A Flake at the Korea Society

As GuamDiary already observed, the New York Korea Society has become inconsequential to its general membership, offering them a steady diet of pretzels and beer in the form of book chats, films, exhibits, and the like. Ambassador Minton & co. serve up more substance fare for a List A of toffs.

On 5 May 2011 Korea Society found its way back to the days when Donald Gregg and Fred Carriere ran the show: then members feasted on subjects they could satisfy their hunger on issues concerning the two Koreas. Gordon Flake, executive director of the Mansfield Foundation, the invited speaker, chose to discourse on ‘China’s approach to North Korea’.

Flake dabbles in conflict resolution. Fluent in Korean which he learnt during his stint as a Mormon missionary to South Korea. On the question of Korea, he wears many hats and, according to him, occupies in the various organisations with which he is associated, where he at times is a ‘liberal’, at others a firm ‘conservative’. Flake is no stranger to the Korea Society whose sycophantic senior vice president Stephen Noerper introduced as the ‘future secretary of state’. With a mane of well style white hair, dressed in a black suit, Flake makes a good impression as he stepped up to the podium. In manner and dress, he looks like a Mormon elder and the bearing of a man on a religious mission.

Substantively, he had little to say on China other than what a reader of, say,  the ‘New York Times’ would discover in an article of general interest. On North Korea, however, Flake had a lot to impart. On the subject of the DPRK he is like an angry god hurling thunderbolts. Kim Jong il & co., to him, have little redeeming qualities, as he fingered his rosary of indictment, disapproval, and outright condemnation, with a shtick laced with ‘facts and figures’.

His charges are part of the standard vocabulary of the hoary vocabulary of the U.S. North Korean clerisy. Flake put his name to the conclusions of the CFR [Council on Foreign Relations] special report on Korea [March 2010] that calls on the Obama administration to ‘roll back’ North Korea. At heart that is the alpha and omega of his remarks, which, of course, are honey coated in more soothing words.

Time and time again, the Mansfield Foundation’s executive director kept coming back to the generous U.S. initiatives to resolve issues with North Korea, if only the DPRK’s leadership listened with open ears. Flake’s approach should give us pause in astonishment:  as a maven of conflict resolution, surely he would grasp more clearly than others that North Koreans would look upon his ‘solutions’ as nothing but a transparent conspiracy to ‘reform’ and ‘modernise’ the DPRK through subterfuge as a reason to resist them.  For to North Koreans, they carry the bad odour of regime change. Undoubtedly, too, he more than others should know that the North Korea’s long resistance to Japanese colonialism and the rebuilding a country flattened by U.S. bombing during the Korean War — which is frozen in place by a 1953 armistice  — the DPRK has a certain image of itself which is conflict with Flake’s standpoint. Thus, the confusion and incomprehension he expresses when he puts forth the U.S.’ case, as well as his inability to see that transacting any business with the North runs into a cul de sac.

Flake, in brief, is a muscular ‘imperialist’, with a message which has hardly changed in substance since the heady days of the Cold War, where in Korea stubbed its big toe in stalemate. Smoothly ambitious in its thrust, his mantra is something straight out of John Foster Dulles’ bag of tricks.

The U.S. has wisely calibrated its policy, he says, towards North Korea with South Korea’s Lee Myung bak’s take no prisoners approach. This then, is how Flake & co. hope to overcome North Korea’s perversely persistent resistance to America’s charm offense. To anyone who has some knowledge of North Korea, they appear to be chasing a mad dream.

Well, the message shed of all the snake oil Flake’s peddling reads loud and clear. During the Q&A, some of his facts were boldly challenged. And like a smooth operator he is, he hid behind a ‘well, this is my opinion’, without conceding his slant on events.

The Mansfield Foundation’s executive director’s spiel carries weight in Washington where he is frequently called to testify on Korean policy, China, etc. Flake is fulsome in false modesty, which rings hollow the moment his words leave his mouth. The tragedy is that he and his fellow North Korean ‘clerks’ hog the conversation on U.S. policy towards the DPRK, hardly allowing a dissenting voice to be heard. As such, they hope to square the circle as they engage in a strategy of ‘rolling back’ North Korea, which runs the risk of renewed warfare as the world witnessed by South Korea’s living shelling of North Korean waters along the NLL [Northern Limit Line] in November 2010.

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