Things of late are not going ROK [Republic of Korea aka South Korea] president Lee Myung bek's way. The autumn of Mr. Lee's discount is not cocking a snout at Shakespeare, but a description of the unraveling of his power.
In a reshuffle of his cabinet, two prominent GNP politicians had to recuse themselves owing to 'stick its' of corruption and abuse of power. And then the president's foreign minister Yu Myung hwan offered his resignation because of nepotism and abuse of power. Mr. Lee refused it. Mr. Yu in true Korean fashion apologised and a hint of 'repentence'.
Lee Myung bek's path to the Blue House--the seat of the ROK presidency--was paved with the promise to challenge his predecessors' approach to North Korea. He trumpted his will to lead the nation in a crusade of sorts to save from itself and 'transform' relations with Pyongyang. He would show Kim Jong il his mettle and his determined purpose to in the long run 'reunify' a broken peninsula in his cowboy image. Alas, like all proudful plans, things did not go his way.
Even though he got the full support of two US presidents--George W. Bush and Barack Obama--he did not count on a challenge to his war of propaganda aimed at Kim Jong il & co. by a stalwart friend of the ROK Ambassador Donald Gregg. As we shall see, this builder of bridges with South Korea, in the hoopla of blame of North Korea's black hand in the sinking of the 'Cheonan' broke ranks and dared to criticise Seoul's docket and suggest that the Kim Jong il regime played no role in it.
Riding on the crest of the popular vote which brought him and his Grand National Park [GNP] to seize the reins of power and full control of parliament in 2008, Mr. Lee set out to undo the 'Sunshine Policy' of Nobel peace prize winner Kim Dae Jung and continued by Roh Moo hyun. A policy with a long view towards reducing tensions on the divided Korean peninsula, with an opening to the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea]. A policy which equally spoke to the heartfelt desire of reunification of a fractured land, not only in geographical space but also in reuniting families separated by the Korean War [1950-1953].
Lee Myung bek ran on a platform to teach Kim Jong il & co. for taking advantage of South Korea's largesse without rendering the proper respect owed a generous donor. And once in power, he put a dark menancing cloud to block out any sunshine: he sharply curtailed food to the North, cut off shipment of fertilisers which would help improve food production, and kept to a minimum business ties yet without scrapping the thriving Kaesong Industrial Park where ROK 'chaebols'profitted from cheap North Korean labour in order to further boost fat bottom lines.
Mr. Lee found a willing able partner in the person of George W. Bush who like his ROK ally, had raised the black banner to bell the DPRK which he dubbed an 'axis of evil' state.
Known in the business world as 'Bulldozer', Mr. Lee revved up his brutal blunt instrument of state power to show Pyongyang who was 'the boss'.
But Pyongyang was not impressed. It was intimidated by Mr. Lee's encouraging right wing Evangelical Christian groups to carry out a campaign of utter contempt of Kim Jong il; to launch balloons of propaganda of political fliers and bibles from the DMZ dividing the South from the North; and to embolden missionary work among North Korean refugees in China; and to manipulate the 'willing' Christian to illegally enter North Korea to witness for the recovering of DPRK to its vocation as a 'Second Jerusalem'.
Bulldozer Lee donned the armour of a St. George to slay the North Korean dragon. Of course with the full support of his US ally and the US led UNC [United Nations Command] through strangling economic measures, joing military exercises, active diplomacy to further isolate the DPRK, and whipping up a war of words with a Cold War weariness and nostalgia. A Cold War short of results.
And into Mr. Lee's lap feel the plum of the sinking of the ROK courvette 'Cheonan' near the NLL [Northern Limit Line]close to North Korean territorial waters, and a loss of 46 crew in March 2010.
Immediately Mr. Lee and the US president Barack Obama seized on this loss of life and limb to brand the DPRK the culprit. North Korea cried its innocence and even went so far as to issue its own dossier on the sunken ship and expressed an interest to go to Seoul to jointly review the evidence. Negative the reply.
GuamDiary has many times spoken of the US ROK war of words which failed to elicit condemnation in the UN Security Council. This in spite of a 150 [other accounts say 250] page report, bolstered by the support of international 'experts', pinning the tail of blame on the DPRK. A report which both the US and South Korea refused to publish in full in June 2010 [It remains unavailable even though the ROK issued a press release that full disclosure was imminent in late August 2010.]
The US and ROK brief remained full of holes and questions. And in mid summer 2010 South Korean naval experts raised questions as to South Korea's docket against North Korea. They saw in the sunken 'Cheonan' a simple accident which resulted from buried torpedo[e]s in waters in and around the NLL from the time of the Korean War and may be earlier during Japanese colonisation.
And now into the 'Cheonan' contraversy a strong American voice enters the debate in the person of the 80 ish Donald Gregg. Mr. Gregg is a 31 year cold warrior and a senior CIA officier. He spent his career in Asia in Japan and South Korea. He carried a rifle and a shadowy role during the Vietnam war. Mr. Gregg has close ties to the Bushes; he served as US ambassador to Seoul where he was favourably received and accepted; and then as National Security Advisor to Bush pere the 41 American president.
After government service, he took up the post of president then CEO of the New York based Korea Society which he helped turn into an NGO of distinction and respect until 2007. And into the 'Cheonan' fray, he challenged the idea of DPRK's guilt. In fact he found great merit in a Russian report that the ROK corvette dredged up a mine which blew it up. A conceit which hardly any US media outlet reported.
Gregg's voice has the weight and baggage of authority. It is also a challenge to the US Foggy Bottom types and the smug US North Korean clerisy.
Ambassador Gregg's position remains outside the hallowed circle of published and received opinion. It is attacked by the journalist Donald Kirk who has covered Korean affairs for more than 30 years and who is very close to the Pentagon and CIA, as well as to right wing elements in South Korea. Palgrave macmillan has published in 2009 his 'Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine'. The book's title explicitly states Mr. Kirk's optique.
Mr. Gregg's position will further encourage challenges in the US and the ROK and elsewhere as to the underlying issues in the 'Cheonan' war of words. The former CIA officier comes at a time when Mr. Obama has hardened the US sanctions against the DPRK [See, Obama's flat footed policy towards North Korea] and a second round of joint naval exercises in the vicinity of the NLL.
The former ambassador's intervention, late as it is, in the Madison Avenue campaign to further isolate and push the DPRK to the brink of collapse. Mr. Gregg has not taken this step lightly. He dared break the consensus of the right thinking clerics. But his tack cannot be easily dismissed as a 'crackpot'. For his reputation challenges any such charge.
Obviously Mr. Gregg will no longer have easy entrance to the Blue House, and might be snubbed by his powerful friends and acquaintances in the ROK or in Washington. He would not have broken ranks were he not convinced of the politically and morally justifiable basis of his pronouncement on the sunken 'Cheonan'.
Lee Myung bek hardly cracks a smile nor shows publicly emotions. Yet in private he must needs be wearing his worry beans thin. And he has much to worry about.