Foreign Policy

Seoul: Another Enemy Capital

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President Kim Dae-jung had better watch his back. According to a Harris poll released last week, the American people are waking up to his designs on our nation.

"Do you feel that (READ EACH ITEM) is a close ally of the U.S., is friendly but not a close ally, is not friendly but not an enemy, or is unfriendly and is an enemy of the U.S.?" Harris Interactive asked a nationwide cross-section of Americans. While our buddies in Canada and the United Kingdom were declared friendly by 60 percent and 64 percent of respondents, respectively, a more startling factoid came up in the list of enemies: The top four American foes, in descending order, include Pakistan, China, Colombia and South Korea.

In the absence of more data, we can only speculate on the reasons for South Korea's low rating. Undoubtedly many Americans remain miffed over Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo's recent claim that he was brainwashed during his Unification Church mass wedding to Wendy Sung. Nor can we count out impatience at Johnny Yune's failure to release his long-awaited followup to They Call Me Bruce and They Still Call Me Bruce. And there's always the odd dissatisfied Hyundai owner, and untold millions still suffering the after-effects of the special two-hour series finale of M*A*S*H.

A substantial minority of Americans are unable to identify as an ally a country we defended at a cost of 54,000 lives. The real reason should be pretty obvious. Despite a brief post-9/11 campaign to convince ourselves otherwise, Americans remain stubbornly uninterested in foreign affairs. This condition may improve slightly in instances of frequent exposure (In addition to being our fifth most popular enemy, Israel places fourth among our allies), but it is, by all evidence, chronic.

This bedrock American trait is frequently deplored as isolationism under another name. But American policy is anything but isolationist. That may in fact be the problem. As with Jefferson's famous warning about expecting a nation both ignorant and free, the combination of popular disinterest and state adventurism has an unappetizing result—a policy that is at the same time relentlessly interventionist and fecklessly half-assed. Even after a year of warfare (which has not looked substantially different from the sort of warfare that characterized the peaceful years of Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, etc.), Americans remain unaware of how high a profile the country has just about everywhere, nor of how strange that profile must look to people who can't devote hours of inattention to international affairs.

Nor, after a year, do we appear equipped to answer some questions that are central to our security, if not our survival. Is Saddam Hussein a logical suspect in the war on terrorism, or the kind of leader the terrorists most despise? Did we get anything out of our action in Afghanistan? Did Iraq and Iran know they were forming an axis of evil when they fought a decade-long war against each other? These questions were best asked before we had real enemies, back when they constituted the sort of consequence-free skylarking that policy mandarins enjoy most. For now, foreign policy has been forced on us; to exercise that policy wisely, it might be useful to look up the difference between north and south.