My Top 5 List for 2014: 5 Biggest Foreign Policy Events for the US in Asia


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I love these hoky, end-of-the-year lists. But I don’t know much about genuinely interesting or cool stuff, like the top 5 classical music pieces or architectural masterpieces of the year. So before you read another list about the Kardashians’ top 5 lip glosses, or the 5 most repetitive comic movies of the year, here is an uber-wonky one that’s basically about the sustainability of the pivot.

I am constantly wondering whether the US can carry through on the ‘rebalance,’ whether we can actually shift out of the Middle East and Europe and pay more attention to the Asia-Pacific. I am skeptical, in part because I tend to see US commitments as opportunity costs of one another. In other words, if we are tangling with Putin or ISIS, then we don’t have much time for China or Maduro. But if you’re a neocon, then the pivot is no trouble. Getting involved in Asia doesn’t mean lessening commitments elsewhere, because the US should be globocop anyway, and US domestic expenses should be cut to fund to all this intervention.

The following post was originally put up at the Diplomat:

The “Interview” Fits a Long Tradition of Really Stupid US Portrayals of North Korea (but SK Film is much Better)


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If you are looking to watch The Interview immediately, you can buy it on YouTube here. But the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes have been weak so far.

I am not quite sure what to make of all the hacking controversy yet, but in the run-up to the film, I wrote this quick comparison of North Korea in South Korean and US film. Not surprisingly, South Korea handles NK far more intelligently, whereas the US seems to have a weird, somewhat creepy obsession with North Korea invading America. Yes, really; read the review below: the US will have four ‘NK invades the US’ movies or video games in five years. I am still trying to figure out what that means.

Anyway, this was first written for Lowy Institute; the essay follows the jump.

My Lowy Essay on the Paranoid Anti-Americanism of South Korean Geopolitical Film


Take that English Teacher with Bad Hair!

So I watch way too many movies when I should be working, probably because I am pretty lazy. But a side benefit is noticing the various tropes and themes of movie genres. And one thing I’ve picked up watching movies in my field (international relations) in South Korea, is the regular use of stock American villains. Maybe I notice it just because I am an American, but it seems pretty pronounced to me.

It is well-known that westerners in Korean soaps are frequently used to introduce duplicity, sleaze, STDs, and so on. But in the film industry, the Americans are more nefarious, usually plotting to manipulate Korea  to serve neo-imperial goals or something preposterous like that. Amusingly, the plots are usually ludicrous to the point of laughable (Americans mass-bombing plague victims in downtown Seoul in broad daylight?! – hah!); the dialogue is risibly ridiculous as well (“Korea is independent and sovereign, and you Yankees can’t tell us what to do!” Yeah!!); and the ‘American’ characters almost always sound like Russians or non-American English teachers the movie producers just pulled off the street and stuck in a bad rip-off of a US Army uniform.

It is also noticeable that all this American manipulation of Korea is self-congratulation: if the Americans are going to great lengths to use Korea for their dastardly plots, then Korea must be pretty important to the world’s lone superpower. Better fanciful American flattery of Korea, in trying to manipulate it, than the reality of American ignorance of it.

So here is some nice holiday relaxation. Revel in the sheer laughable paranoia of left-wing Korean cinema. It’s a hoot:

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My 2014 Hate-Mail of the Year: ‘Kelly, You’re Wrong; North Korea’s Awesome!’


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For my 2013 hate-mail of the year award, go here.

So I get a lot of weird email and comments because of my blog, or in the comment sections of my op-eds for the Diplomat. A lot of it is fairly ridiculous (‘you want the terrorists to win!’) or ad hominem (‘you’re a tool of the IMF; you’re a Muslim’), but occasionally I get pretty unique stuff like this letter below. (The image above is a personal picture of a plaque on the Juche Tower in Pyongyang. Perhaps the correspondent comes from this study group.)

 

“Dear Robert Kelly,

I read your column in The Korea Times with great interest and would like to share my thoughts with you.

You may think that my opinion is weird and crazy from a point of American.

Most Americans think that North. Korea is vitally harmful, threatening the world peace by shooting the missile toward America.

America had fought with North. Korea at 1950 and kept a hostile relations with it since then.

I think North. Korea is a great country, because it has shown sophisticated diplomacy against a big country.

I claim that North. Korea is less westernized and less materialized. It keeps a strong defense for people.

I also argue that North. Korea has not tarnish tradition and nature unlike South. Korea.

I wonder that you can say that all the people in South. Korea and U.S. are happy, just because they live in a democratic and capitalistic society.

I also ask you that most people in North.Korea is unhappy, because their government infringes on its citizen’s individual freedom severely.

I am sure some people may have been successful in adapting to a totalitarian society and they may have made a fortune and achieved a solid social position.

If the U.S. is a perfect society for living, I wonder why so many American came to Korea to get a job.

I have met many Americans who blamed their country and they don’t want to go back to their country.

Some American has settled down in Korea, marrying a Korean woman.

Deciding which government is better is subjective.

In a nutshell, North. Korea never collapses.

Best regards,

———“

My Lowy Essay: “OPCON Reversion is Dead – the 10-Year Soap Opera is Finally Over”


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This is a reprint of an essay first published by the Lowy Institute a week ago.

The reversion of OPCON – operational wartime control of the South Korean military – to South Korea is finally over. After 10 years of endless meetings, papers, op-eds, and power-points, everyone seems to have realized it was a basically a huge mistake (which it was). The US and Korea recently agreed to push it off the 2020s, which is another way of saying it will probably never happen.

The irony is that almost as soon as reversion was agreed to last decade, the South Koreans got cold feet and tried to have it changed back. No one seems to have thought that closing down the Combined Forces Command would mean that Korea would have to do a lot more for its own defense and stop free-riding so much. Once that reality hit by the end of President Roh’s term, ‘US imperialism’ didn’t look so bad after all: it meant Seoul could continue to woefully under-invest in defense. So here we are at last, back to where we started from. And honestly, it is all for the best – if the US is going to stay here.

The essay follows the jump.

My November Diplomat Essay: If We can’t Stop Fighting in the Middle East, We’ll Never Pivot


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You think that guy to the left cares about China or ASEAN? Gimme a break.

This is a point I have made again and again on this blog: Asia does not activate the racial/cultural/religious paranoias of Americans, especially conservatives, evangelical Christians (who are around 45% of the country), and the GOP. This is why we won’t stop fighting in the Middle East. The ‘America is a Judeo-Christian country’ crowd absolutely wants to stay and fight it out against the jihadis, because it fears/hates them in a visceral way it never will feel about east Asian geopolitics. China may be threatening in a traditional, state-to-state kinda way, but that doesn’t move people’s deep fears/beliefs/angst though. But the idea that Muslims might bring sharia to the West, build a mosque near ground-zero, or see their holidays treated equally by Western public authorities is enough see a lot of Americans into a cultural panic. Hence the huge well of public opinion support to keep fighting and fighting in the Middle East.

This is what Huntington grasped a long time ago with the clash of civilizations, but China is too different for most Americans to get excited about in a personal way. But Islam does provoke Americans like this; just watch Fox. Its focus on Islam is relentless and astonishing. So yes, the long war is still the long war, and the Chinese can sit back and watch the GOP insist that the US fight endlessly in the Gulf.

The original essay is here; reprinted after the jump:

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My National Interest Essay on the Ridiculous Media Hysteria over Kim Jong Un’s Disappearance


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Admit it,  you miss the wild speculation about Kim Jong Un’s disappearance last month. It was lunatic fun, right? Was he dead? Was his sister in charge? WAS HE REPLACED BY ALIENS?!! Run for the hills!

To me, in retrospect, the big story was not KJU’s disappearance, but the wild, almost lunatic conspiracy-theorizing it unleashed in the West.

North Korea is a running punch-line in the West. Kim Jong Il was the villain in Team America. The story that the Norks found a unicorn a few years ago got play for weeks in the US for its sheer laugh value. So this essay was an effort to get a handle on this – why do Western media feel license to make any wild, preposterous claim they want about North Korea? Where does this bizarre obsession come from? There’s probably a good MA thesis in here actually if you were serious about it.

The following essay was first published by the Lowy Institute, and then picked up by The National Interest. This was the first time I was published by TNI, so that was pretty cool. My thanks to the TNI editor, my friend, Harry Kazianis.