A few days ago, we noted the strange fact that the Obama administration is pleased with Colombia’s new president for cozying up to Hugo Chavez, the long-time sworn enemy of Colombia. Never mind that the Venezuelan tyrant is also the sworn enemy of the United States. And never mind that he reportedly is now receiving Iranian missiles with which to threaten portions of the Western Hemisphere. For Obama, the friend of my enemy is my friend.
Today, we learn that the Obama administration is far less pleased with South Korea’s president Lee Myung-bak. Why? Because Lee is taking a tough stance against North Korea in response to that dictatorship’s provocations. Those provocations include the sinking of a South Korean warship (46 dead) and the shelling of a South Korean island (4 dead, 18 wounded).
In the past South Korea has responded tepidly, if at all, to this sort of belligerence. But Lee has determined that “fear of war is never helpful in preventing war.” And to demonstrate he means business, he announced that, as a symbolic show of force, South Korea would hold an artillery drill on the very island North Korea shelled.
These measures aren’t exactly draconian, but they were sufficient to set off alarm bells in Washington. The U.S. ambassador to South Korea and the commander of U.S. forces in that country promptly met with Lee to question his decision to hold the artillery drill. And U.S. officials reportedly have decided to pressure Seoul to reopen dialogue with Kim Jong Il’s government.
Never mind that such a move would make Lee look ridiculous, given the statements he has recently made about relations with the North. Never mind the fact that 65 percent of South Koreans say they want their government to adopt a tougher stance towards the North. The American left’s desire to see anti-American dictators appeased – be they Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong Il, or for that matter Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – trumps all other considerations.
Obama’s approach to South Korea is, if anything, more problematic than his approach to Colombia. For in this instance he seeks to override the decisions of a country trying to cope with an implacable enemy. In that sense, administration policy towards South Korea more closely resembles its Middle East policy.
Like Israel, South Korea, not the U.S., faces an existential threat from its next door neighbor. Like Israel, South Korea knows better than the U.S. what makes that neighbor tick and thus which policies are most likely to keep that neighbor at bay.
But unlike the case of Israel, surely even Obama has no warm feellings or sense of association with South Korea’s antagonist. The only operative ideology here is the urge to appease.
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