Pres. Bush is having visions again, and in his visions he sees the United States staying in Iraq for the next 50 years, just like we did in South Korea:
President George W. Bush would like to see a lengthy U.S. troop presence in Iraq like the one in South Korea to provide stability but not in a frontline combat role, the White House said on Wednesday.
The United States has had thousands of U.S. troops in South Korea to guard against a North Korean invasion for 50 years.
Tony Snow madly spins:
“The Korean model is one in which the United States provides a security presence, but you’ve had the development of a successful democracy in South Korea over a period of years, and, therefore, the United States is there as a force of stability,” Snow told reporters.
He said U.S. bases in Iraq would not necessarily be permanent because they would be there at the invitation of the host government and “the person who has done the invitation has the right to withdraw the invitation.”
“I think the point he’s trying to make is that the situation in Iraq, and indeed, the larger war on terror, are things that are going to take a long time. But it is not always going to require an up-front combat presence,” Snow said.
“The president has always said that ultimately you want to be handing primary responsibility off to the Iraqis,” he said.
“You provide the so-called over-the-horizon support that is necessary from time to time to come to the assistance of Iraqis but you do not want the United States forever in the front.”
Sounds to me like Tony is trying to convince himself as much as us. Understandable, given that Iraq and South Korea have nothing in common historically, demographically, or politically. Josh Marshall has more on that:
… First, Korea is an ethnically and culturally homogenous state. Iraq, not a culturally or ethnically homogenous state. And needless to say, that has been a point of some real difficulty. Second, Korea a democracy? Well, yes, for about fifteen years. Without going into all the details, South Korea was a military dictatorship for most of the Cold War.
A deeper acquaintance with the last half century of Korean history would suggest that a) a fifty year occupation, b) lack of democracy and c) a hostile neighbor were deeply intertwined. Remove B or C and you probably don’t have A, certainly no A if you lose both B and C.
The more telling dissimilarity is the distinction between frontline troops and troops for stability. At least notionally (and largely this was true) US troops have been in South Korea to ward off an invasion from the North. US troops aren’t in Iraq to ward off any invasion. Invasion from who? Saudi Arabia? Syria?
No, US troops are in Iraq for domestic security, in so many words, to protect it from itself, or to ensure the continued existence of an elected, pro-US government. That tells you that the US military presence in Iraq will never be as relatively bloodless as the US military presence in Korea since it has no external threat it’s counterbalancing against. In a sense that the US deployment in Korea has never quite been, it is a sustained foreign military occupation.
More from BooMan on “democracy” in South Korea:
First of all, some history. The President of South Korea from 1948 to 1960 was Syngman Rhee. Rhee was not a democrat. He tortured and massacred people on the left and was a model of corruption. He was forced out of office by student protests that erupted after a rigged election for his vice-president.
Rhee was not replaced by a democrat, either. After a period of instability and chaos, there was a coup d’etat led by Park Chung-Hee.
Park ‘served’ two terms as president, and he wasn’t replaced by a democrat, either. He forced through an amendment to the constitution and ran for a third term. Then he declared a state of emergency and stopped allowing anyone to run against him in future elections. In 1979, his presidency was finally ended…by a bullet fired from the head of the KCIA’s gun.
So…twenty-six years after the end of the Korean War there had been nothing but military dictatorships, a coup d’etat, sham elections, and an assassination of the head of state by the director of central intelligence. At this point it must have turned into a bastion of liberty, right? Wrong. In 1980:
General Chun Doo-hwan launched a coup d’etat against the transitional government of Choi Gyu Hwa, the former prime minister under Park and interim president, to assume the presidency. Chun’s seizure of power triggered national protest asking for democrazation, particularly protests in Gwangju, South Cholla province. Chun sent in the special forces to suppress the city, and many students and civilian were killed brutally.
You can read about the Gwangju Massacre here.
It wasn’t until 1988, when South Korea hosted the Olympics, that real democracy finally came into existence there. It took a full thirty-five years to manifest itself.
If Iraq follows the same timeline, it will be 2038 when they finally have a real democracy.
But, of course, Iraq will never develop along the same timeline because there is almost nothing that Iraq shares in common with South Korea. South Korea is almost 100% ethnically Korean. They don’t fight over theological differences. And, while they have a militarized and insane neighbor to their north, just as Iraq has a militarized and insane neighbor to their east, South Korea has no history of invading that neighbor…it’s just the opposite.
The South Koreans tolerate the American presence there because there is a real military threat and Korean reunification has a compelling logic. There is no such thing as Iraqi/Iranian reunification.
Moreover, the Koreans have a long history of being subjugated by ethnically different neighbors. They don’t like it, but they are used to it. And America’s presence there is benevolent when compared to their other experiences. There is no larger ethnically Korean community that is militantly resistant to colonial or imperial influence. Not so among the Iraqis, the Arabs, and the Muslims.
George W. Bush has, at least and at last, laid his vision before the American people. Unfortunately, that vision is insane.
Cross-posted at Liberty Street.