Sometimes it’s frustrating to be a friend of the United States. Consider the case of South Korea.
On the one hand, the mainstream media highlight North Korea’s claim that the United States is to blame for the failure of the six-nation talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear program. The reason, according to Pyongyang: Washington insists on a comprehensive dismantling, not merely a freezing, of all of the North’s nuclear activities.
Could it be that Washington’s hard-line has something to do with the ranking of Kim Jong Il of North Korea as the world’s “worst” dictator, based on the findings of Freedom House, Amnesty International, and other human-rights organizations? North Korea is the only nation to earn Freedom House’s worst-possible score on political rights and civil liberties for 31 straight years.
On the other hand, most of the media have either ignored or buried deep the announcement (as did the New York Times) that South Korea is sending another 3,000 troops–combat personnel, as well as military engineers and medics–into Iraq. There are already 400 South Korean military medics and engineers in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. That makes South Korea’s military contingent the third-largest in Iraq, after the United States and Great Britain.
Such an act of solidarity does not come cheaply. South Korea is assuming all the costs of transportation, equipment, wages, meals, and other support for its troops, estimated at about $245 million.
As they did in the Vietnam War, South Korean soldiers are eager to help their American counterparts. There have been as many as 15 volunteers for each member of the force going to Iraq in late April.
None of this is a state secret. President Bush telephoned President Roh Moo-hyun to express his gratitude for South Korea’s decision to send more troops to help rehabilitate Iraq. In a far-ranging and insightful talk (on March 2) about democracy in Asia, Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to South Korea as “standing with us in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Neither in print or online (as far as I can determine) did Times cover Powell’s important address.
In this election year, already choked with partisan rancor and rhetoric, the mass media have a greater responsibility than ever to keep the public fully informed about key issues. To put it simply, the United States is not all alone in Iraq–the dispatching of 3,000 South Korean troops to help in Iraq’s rehabilitation is one more proof of that fact.
And practically speaking, would the South Korean government so act if U.S. policy in Iraq were failing? But you wouldn’t know about Seoul’s demonstration of friendship and support if you depended on your daily newspaper or the evening newscast.