Neocon Ideology vs Korean reality: Modern SK is a commercial trading state with zero interest in a war with the North. More than anything, they just want it to go away so that they can get back to more important things like K-pop (above). The social values on display above in no way connect to the constructed ‘axis of evil’ reality neo-cons want South Koreans to live in.
Rodger Payne, at the IR theory blog Duck of Minerva, had a good post on the all-too-predictable ramp-up on neo-con rage on NK regarding the Cheonan. But the South Koreans are not neo-cons. It is cloying, self-serving cultural hubris for Cheney, the Wall Street Journal, John Bolton, the Kagans, Max Boot, Brookings, and all the rest of the usual suspects to speak so sanctimoniously on SK’s behalf. South Koreans do not see NK the way Americans do and do not even know the tenor of the American debate on NK. The US right uses its all-too-convenient sympathy for SK and NK’s oppressed to push for policies that South Koreans do not want, and, worse, for neo-con ideological reasons that South Koreans do not understand at all. I have tried, believe me, to explain the Bush/Fox News view of the war on terrorism here, and Korean students don’t get it at all. They think W was a loopy, rogue Christian imperialist.
Koreans are far less casual about recommending the use of force or even sanctions. A sizeable minority do not accept that the Cheonan was sunk by NK. The majority think the sinking demonstrates the incompetence of the current Lee government more than NK’s belligerence. North Koreans are ethnic brothers (against whom the use of force is a problem), while simultaneously, South Korean interest in reunification is fading (it is not worth fighting for). As the above video should make clear, this is not a militaristic society itching for a fight. Koreans don’t like and don’t understand ‘axis of evil’ talk, and they certainly won’t accept patronizing US analysysts telling them that’s how they should think.
For all these reasons, there is no surge in neo-con anger as manufactured at AEI or the WSJ. The ease with which this faux-anger and one-size-fits-all ‘axis of evil’ schtick emanates from the Washington-based think tank-industrial complex disgusts me. US political language regarding NK fits neither the mindset nor changing interests of SK. Given that South Koreans must carry the costs of neo-con truculence, how about asking them how they see it? Because you wouldn’t get answer that fit the American frame of NK, so it’s best to just ignore. This is the best English-language article I have seen yet that actually tells you how South Koreans themselves see their interests in this mess.
My point is not to say that the neo-con analysis is philosophically wrong. Maybe Koreans should be neo-cons prepared to risk war for regime change. But that is not my point. Instead, I am disturbed at how quickly the standard issue Washington attitude toward NK circulated with no examination of Korean public opinion. Nobody bothered to think about that, because the think-tank industrial complex of US foreign policy already knows the answer. Maybe South Koreans should be neo-cons, but they aren’t; Koreans neither understand nor accept that analysis. So it is terribly wrong for the neo-con set to invoke the moral weight of Korean nationalism and NK tyranny without ‘permission’ from Korean public opinion. I’m sure the neo-cons would say that South Koreans should be outraged by the Cheonan and ready to risk war for regime change. But they aren’t, and trying to manipulate SK by cloyingly invoking its own tragedies is extreme bad faith.
For my previous thoughts on the Cheonan, click here.