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.