I thought this would be a battle of extremists. This polite exchange between former United States amabassador to the United nations, John Bolton, and Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, on Fox reveals how the conservative end of the American political establishment has moved beyond intervention.
Knock me over, but Bolton isn’t spitting blood and backing intervention with every fiber of his soul. Bolton is emphasizing security no matter the cost. Bandow is essentially making checkbook arguments (via The Marmot’s Hole).
America was drawn into the peninsula at the conclusion of World War II, which is over. The U.S. was pulled into a very hot conflict by the Korean War, which also is over. Washington stayed involved to safeguard the South during the Cold War, which is over as well. Yet 28,500 Americas remain stationed in the Republic of Korea, decades after any serious justification for their presence disappeared.
Indeed, it is hard to think of a more anachronistic military presence in the world. The so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea once appeared to be winning the competition between North and South.
However, the ROK took off economically during the mid-1960s under Park Chung-hee, the present South Korean president’s father. A quarter century later democracy arrived.
As the Cold War ended both China and Russia formally recognized the South. Economic relations among them also flourished, especially between the ROK and the People’s Republic of China. Moreover, the South pulled ahead of the DPRK internationally: Seoul’s expanding trade attracted friends while Pyongyang’s terrorist attacks repelled them.
The mismatch grew ever larger. When I visited the North some years back I watched an ox-cart plod down an otherwise empty street in Pyongyang, the country’s capital and showcase. Only in military power did North Korea maintain an advantage.
The North conscripted more than a million men into its army, lined the so-called Demilitarized Zone with artillery, and accumulated more than 4000 tanks. But Pyongyang’s lack of modern weapons, combined arms training, and air capability meant the DPRK had little hope of winning a war. North Korea could devastate the ROK’s capital of Seoul, which sits uncomfortably close to the DMZ, but not conquer the South.
Although well able to deter North Korean adventurism, South Korea preferred to rely on America than to build up its own defensive force. Thus, a security guarantee which originally safeguarded Asia’s Cold War boundary turned into a wasteful international dole. The ROK—which has soared into the economic stratosphere—became a foreign variant of the famed “welfare queen,” abusing the system and living off of American taxpayers.
Today Washington is essentially broke. The national debt exceeds $16.5 trillion. Toss in all of Uncle Sam’s obligations, including unfunded liabilities, and Americans are on the hook for more than $220 trillion, about 14 times the annual GDP. Yet U.S. troops remain in South Korea. International welfare continues to flow.
And Washington’s presence in the ROK has turned the U.S. into a target of North Korea’s wrath.
And, just for fun, Cato can’t resist the issue of Taiwan in the context of a Korean conflict. Could perhaps trade North Korea for Taiwan, if the United States redeployed its troops from the Korean peninsula? Tokyo might have something to say about that.
Damn, Bolton seems a whole lot more reasonable when he talks about redeploying the USFK to Busan.