Jewish World Review Jan. 16, 2003 / 13 Shevat, 5763

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Why the United States should withdraw all of its military forces from South Korea as rapidly as we reasonably can


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | A conversation Washington Post reporters Peter Goodman and Joohee Cho had with three cappucino-sipping women in a Starbucks in Seoul illustrates why the United States should withdraw all of its military forces from South Korea as rapidly as we reasonably can.

"If North Korea wants nuclear weapons, I think they should have them," said Kim Young Ran, 29. "There is no way North Korea will attack us with nuclear weapons. We're the same country. You don't bomb and kill your family."

The United States has troops in South Korea because, 52 years ago, North Korea invaded South Korea, beginning a war in which a million South Koreans were killed, mostly by their North Korean "brothers."

But we have troops in South Korea now mostly because we have had troops in South Korea for 50 years. Times change. Circumstances change. But our policies often don't change with them. I learned this firsthand when I took part in a war game in the Pentagon during the Reagan administration.

The scenario was another Korean War. In the period leading up to the fighting, we hypothesized landing Marine reinforcements. I asked why the Marines were coming ashore at Pusan, which is in the southeast corner of the Korean peninsula, about as far from the locus of action as it is possible to get. The answer was because that's where the Marines landed in 1950.

There was a good reason for the Marines to land at Pusan in 1950. The North Koreans had overrun the rest of the country. But that wasn't the case in our scenario, where ports much closer to the DeMilitarized Zone were available.

Inertia prevailed over common sense in our war game, and it is again now.

The presence of American troops in Korea has become counterproductive to our goals in the region. They are seen less as protectors than as provocateurs who could drag South Korea into war.

Anti-American feeling is rampant in South Korea, especially among the young. In a recent survey conducted by the Korea Gallup organization, 53 percent of all Koreans - and 75 percent of Koreans in their 20s - said they disliked the United States.

If we were to withdraw our forces from South Korea, there is no particular reason why we should have a quarrel with North Korea. Kim Jong Il's is an ugly regime. But there are many ugly regimes on the planet. There is very little North Korea can do to harm us. There is a great deal North Korea can do to harm South Korea and Japan, but that is chiefly their problem. There is no longer a need for us to make it ours.

North Korea is rattling the nuclear saber mostly to extort international economic aid, without which it will collapse. South Korea and Japan wish to deal with North Korea by appeasing it. That choice may be folly, but it is their choice to make. If South Korea and Japan wish to pay the Danegeld, we ought not to oppose it or to participate in it.

Both North and South Korea accuse us of "imperialism." But our real sin is excessive parenting. We continue to treat South Korea as if it were a helpless child. South Korea was helpless when we came to its aid in 1950.

But that was half a century ago. South Korea today has more than twice the population and nearly 40 times the national wealth of North Korea. South Korea is capable of defending itself if it chooses to do so. If South Koreans choose not to do so, we cannot protect them from the consequences of their folly, and it would be foolhardy to try.

Children who have their adolescence prolonged tend to lash out at their parents, as young people in South Korea are lashing out at us now. Just as a 29-year-old ought not still to be living with his parents, South Korea ought not still to be living under our military protection - especially if South Koreans don't want it.

If we were to withdraw from South Korea, neither the North nor the South could continue to use us as an excuse for failing to deal with each other. I think there is a fair likelihood of another war if we withdraw. But there is also the possibility of genuine peace.

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10/30/02: Show North Korea we're serious: Polish off Saddam
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03/19/02: It's time pols and gov bureaucrats be held to the same standard of accountability we insist for corporate execs
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© 2002, Jack Kelly