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    World Focus: Korea: Another Big Election Defeat For Bush
    Posted on Saturday, December 21 @ 14:40:56 UTC
    Topic: South Korea
    South Koreaby Jim Lobe*, December 20, 2002
    tompaine.com


    Running against President George W. Bush and his belligerent foreign policy may be risky in the United States, but it looks more and more like a sure winner abroad.

    That appears to be the lesson of this week's stunning victory by governing party candidate Roh Moo-hyun in South Korea's presidential election, the latest in a series of national votes in key countries around the world in which the voting public repudiated candidates most closely identified with current U.S. foreign policy.

    South Korea now joins Germany and Pakistan as key countries in Washington's fight against the "axis of evil" -- countries whose voters elected candidates who were most outspokenly critical of the Washington's "war on terrorism."

    That does not include Brazil, where left-wing candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva trounced the government party's candidate in major part due to his opposition to a U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and neo-liberalism in general, nor Turkey, where the sweeping victory of a moderately Islamist party swept from parliament virtually all of the more-establishment parties that have been tight with Washington for decades.

    The results of all of these elections strongly echo the results of a recent 44-nation poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which found a sharp drop in positive attitudes toward the United States in most of the countries surveyed, particularly those most closely aligned with the United States, especially South Korea, Pakistan and Turkey, compared to two years ago -- before Bush took office. That public opinion should translate into elections is no surprise, according to analysts here.

    "You have an undercurrent of growing resentment toward the United States, and politicians are tapping into it to campaign for office," said Charles Kupchan, a foreign-policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It's a powerful statement of how much American power is beginning to cause fear and resentment in many countries, including those who have been our close allies," he added.

    "I've never seen so much anti-American sentiment on a global scale in my life, possibly even including during [the] Vietnam [War]," said Bruce Cumings, a Korea and foreign-policy specialist at the University of Chicago who just returned from a visit to Seoul last weekend. "It's the unilateralism, the lack of common sense, the lack of consultations, and the sense of going it alone,'' he noted, adding that Secretary of State Colin Powell "is really the only one [in the administration] who people abroad think highly of at this point."

    In South Korea, Roh, a little-known human-rights lawyer who staunchly defended President Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine" policy towards North Korea, narrowly defeated the candidate of the Grand Nation Party, Lee Hoi-chang, who had received red-carpet treatment in Washington during a visit here earlier this year, provoking protests by many that the administration was interfering in South Korea's internal affairs.

    "There's no question [the Bush administration] would have been much more comfortable with Lee," said Don Oberdorfer, a Korea specialist at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies.

    Kim, who won the 2000 Nobel Prize for his efforts to engage North Korea, had been treated with ill-concealed contempt by the Bush administration since his first meeting with Bush in March of 2001. Bush humiliated and embarassed both Kim and Powell during the visit by publicly denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as untrustworthy and scuppering hopes that his administration would continue high-level negotiations initiated by Clinton.

    When a senior State Department official finally made it to Pyongyang two months ago, Washington used the occasion to accuse the North of building a nuclear arms plant. Pyongyang confirmed the plant's existence, insisting that Bush's inclusion of North Korea in the "axis of evil" required Pyongyang to build a deterrent against a U.S. attack.

    Since then, the administration has demanded that the North dismantle the project as a precondition for a resumption talks and pressed a clearly uneasy Japan and South Korea to cut off all but humanitarian aid to Pyongyang until Washington's demand was met.

    During the campaign, Roh denounced Washington's position as "hard-line" and insisted that, as president, he would in fact not only maintain, but intensify engagement with North Korea. "I don't have any anti-American sentiment," he declared at one point, "but I won't kowtow to the Americans either."

    That attitude resonated with the public, particularly voters in their 20s, 30s and early 40s, particularly after the late-November acquittal by a U.S. military court of two U.S. sergeants whose armored vehicle ran over and crushed two 14-year-old school girls during military exercises last summer.

    The South Korean public was outraged by the verdict and the failure of Bush himself to apologize either for the original accident five months before or for the trial's outcome. Bush's indirect apologies through the U.S. ambassador in Seoul and visiting Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage appeared only to inflame the growing anti-American anger which was expressed in angry student demonstrations, hunger strikes and protest marches involving tens of thousands of people.

    "These were breathtaking to observe; they were enormous," said Cumings. "They were as big as the massive 1987 demonstrations that brought down the [Gen.] Chun Doo-hwan regime. Those [who participated] were not radicals, either: it was a nationwide outpouring directed primarily against Bush administration policies both in regard to Korea and not apologizing for the deaths of these two young girls." Bush finally called Kim last Saturday to apologize, but, "they wanted to see a picture of the president apologizing," according to Oberdorfer.

    The result in any event is another major defeat for the administration hawks who had hoped that a Lee presidency would have been more sympathetic not only to a hard line in dealing with the North, but also to U.S. plans to ramp up its military power in the western Pacific in preparation for a possible confrontation with China in the coming years.

    Precisely because of its strategic location and clear preference for Lee, Roh's victory marks a bigger blow to the Bush hawks than last September's victory by the Red-Green coalition of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder over Edmund Stoiber of the Christian Social Union (CSU), Cumings said.

    Bush was so infuriated by what he perceived as German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's anti-Americanism -- expressed by his categorical refusal to back a U.S. invasion of Iraq which he called an "adventure" -- that he not only refused to make the ritual congratulatory phone call after the elections, but he also temporarily imposed an unprecedented freeze on Cabinet-level contacts.

    "That's what's so amazing about these guys," Cumings noted. "They're so unbelievably ham-handed when it comes to dealing with our allies, let alone our friends."

    Meanwhile, in military-led Pakistan, a coalition of pro-Taliban parties swept two key legislatures in states that border Pakistan and quadrupled their total vote for parliament in October elections on a platform that called for Islamabad to cease all cooperation with the U.S. war on terrorism.

    "If there continues to be elections with anti-American candidates winning, we're just going to take our marbles and go home," warned Kupchan, whose recent book, The End of the American Era, predicts that the unilateralist and global ambitions of the Bush hawks must inevitably come to grief, sooner rather than later, resulting in a backlash against U.S. engagement in world affairs.

    Kupchan's prediction may already be underway. In an editorial entitled "South Korea's Schroeder" Friday, the eminently-hawkish Wall Street Journal suggested that "in his call of congratulations , President Bush should inform Mr. Roh that the U.S. does not stay where it isn't wanted. American troops are there to protect Koreans and if they no longer feel that is necessary, we will bring them home."


    Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service, an international newswire, and for Foreign Policy in Focus, a joint project of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies and the New Mexico-based Interhemispheric Resource Center.


     
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