nod for increased food aid to the North. Some of America's North Korea clerisy in government have begun talking of talking of a change. One spoke as though with a heavy heart that the US had no tool in its toolbox but to talk to Kim Jong il & co.
Yet the residue of hard feelings persist. The reasons are many. It looked as though any change in chartered waters of hostility towards the DPRK would be looked on unsympathetically. To the 'informed' clerisy's minds a more supple tack would always remain suspect. To them, such a trend seemed impractical and would bring to the fore people whom they consider 'soft headed' and wrong. To them, as well, the very idea of using the carrot of diplomacy is symptomatic that few people who only make up the fraternity of the very select circle of America's North Korea 'experts' truly understand how to 'deal' with the DPRK and who feel that any deviation from lines traced in the sand, would disrupt the political and military processes towards North Korea.
And although there is a dim realisation that a new direction in policy is called for, the overwhelming feeling even among those looking for an opening, are convinced that before that happens another round of rough arm twisting is called for. This said without a smile, in complete seriousness,is a restatement of the US' inability to adapt and change with newer conditions on the divided Korean peninsula.
An overriding ghost haunts the US elite: how could a 'truncated nation', a seemingly failed state, resist the world's only superpower? The sting of failure to sweep the Korean peninsula clean of Communist influence, prevails as long as a peace treaty is put off by the US.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Islamic Centre in New York's Wall Street area

The late American comedian Jimmy Durante used to and often did say, 'everyone's trying to butt into my act and I'm losing'. Well GuamDiary will elbow its way into the big brouhaha of building the Corboda House or Islamic Centre at 51 Park Place. Wrongly called the 'WTO [World Trade Centre] Mosque the site is not visible nor in immediate proximity to 'Ground Zero'. It is a proposed cultural centre modelled on the (Jewish) 92 Street Y or (Jewish) West 86 Street Centre. It would house a cultural space, swimming pool and gymnasium, a halal restaurant, a day care centre, and only on the top two floors would there be room for pray but not a mosque properly speaking. Its doors would be open to all.
Controversy sprung like the snake headed Gorgon since May 2010 owing to the right wing Fox TV, owned by Rupert Murdoch's media empire, and picked up by API and endless media outlets. They know a 'good story' when they smell one and run with it they did. They panicked a willing US public in the throes of hard economic times, loss of social status, and prone to any and all gimcrack conspiracy theory. [GuamDiary does not discount the sorrow and the hurt of families who lost members during the attack of the WTO and the Pentagon by 19 al Qaeda terrorists. It sympathises with such a loss.]
The attack on building the centre on Park Place has had national repercussion and angry response and global coverage.
It is grafted on the rise of a movement of popular discontent in the US which is cynically manipulated by right wing talking heads and the tiger of public anger is mostly being ridden by the Republican party which is itself on the verge of collapse and anxious to take the thunder of the advocates of turning back the clock to the halycon days of a predominately white and Christian America. They appear in such reactionary nostalgic like the Tea Party and Whigs.
They play on fears which seized the land since the election of America's first black president, the losing of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, demonising American Muslims [the youth of which have become susceptible to the appeal to radical, politicised muslims using Islam to further a questionable agenda to wage terror, illegal immigrants in the US. It has gone so far that supposedly responsable Republican lawmakers are calling for the repeal of the 14 Amendment which finding who is an American.
In these bonfires of political ambitions and vanities, the hero is Michael Bloomberg the mayor of New York who defends the owners of 51 Park Place right to American law and protections under the US constitution such as freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment. In this, he has the support of some religious figures, elected representatives, and yes, a strong showing of families of 9/11 victims, among other. In a strong speech with the Statue of Liberty in the background, the New York mayor, to his great credit, gave a 15 minute talk on tolerance and freedom of religion in New York. A freedom once denied to Jews and Quakers and Catholics, for example. More broadly speaking, he could have mentioned the Mormans, a religion founded in New York state, and chased and persecuted and killed until they found refuge in Utah. Or Roger Williams chased out of Massachusetts by the Puritans, founded Rhode Island in the spirit of openness and tolerance.
GuamDiary won't go into the demagogery tack and motives of a Limbaugh, a Beck, or a Palin, but it will criticise religious leaders who should know better.
Long a defender of religious freedom the American Jewish Anti Defamation League caved in to the right's undue pressure. Even the Simon Wiesenthal Centre named in honour of the heroic Nazi hunter betrayed its 'tolerance'. What makes its opposition the more hypocritical is the fact that it is building in Jerusalem the city of peace [sic] a museum of tolerance by sequestering and tearing up a centuries old Muslim cemetery! [Jewish law and tradition reveres their burial grounds, but not this one. So in a way the Wiesenthal centre has repudiated or washed the Nazis & co. who desecrated Jewish burial grounds. It has diminished its voice and moral authority.]
And in a move to pressure the proponents of the Cordoba house, David Patterson, governor of New York, illegally offered them 'free land' to build the Islamic centre elsewhere. In this ploy, he has enlisted as a 'neutral and fair arbiter' Timothy Dolan, the cardinal archbishop of New York. Is Dolan impartial? Hardly he backed out of a deal to sell an empty convent on Staten Island to a group of Muslims wanting to convert it into a mosque. Not only that, he formerly supported the right to build the Muslim centre at 51 Park Place, but now has no opinion as to where it should be built.
And so the political tempest rages whilst the rebuilding of the WTO languishes owing further to the delays and the games played by the former three term Republican governor George Pataki.
Here GuamDiary introduces the sorry figure of Barack Obama [BHO] who at an 'iftar' [breaking of the fast] Ramadan dinner at the White House spoke in defence of freedom of religion. And then twisted his tongue to partially repudiate his standpoint the next day. His lack of firmness has rippled through a Democratic party which is not optimistic about retaining control of either house of Congress in the November 2010 by elections. Out of political expediency, calling for the building of the Islamic Centre elsewhere, are Howard Dean who helped engineer the Democratics to power in 2008 and Harry Reid running in a tight race for re election, so on as on.
The only ones who come out smelling like roses in the public sphere are the mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg, the governor of New Jersey, the conservative Republican Chris Christie, representative Jerrald Nadler, New York City council members, etc.
Lillian Hellman called the days of the McCarthy witch hunt, a 'scoundrel time'. And today we are witnessing yet another scoundrel time. The assassinated governor of Louisiana Huey Long once put it this way, if fascism comes to the US, it would come wrapped in the American flag. And it certainly looks that way today as the bangers of pots and pans against American Muslims, immigrants, blacks, defenders of the constitution and the like with even the president himself thought a 'secret Muslim' or an illegal immigrant who stole the presidency.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

No follow up after the New York Philharmonic's triumphal tour in North Korea Why?

As maestro Lorin Maazel raised his hands a hushed and controlled excitement gripped the huge concert hall in Pyongyang, the capitol of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea]. In February 2009 in the opening days of the Barack Obama [BHO] presidency the appearance of the New York Philharmonic in North Korea looked as though a page had been turned on US DPRK relations. But it wasn't to be.
Maestro Maazel brought to Pyongyang an 'American' programme of music, notably Gershwin's 'An American in Paris' and Dvorak's 'New York Symphony'. Musically it may have seemed 'daring' but the North Koreans agreed to the programme. Mr. Maazel chose as an encore a favourite Korean song 'Airirang' which pleased his audience no end. To mark this singular event, he went so far as to say a few words of friendship in Korean which were greeted with much applause.
The concert was televised and played on NPR [National Public Radio] stations throughout the US. It was heard in the ROK [Republic of Korea aka South Korea]as well. That evening's programme is available in CD format on the internet.
A curious observer had to ask at that moment was this a 'groundbreaking' moment like sending the Gershwin opera 'Porgy and Bess' to the USSR [Soviet Union] in the winter of 1955, and accompanied by the writer Truman Capote as its muse? Or something in the line of 'ping pong diplomacy' with China which culminated with Nixon's surprise visit to the PRC [People's Republic of China in 1972? Would diplomacy take the lead over martial posturing towards the DPRK by the US? Was there a 'light at the end of the tunnel' on finally putting an end to the Korean War frozen in time and place by the 1953 Armistice Agreement?
If there was an edge to 'people to people' relations, the interest aroused in the US media about the New York Philharmonic journey to Pyongyang, it could arouse a hunger among the ordinary American to see the faces of the 'enemy', to hear the sights and sounds of a much boycotted North Korea not only by the US but the world community as well. If anything Maestro Maazel had through music and his winning personality had put a human touch to the stark reality of a DPRK which plagued by famine and floods and economic boycotts.
The television cameras had opened a window on a part of the world long denied to US citizens.
Would this be more than a novelty? The Korea Society in New York which maintained 'good relations' with North Korea, helped with the New York Philharmonic's rleg of its tour of Asian capitols. Nonetheless hardly had the enthusiasm of the visit had quieted, the mood in the Korea Society underwent a rapid change, reflecting the hard line attitude of the Obama administration, flush with an election victory and confident of its ability to change the world in its own image.
Speakers invited to the Korea Society took a more aggressive tone towards North Korea and the Society hugged more closely to the Cold War tone set by South Korea's president Lee Myung bek. [The Korea Society is an NGO, but it is funded indirectly by the US and ROK; its officers are vetted and tend to come out of the US military, diplomatic, and spy elite. As such it spins like a weather vane in the slightest change of political winds.
For whatever the reason, BHO's administration had stored good relations in a diplomatic pouch and sent it nowhere. What was it afraid of? Did it feel that the transmission of the concert directly from North Korea without censorship had given the American people a too favourable opinion of the much demonised North Koreans? Did it feel that the front page news of the New York Philharmonic had shown a DPRK leadership and people that were cast as real human beings who responded to the same music as did Americans and who appeared relatively at ease and more importantly unthreatenly?
Apparently so.
Wasn't Mr. Obama unwillingly to open more widely a firmly shut cultural--ultimately political--door to a people long shunned and so inwardly turned, to improved relations with the US? To Kim Jong il's regime which if we carefully sift through the 'langue de bois' of its own words and stern rhetoric reflect an anxiousness and a desire for contact with the outside world, particularly with the US?
Although the US president was all too well aware that owing to Kim Jong il precarious health, and the stress his regime is undergoing to ease the training and preparing the rise of Mr. Kim's chosen successor, his third and youngest son Kim Jong un, wasn't the US Korea experts alerted to the under the radar and to frustrations of a regime carrying out a peaceful transition, in order to avoid the pitfalls of chaos?
If they were--and GuamDiary seems to think that they are, they are going for the DPRK's jugular to not only ostracise, but weaken Kim Jong il to a point that insurrection and collapse would ensue.
As such tensions between the US and the DPRK have degraded to such a point that any new initiative to reduce them looks as though it is out of consideration.
A brief hope came in July 2009 with the sudden arrival in Pyongyang of Bill Clinton. Described by the White House and the media as a 'private initiative', the former president who during his 8 years in office had opened a dialogue with the DPRK, sought and obtained the release of two US journalists who entered North Korea illegally in pursuit of a story of North Koreans fleeing across the border to China for work and supplies to alleviate dire shortage at home. Tried and convicted to 12 years of hard labour, these two women whom the Kim Jong il government treated humanely and with kid gloves, were on Mr. Kim's authority freed and turned over to Mr. Clinton.
Such a gesture, once more raised hopes that some sort of breakthough were in the works. But that too was not to be.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was pushing hard to bell the cat of the DPRK's nuclear programme. Her tack backfired badly. The US seized the UN Security Council succeeding in a resolution condemning Pyongyang and imposing harsh sanctions. The DPRK is a government not to trifle with, and gives as good as it gets. It walked out of the six party negotiations in Beijing leaving Mme. Clinton with an empty victory. [More than 18 months have passed and it has not returned to the negotiating table.]
In the meanwhile the spirit of John Foster Dulles haunts Foggy Bottom the home of America's diplomacy, the Pentagon, and the White House. confrontation through diplomacy, military exercises, more drastic economic sanctions, and beefed up propaganda warfare took over.
In spite of embracing a spirit of triumph and gamesmanship, this overheated appeal to the heady first days of Cold War, could only result in empty but dangerous boasts.
Even more significantly and even before the sinking of the ROK vedette 'Cheonan', Mr. Obama had calibrated US policy towards North Korea with Seoul's Lee Myung bek's go for broke, nothing but all Cold War against the DPRK.
These two countries named Pyongyang as the hand behind the sunken ship despite the many unanswered questions it raised and the gross massaged by South Korea of the evidence, which included that at the time of the incident many of the 'Cheonan' officers were drunk. Nevertheless, for the US and the ROK there were and are no shades of grey in the matter. So throwing caution to the wind, they seized the UN Security Council for a resolution naming Kim Jong il & co. the guilty party in the sunken 'Cheonan' and the imposition of yet another round of harsh economic sanction.
This approach blew up in Mssrs. Obama's and Lee's face like a trick cigar: China and Russia won't go along. And so the US had to impose new sanctions on its own authority and Mr. Lee had to make the best out defeat in the international arena. [See, GuamDiary earlier postings.]
Yet the Obama administration which has more than endorsed but also strengthened and in a way codified George W. Bush's hard line policy on North Korea. Saying this contact kept to a strict minimum, the more especially since the DPRK courts have convicted and sentenced an American Christian who once taught English in South Korea and naively allowed himself to be manipulated by right wing South Korean and US Christian groups, to enter the DPRK illegally and bringing 'glad tidings' and his truth of Christianity. Result: 8 years of hard labour. If the US media picked up this item, they hid it well, but the foreign press online reported that in August 2010, a doctor had visited this young American to document his health and well being. Is an exchange in the air? No one is talking yet.
In spite of a new blanket on doing business with the DPRK, it is still possible for Americans--mainly American Koreans--to travel to the DPRK. The Arirang games is an enticement and a Chicago based US travel agency is authorised to represent travel to North Korea. There however is a catch: Americans have to make it on their own to Beijing and from there fly to Pyongyang for 4 days for the roundly sum of US$1200. Contact with US universities and Korea experts and former diplomats continue in the DPRK or in China.
Kim Jong il & co. are not dupes. They have not slammed the door shut in the brusque and angry manner the US has. They have never stopped expressing the hope of a 'detente' of sorts and of better relations. Mr. Obama & co. are very much less so.
[GuamDiary has reported on the CFR [Council on Foreign Relation] Report on US policy towards Korea. It is pertinent to observe that among the 24 'Korea' hands who signed off on its conclusions for a 'rollback' policy towards North Korea, betraying a return to the hoary policy of regime change and containment of more than a half century ago, is the man who runs the travel agency which books the ordinary US citizen wanting to visit the DPRK even for 4 days! Does this man relay the names of US citizens to Washington's homeland security agencies?]
It is all too easy to engage in character assassination when talking about North Korea. The blacker the picture the better, it seems. Much has been made of the fact that at night the DPRK is a blanket of darkness, testimony of its antiquated power infrastructure, its lack of hard currency, and so on. But what would Americans say when pictures of communities in the American midwest are without city lights owing to the deep recession the US is in? Or how close North Korea watches its citizens? What about the erosion of US civil liberties and the encroaching eye of America's Big Brother's spy agencies in illegally tapping telephones, hacking into e mail files, and the like? But that is for another blog post.
What is evident: the answer why there has been no follow up since Maestro Lorin Maazel's greeting of friendship in Korean in Pyongyang in February 2009, is as plain as the nose on one's face. The US is fearful that a North Korea with even a hint of a human face would undermine its determined policy of bringing the DPRK to its knees. A smash in the face is worth more, or so it seems, to patience and open negotiations and a revival of people to people relations.
And lurking for more than a half-century is a disdain for and a disbelief in the ability of a small country on a dividen peninsula, its ability to excel in advances in the sciences--in advanced rocketry and nuclear weaponry. A disbelief bordering on a mystery with in an enigma that a country on the brink of financial ruin could hold US in check on the diplomatic chessboard. We want to cry 'open your eyes US', 'do your homework'. These plaints do not seem effective in today's hothouse of Cold War thinking among America's elite, feed on the stale theories and the policies of another time and place.
And therein lies the tragedy and much worse!

Monday, August 16, 2010

US & South Korea continue relentless campaign to bring down North Korea

The DRPK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea] has long blown the trumpets of warning far and wide that the US and the ROK [Republic of Korea aka South Korea] have but one object and that is its demise, its burial for once and all. [Evem though North Korea now uses Twitter and Facebook, as well as the traditional tools of the media, it still uses a wooden language which to the outside world seems impossible to read. As such the justice of its cause and the presentation of its own case is more often than not ignored and ridiculed at worst. Nonetheless, with patience, one can grasp the kernel of truth to counter the war of words that the US and South Korea are waging against it.]
For a brief while it looked as though a thaw had occurred the US and South Korea's dealings with North Korea. This now lost silver age of detente of sorts lasted during the years of the Clinton presidency for many reasons and much thanks for former Jimmy Carter acting as a 'deus ex machina' to make long fire of some hardcore advisors of Bill Clinton from pressing the nuclear button. Mr. Carter met with Kim Il Song and returned with a signed statement which opened a dialogue with North Korea on its nuclear programme and a promise that the US would help build light water reactors in the North. But the sudden death of Kim Il Sung pushed this hope into the shadows with the assumption of the mantle of state by Kim Jong il and the horrible famine which gripped the DPRK, reviving the hope among policy makers that the DPRK would fall on its own sword. Well it did not. The high point of this thaw with the US came with the visit of US secretary of state Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang and her talks with Kim Jong il. It was hoped that Bill Clinton would visit the DPRK before the end of his second term in office in December 2000. He was ill advised by 'expert' Korea hands, so he didn't go. With George Bush in the White House
relations deteroriated quickly and led not only to a status quo ante but propelled North Korea into the nuclear club.
With the arrival of Kim Dae Jung in Seoul's Blue House conditions between the two Koreas improved rapidly. Mr. Kim went to Pyongyang and met Kim Jong il thereby ushering in the 'Sunshine Policy' and a Nobel peace prize for him, for his historic gesture. And thus a more hopeful policy promised to improve intra and inter Korean relations. Kim Dae Jung's successor Roh Moo hyun continued the Policy and he too went to Pyongyang, signed at least 24 accords further enlarging the opening with the North.
But with the election of Lee Myung bek in 2008 the lights of the 'Sunshine Policy' did not dim but were turned off. It was Mr. Lee's state intentions that he was going to give the DPRK his version of tough love. Known as 'Bulldozer', he lifted his version of confrontation with the North to a state level. He immediately abrogated signed agreements with the DPRK, diminished drastically food shipments to an agriculturally ravaged North to the point of denying it fertilisers; he allowed right wing groups to openly carry out propaganda against the North and in particular against the person of Kim Jong il which drew the DPRK's ire.
At the same time through diplomacy, economic sanctions, military manoeuvres, and heightened state and privately sponsored propaganda campaigns, 'Bulldozer' Lee began Cold Warrior style a campaign to carry out his stated intention of not only humbling North Korea but pushing it to the edge of collapse.
Now he has gone one step forward in proposing a special tax to finance the cost of reunification of the two Koreas with an eye on the DPRK's collapse.
Mr. Lee is smarting from his own humiliation of his bungling the 'Cheonan' sinking, which remains open as to its cause and who is to blame. For the South Korean president North Korea is the culprit. Yet questions as to its culpability remain as do the ROK's conduct in the matter.
The Obama administration has taken a stiff, hard line, no holds bared tack towards dealing with the DPRK almost from its very first days in office. No one has spoken with shrill terms more than US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and her team of advisors.
The US has encouraged the ROK's campaign against the DPRK. GuamDiary has spoken many times on the subject and encourages readers old and new to review these positings.
It has been obvious for a long time now that the US refrains, nay refuses to negotiate directly with North Korea; it is unwilling to end the Korean war through a peace treaty, and has twisted itself pretzel like out of diplomatic and military shape to come up with approaches which heighten tensions on the divided Korean peninsula which might tripwire renewed military conflict. It has tried to pressure China to do its bidding, but Beijing balked. In fact the US has no sense of history as it rushes to judgments which are dangerous.
This, to cite an example or two, is no more more evident in the publication of a CFR [Council on Foreign Relations] special study on 'US policy towards Korea', the fruit of deliberation of US 'experts' on Korea in and out of government, in think tanks, private universities, etc. Their weighty deliberations gave birth to a mouse: rather than a call for calmer heads and diplomatic solutions, this group of 24 'thinker's endorsed a policy of rollback. And in one swoop, they breathed life in Truman's forward policy of containment and revived the Cold War fears of sixty years ago.
Their recommendations in fact, we posit, simply mirror the US administrations' thinking on all front--diplomatic, economic, military, and propaganda.
Another example is that in spite of mouthing a desire to see the DPRK retake its seat at the six party talk on its nuclear programme, the US is pursuing military exercises with the ROK in waters dangerously near the DPRK's.
The hope of these two allies is easy to read: to stampede the DPRK into doing something foolish which would allow the US and ROK to flatten militarily the DPRK.
North Korea is on to their game and is playing a defensive game, with its cards close to its chest. It is also obvious that if North Korea does not fall for this obvious ploy, sanctions and propaganda will have the effect of hastening its collapse. But will it?
China has put Mme. Clinton on notice that it has purchase on the survival of the DPRK. Had she & her crowd in Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon really read and understood the history of the survival of the Communist Party of China, they would learn that China owes Kim Il Sung and thousands of Korean fighters who fought the Japanese in Northern China a debt for the Party's survival there. And China never welches like the US on what it owes its frineds.
So as the US joins the ROK in a second round of military exercises--this time close to the NLL which breathes on DPRK territorial waters, we see once again the Obama and Lee administrations donning warrior garb of tin soldiers looking for war. Not only war but this time it could result in atomic war!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Cassandra Castro on North Korea

Just when the US thought 'el lider' Fidel Castro plagued by severe health problems, had cotton to spin on his own personal survival, he spoke up, clad in mufti, before the Cuban national assembly for the first time in four years. His speech was a mere ten minutes but Dr. Castro said enough to put the US Obama administration [BHO]on guard that its unrelentless hard nosed policies towards the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea] and the Islamic Republic of Iran, were inching by their internal logic towards nuclear confrontation.
Mr. Castro raised his voice in the same vein in June 2010 in an interview on Cuba's television programme 'la mesa rodanda' [roundtable].
'El lider's' appearance before the Cuban parliament has raised his concern to a higher level. The foreign press, including the US', reported the event.
Many of Mr. Castro's critics will dismiss his concerns and warnings as sour grapes or another opportunity to sock it to Uncle Sam for a half century of blockading Cuba.
Others may ignore his warnings as the mutterings of an aging, ill figure. Still a few should and may give his words some weight and thought.
Consider the BHO administration's forward policy on North Korea. It has the acrid odour of the past: the object all sublime with sanctions and joint military exercises with the ROK [Republic of Korea aka South Korea]is 'rollback', forcing North Korea to capitulate to America's demands.
There is no other way to describe the aggressive foreign policy tack on the DPRK. There is no way to misread its an ugly, unmistakably warlike tone. It is precisely this assertive overarching reading by Dr. Castro, that pushes him to speak out clearly.
Simply, not only is alerting the world to overt and hidden implications of US policy towards the DPRK but the possibility of unthinkingly siddling up to a point of no return that the only option left is nuclear confrontation.
[It may not to far fetched to remind GuamDiary's readers of the unresolved nut of history: the origins of the 'Great War', 'the war to end all wars', which we know as World War One. The bad, poorly thought out moves of Imperial Germany, Tsarist Russia, Great Britain, France, and the multi national Austro Hungarian empire which suddenly erupted in a war which ushered in a century of more war and revolution, toppling empires and weakening seemingly impregnable world powers or sending other to the dustbin of history. It is in this sense, we believe, that Fidel Castro went public.]
The recent publication by the US German owned publisher Random House of Bruce Cummings' well received 'the Korean War', warrants mention here. Written for publication on the 60 anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean war, Dr. Cummings' narrative underpins Mr. Castro's ill ease at the current backwards looking policy toward the DPRK.
GuamDiary is not forgetting that Dr. Castro also spoke of Iran. He worries that the BHO lady warrior diplomat secretary of state Hillary Clinton and her merry men of cold warriors are basking in the light of their own over the top triumphalism of a return to a policy of containment. Stripped of its patina, it is a raw picture of regime change and capitulation, no more, no less.
The DPRK's case raises the disturbing question of little the US has a taste for history. The Cummings' book on the Korean war, is a good taste of common sense and food for thought on the past which so colours American policy towards North Korea.
Cummings' thoughtful treatment of this 60 year old war which is leaning towards another 100 year war [frozen as it is by an Armistice Agreement].
It is an indictment against the reactionary and the relentless lock step mentality which has gripped the American clericy of North Korean experts [see GuamDiary's comments]. Nothing underscores this than the CFR's [Council of Foreign Relations]report on 'US policy towards Korea'. It is a call not only containment but rollback. You've the impression that an ice age had put thinking on the DPRK by the US government and the think tanks and the subsidised NGOs and experts in and out of government, in the deep freeze locker.
The CFR report offers solutions that are root and branch in the Truman administration's policy of containment and rollback of Communism.
Cummings announces a wake up call: the DPRK leadership is still smarting from a brutal war which the US led UNC [United Nations Command] wages in the North. That forward policy is indelibly imprinted in Kim Jong il & co. They will fight to their last breath to maintain the integrity of their own people and by extension the preservation of Koreans north and south who nourish the dream of reunification of a divided Korean peninsula.
Although admirably respectable, Dr. Cummings is 'persona non grata' in the councils of the US clericy of Korea experts. To them, he is not on their side. Now this is an 'ad hominem' attack against him, but things being what they, common sense is banished.
Now as GuamDiary has noted, if this is the best that the American clericy of Korean experts can come up with, things have gone to such an extent that no independent thought let alone an honest examination of the past can take place in the White House no matter which party is in power. The military thought fox is in the henhouse of US diplomacy.
And it is this that put a note of urgency into Dr. Castro's warning about US policy towards both the DPRK and Iran. For him, Iran is all the more urgent given the incessent itch America's client Israel has on the trigger finger. And the US has not denied plans for a hit on Iran should it not give up its nuclear programme.
Mme. Clinton & co. are tragically tone deaf as they carry out policies which one false move can declench.
It is in this sense that Fidel Castro is a Cassandra. Like Priam's daughter, he is cursed with ringing the alarums which go unheeded.