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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A tale of two Koreas

(First off, let me just say that a post about the political sex scandal of the decade is a hard act to follow. Damn.)

In the same week that South Korean foreign minister Ban Ki Moon has emerged as the front-runner for secretary general of the United Nations, North Korean nutjob Kim Jung-il has made a nuclear testing threat that has even China saying ”knock that shit off.”

South Korea continues rising into an elite group of wealthy and peaceful nations (on par with Japan, Canada and Western Europe), and seems to be increasing its share of political leadership as well. Hard to imagine that 50 years ago, South Korea was considered no more than a Third World country—as opposed to North Korea, which today may require a new category (Fourth World? Seventh?) to properly label its downward spiral.

We often cite the transformation of post-WWII Germany and Japan when looking for an example of successful nation-building, but Korea may be the best case yet for American intervention (military, political and economic) abroad. Still, before comparing South Korea to Iraq or Afghanistan, it’s important to keep in mind that Korea was invaded from the north by Chinese- and Soviet-backed proxies (as opposed to struggling with its own violent leadership), and the Koreans welcomed American assistance in the conflict (unlike the Vietnamese). In that regard, South Korea is more like Kuwait than Iraq—and last I checked, Kuwait seems to like us just fine.

So apparently, here’s the equation for boosting your nation’s standing in the world: be geographically pivotal, get invaded by a significant power that opposes the US, and welcome American forces and dollars with open arms.

Heads up, Monaco.


Anonymous P. Pirx said...

A little comment on the above: South Vietnam did welcome American intervention, just like South Korea did. The difference is just that the intevention failed, and it is the winner who write the history. As for the rest, yes, being conquered by the US hasn't been a bad deal, historically.

And, while we discuss this, there are reports that North Korea tested a nuclear weapon. Now what?

Blogger Gordon the Gnome said...

Pirx, you're right that South Vietnam welcomed American intervention... that's my mistake suggesting they didn't.

But one thing that needs to be understood is that when a country welcomes foreign military forces, it's under the expectation that they deliver a win. When over a decade of bloody war got the South Vietnamese no closer to freedom, it only makes sense that public opinion in Vietnam shifted for the worse.

Does that make the Vietnamese fickle and hypocritical? Not at all. Imagine hiring an expensive plumber—the best of the best—to take care of a broken toilet. If he fixes it, you'll be happy to pay his cost. If he tries for months and can't do it, you're more likely to send him on his way unsatisfied, preferring to deal with a broken toilet than a broken toilet AND an expensive stranger in your house. And if he refuses to leave, you're likely to get upset.

Anonymous P. Pirx said...

Well, Gordon, that's closer. Small correction still, it was not a shift in the Vietnamese public opinion (which Vietnamese, the tens of thousands who took to the sea in leaking boats when the North took over, preferring the long shot gamble on being picked up to remaining in the workers' paradise?) that got the US out of there, it was the shift in the American public opinion that did it.

But the main point is true and well taken. In the ultimate account, it is not just your wealth and stockpiles of hardware that make you a great power. These are necessary, of course, but not sufficient. What really counts is your proven ability to deliver, on you promises, as well as on your threats (kinda like the Don in "Godfather"). This is what buys respect and on the international power exchange it is respect, not "likeability" that is the true coin of the realm. Respect will get you allies, likeability will get you sympathy notes.

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