Don Kirk, Senior Editor email@example.com
Donal Kirk, Future Korea Weekly, Journalist and author
The word "moon" lends itself to at least two word plays on the surname of Korea's new president.
There's "honeymoon" and then there's "moonshine" a slang term that came into use in the U.S. in the 19th century for whiskey that was illegally distilled, often at night, by the light of the moon.
Moon Jae-in is now enjoying his honeymoon as president. He's reached high levels in popularity polls and has yet to encounter serious opposition as he appoints aides whose credentials often include firebrand opposition to conservative leaders and policies. That's to be expected considering Moon's own record as an activist and advocate of dialogue and reconciliation with North Korea.
How long, however, will the honeymoon last? Korean presidents have an extraordinary record of plunging into disrepute if not disgrace either in their last year or two in office or shortly afterward.
In the era of presidential elections held every five years under the "democracy constitution" adopted 30 years ago, every president has faced rising outbursts of criticism before finally leaving the Blue House.
Park Geun-hye, ousted nearly a year before her normal five-year term would have expired, is only the latest in a long line of victims of angry accusations and retribution.
Roh Tae-woo, the first president elected under the 1987 constitution, was convicted of corruption and involvement in the Gwangju massacre after having completed his term.
Kim Dae-jung, remembered for his Sunshine policy, was revealed later to have channeled hundreds of millions of dollars into North Korean coffers to bring about his June 2000 summit with Kim Jong-il after which he achieved his goal of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Can Moon, who would like nothing better than to bask in a fresh burst of Sunshine, escape the calumny that finally befalls Korean presidents? As Moon's honeymoon period ends, will people discover that they've really gotten drunk on moonshine?
Will the intoxication of moonshine wear off, leaving a hangover of charges and counter-charges, disillusionment and disappointment? Recent Korean history indicates that nobody should be overly optimistic after the initial excitement, the promises of reform and high hopes.
The joy of revelry over moonshine may turn into misery sooner than expected as long as Kim Jong-un insists on going on with missile tests and possibly a sixth nuclear test.
Moon cannot ignore Kim's refusal to abandon a program that is likely to remain the centerpiece of North Korean policy regardless of all happy talk about the need for reconciliation and dialogue.
In fact, Moon's immediate statement denouncing North Korea's test of a high-flying new missile several days after his election, and then another test a week later, did not differ from similar statements by Park or her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak.
He stated clearly that North Korea had to give up its missile program and that denuclearization of North Korea was needed before reconciliation would be possible.
North Korea has not yet begun insulting Moon with statements similar to its denunciations of Park and Lee. Instead, the North has insisted on the need for its nuclear program while criticizing signs of "confrontation."
North Korea's position is sure to harden after Moon sees President Trump in Washington, coordinating on a policy that's likely to include incentives and implicit threats.
Trump appears to be coming into line with Moon's desire for dialogue. He's backing away from earlier threats, giving the impression that he would at least like to see if there's any way to get along with North Korea.
There is, however, little room for optimism. The fact that Kim persists in missile tests means that he's simply not going to compromise and would probably never agree to suspend tests during talks, much less abandon the program.
Might Moon prove as tough as were Park and Lee in the face of North Korea's continued challenge? Probably not.
The betting is that he will look for ways to placate the North, perhaps by reopening the Gaeseong Industrial Complex. He might even want to reopen tours to Mount Geumgang despite the North's refusal to guarantee the safety of South Korean visitors nine year after a South Korean woman was killed by a North Korean soldier while wandering outside the tourist zone.
Moon may show his desire for reconciliation in other ways such as authorizing more visits to North Korea. And he might consider resuming shipments of much needed rice and fertilizer that South Korea donated to the North during the decade of the Sunshine policy.
While North Korea is test-firing missiles, however, Moon hopefully will give up any notion of telling Trump to pull out the THAAD counter-missile battery. It would be ridiculous to get rid of THAAD at a time when it might actually be needed.
In a post-moonshine hangover, THAAD should stay where it is as a reminder of the need to defend the South against North Korea's unending threats..
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