South Koreans are not Neo-cons

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.

21 thoughts on “South Koreans are not Neo-cons

  1. If only we could get the trigger-happy folks going on and on about “boneless Koreans” here to Seoul, within 50 clicks from long-range NK artillery. Talking war is so much easier when you know your family, friends, and livelihood won’t be pulverized within 24 hrs. And it makes “KJI-lover” “left-wing nutjob” name-calling so, so much easier.


  2. Ah, our most “beloved” neo-cons at their best again. All that rhetoric ’bout spreadin’ human rights, democracy & “regime change” to other lands with the youth of other nations as cannon fodder. Guess war 24/7 in their opinion is best for the economy.


  3. Dr. Bob:

    I think that you might be over-reacting a bit. No-one ins the US really cares about what is going on between South and North Korea (except of course, for those who take an interest in it). Not that the issue isn’t important.

    “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.”

    I wouldn’t worry about what is going on in the US vis a vis this issue.

    ANYWAY, GREAT JOB SOUTH KOREA! TWO NIL OVER GREECE! This was no an easy feat. Greece was the European Champions in 2004. What is even more amazing is that SK players don’t get much exposure on the international football scene so to beat a European team like Greece is incredible.


  4. Also Dr. Bob:

    You are writing as if GW is still the President and the Neo-Cons run the show in DC. It is as if your entire reason d’etre is GW. We are two years into a Democratic administration and you write as if McCain is the president of the US. Is this what/how you are teaching your students in South Korea?

    We have yet to read a good analysis from you about this administration’s handling of this issue, whether good, indifferent or bad. Instead you drag up GW and the Neo-Cons as if they can do anything. Five years from now will you still be dragging up GW?

    I just don’t understand. “Axis of Evil”? That was years ago. The current administration has buried that talk, yet you are still trying to conjure it from the dead.

    Seriously what are teaching, US Foreign Policy 2002-2008? That might explain.


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  6. There is a huge, noisy, energetic, enormously well funded war machine stilll every bit as much in business as it was during W’s administrarion. It has never been exclusively neocon, but it is substantially so. It is very much worth talking and blogging about.


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