Thursday, June 12, 2008

Katrina the rule; not the exception?

What’s their beef?

It seems that the Koreans are up in arms about their agreement with the US.

About Military bases?

No, nothing quite so prosaic—after all, they’ve enjoyed mostly good relations with the US since the 1950’s. The real crux of the problem is something that most of the rest of us take for granted: The quality of the beef that we send them.

It seems that the Korean people are worried about an incident of Mad Cow Disease that occurred in 2003. And the protestors complain that little has been done to lift the standard to assure customers for their beef, that it is beyond reproach. In fact, they charge that the Department of Agriculture’s inspection standards are unequal to the task and lax at best, boosting concerns that diseased beef could be shipped to the Korean people without their knowledge.

The rest of us should agree. The Agriculture Department until recently, in fact, allowed cows that could not stand, to be slaughtered. This is beyond the pale.

At present, our tests are one for ninety cattle slaughtered and the test results indicate a very low level for the presence of Mad Cow disease.

As a result, many countries have lowered their standards to accommodate American imported beef and it has been the cause of rising friction between the people and their government..

But while the government’s have been willing to accept Western beef, the people have not.

In point of fact, doubts about the quality of western beef have triggered a firestorm of controversy that has spilled over into the streets of Seoul, endangering our relationship as never before...

It seems that fifty years of friendship between America and its Korean allies is to go out the window because the Korean people think we may be shipping them poisoned beef.

On the wings of a “new pragmatism,” newly elected president, Lee Myung-bak had made building a political and economic alliance with the West his top priority.

And now it may be all out the window.

In fact, just yesterday, the Korean president suggested that he might consider dissolving his government.

More than 100,000 people gathered in the streets of Seoul last night to underscore the seriousness of their concerns.

Who would have thought that our relationship could turn into well, let’s say, hamburger over something so pedestrian when we are face to face with an aggressive nuclear power just over the border.

In effect, American power has been circumvented, in some respects, by our insensitivity to the needs of our allies for reaffirmation that the meat they receive from us is free of disease.

Not too much to ask.

And although this may seem trivial and minor to many, the stakes are exceptionally high for both ourselves and South Korea who by its geography plays a pivotal role in the world in keeping the peace with its edgy and war-like neighbor to the north.

It is too bad that more often than not, our Secretary of State and the rest of the White House crew seem too self-involved to put out fires before they become conflagrations. This is just another instance that Katrina was not the exception but the rule.

And while the temptation is to make light of the people’s concerns, the fact is that if the Koreans reject us, in the longer term, this may be one more ally who has turned against us for our aloofness and contempt.

Les Aaron

Politics Blog Top Sites


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