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Not the U.S. we thought we knew

Nov 14,2019
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CHUN SU-JIN
The author is an acting deputy editor of the international news team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

There is, of course, the United States, but the United States we thought we knew is no longer. I was assured of that when I met geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan, who is known for his provocative straight talk. He said it was his first visit to Korea. When I asked what interested him about Seoul, he pointed out the far-right protests. He asked why protestors had U.S. flags. I said that’s because they value the Korea-U.S. alliance. But he responded that the United States for Korea did not exist any more. The signs in front of the Deoksu Palace saying “Koreans Love Trump and Americans” and “Korea-U.S. Alliance Forever” seem to be meaningless.

He said that the United States spent money and time playing the role of world police because it needed oil from the Middle East, but things have changed now that America attained the dream of energy independence with shale gas. While it will defend its pride as the superpower, the United States is not interested in keeping the world order, and Korea needs to find a way to survive on its own. I asked him how it is different from keeping a Ferrari in the garage and not driving it. He said that driving it would only cost money, and just showing it off was better. Will the United States as we know it return after business-minded Trump’s era ends? He said that Trump was only the beginning.

Of course, it is Zeihan’s personal opinion. But experts on the United States generally say it’s only the beginning considering the new isolationist trend of U.S. foreign policy. It is about time to say farewell to the image of the United States fixed in the minds of so-called liberals and conservatives in Korea.

The United States has evolved. Regardless of the ideological spectrum, we need to devise what real pragmatic diplomacy is for Korea in 2019. Short-tempered diplomacy or transparent diplomacy is a shortcut to a downfall, while it may help getting votes for now. We should show wisdom for the decision of the Korea-Japan General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) that will expire in just nine days.

I had written a series in 2015 titled “Diplomacy is Jazz: Time for Flexible Strategy.” I cited American diplomat Richard Holbrooke who said diplomacy is “endless variations on a theme.” Four years have passed and the administration has changed, but it is painful that his words are still valid. Has Korea really changed from the 19th century if we still keep on playing rock and roll diplomacy of being stiff and loud? The United States is no longer what we know. If you don’t know, there is no Korean diplomacy or Korea.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 13, Page 28