Monday, December 27, 2010

US 'bubbe meise' handed down on North Korea

US policy makers, clerisy, and sundry other advisors and experts take nothing for granted when it comes to North Korea. They own the narrative and keep the lid on tight. [See,GuamDiary's 'Korea Society keeps a tight zipper on its lip'.]They have a single minded object to block out any other account other than their own. And, they have managed to ride roughshod to stifle any dissenting opinion. In the main, it is sad to say that they have succeeded.
So it is not surprising that a reader of GuamDiary should pose the question of 'how do we make sense of US policy on North Korea'?
The question goes to the heart of US memory and culture and history in a climate where American policy makers, clerisy, and sundry other advisors and experts do not want to read, see, and hear anything about North Korea than their own musings, books, and voices.
Consider Aidan Foster Carter, senior research fellow in sociology and modern Korea at Leeds University, to whom, say, the 'Financial Times of London' defer when its seeks an authoritive opinion on North Korea. Mentioning the very name of North Korea, at times, occasions an outburst of exasperation from him. It is on record in an 'opinion piece' in 'Asia Times Online' that Foster Carter, in a fit of temper, wrote that he simply wished that North Korea would simply go away. [Translation: disappear from the face of the earth.]
His anger is symptomatic of policy makers and the clerisy and sundry other advisors and experts who have but a single solution to the 'problem' that North Korea has raised for them since 1945: they preach a foolish and dangerous policy. In brief, Kim Jong il, like his father Kim Il sung before him, has to renounce violence and lay down his arms [diplomatic or military], and formally surrender to US terms.
We know North Korea won't. The US is simply proposing unconditional surrender, no more, no less.
American administrations seem to forget that between it and North Korea a suspended state of war exists. It is a frozen war thanks to the 1953 Armistice Agreement, which formally recognised the failure of the US led UN forces to drive the Communist North into the sea. For the last 57 years, there is no formal peace treaty between the Armistice'ss 3 signatory--the US, the DPRK [North Korea], and China. [South Korea which the US protected refused to sign the agreement, it is good to recall. Today, Syngman Rhee's veto is a cause of concern to a truncated half of a divided Korean peninsula with a strong, first world economy, but which in 1953 sold its birthright for a mess of an old man's pride and anger!]
Consequently the question is how to end the Korean War peacefully? The US and its hardline ally in Seoul, president Lee Myung bak do not see it in that light. As GuamDiary has often noted, a good guide to current US thinking on North Korea is the CFR [Council on Foreign Relations] report on US policy towards Korea. Its conclusions mirror faithfully the US policy makers, clerisy, and sundry other advisors and experts thinking on 'rolling back' North Korea. Which is a restatement of a policy which failed during the Korean War and left that war in limbo with an armistic agreement.
The Korean War is called the 'forgotten war', for the plain and simple reason, the US failed to overthrow a Communist regime. And its immediate outcome was to let the war slip in oblivion, but not the animus towards North Korea. In the intervening 60 years, the US has fought and lost a war in Vietnam, and is engaged in two disastrous war in Asia - Iraq and Afghanistan - which is weakening it by their cost and skewing America's economic priorities and goals, so on and on. A lot has changed, too, on the Korean peninsula: the Clinton years brought a more flexible and pragmatic approach towards Pyongyang, and South Korea's Kim Dae Jung's 'Sunshine Policy' help smooth the way through measures, the sole object of which was to coax 'isolated' North Korea back into the comity of nations. With the arrival of George W Bush things changed drastically. GuamDiary suggests reading Mike Chinoy 'Meltdown: the inside story of the North Korean nuclear crisis', to get up to speed. Barack Obama has reinfoced Bush's feckless bellicosity towards North Korea.
The US has a very willing partner in the person of Bulldozer Lee Myung bak who once in off in 2008 scrapped the 'Sunshine Policy', and began an aggressive policy towards the North which saw its nadir in North Korea's response to South Korea's shelling of its territorial waters in November 2010. Thus, for the first time in 57 years, the divided Korean peninsula stood on the brink of reigniting the Korean War.
Did this military drill, with US participation, in and around the island of YeonPyeong give pause to revisit US policy towards North Korea? Maybe yes and then maybe no. Judging by Bill Richardson's account of his 4 days in Pyongyang, his assessment that North Korea is wanting and willing to engage diplomatically the US in talks has not received a welcome audience in Washington. There the pragmatists are in the minority, and the war party snug in determining policy.
The only US clerc who has written a meaningful book on Korea is Bruce Cumings. GuamDiary recommends its reading: 'The Korean War: a history'. This book has the merit of combining memory and culture with history, thereby furnishing a very good understanding of why the US North Korea policy remains at a dead point and the strong pull of nostalgia keeps drawing its back to towards picking and nitpicking fights with North Korea. Cumings makes a persuasive argument as to why North Korea has never gotten off its war horse and the memory of the utter destruction, dead, and ruin that the US led forces had left in North Korea before they were 'rolled back' to the 38 parallel. The context is always missing in the US narrative, and that may help explain why even though Cumings is a recognised scholar with many awards, he remains on the sidelines among the US clerisy and elite.
The US has never forgotten its being checkmated by the North Koreans and Chinese Volunteers during the short but not ended Korean War.

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