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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 15)

All News 09:08 April 15, 2017

Ahn-Trump Wharton ties
Candidates clueless about how to stop pre-emptive US strike

Responses by presidential candidates to one national security question _ how to stop the United States from making a preemptive strike _have shown their lack of preparedness. It also raises questions about their ability to lead the nation out of a crisis over North Korea, the first task for the new president to grapple with after taking office.

Ahn Cheol-soo, one of two leading candidates, said, "I would call U.S. President Donald Trump, my alumnus from the Wharton School, and tell him there should be no war."

The candidate from the minority People's Party added that he would tell Chinese leader Xi Jinping to put pressure on North Korea, while issuing a statement for Pyongyang to stop its provocations.

Ahn's response raises at least three red flags. No. 1 is what if they don't answer his calls? Xi has a precedent _ not answering President Park Geun-hye's calls when she tried to enlist his help to apply pressure on Pyongyang. Regarding school ties, Trump graduated from the Wharton School as an undergraduate in 1968, while Ahn went to the school for an executive MBA course in 2005. Broadly speaking, they are alumni but his contingency plan of using school ties that are so tenuous to appeal to another head of state for help sounds so "Korean," but with its effects doubtful.

About warning the North, it is public knowledge that the North has habitually ignored our pleas for peace so it is natural to ask Ahn what makes him think the North would behave differently.

Moon Jae-in, who is competing neck-and-neck with Ahn, proved not much better than him.

As in the case with Ahn, the candidate from the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea showed the same predilection toward telephone calls. "I would call the U.S. president to tell him that there shouldn't be any preemptive attack, while coordinating with China." Moon's leaning toward China was salient.

Among minor candidates, Yoo Seung-min from the conservative Bareun Party, a party of defectors from the impeached President Park's Saenuri Party, sounded rather professional, saying that any attack against the North should be coordinated between Seoul and Washington. Hong Joon-pyo from the conservative Liberty Korea Party talked a la President Syngman Rhee's 1950s style of advancing to the North for reunification, while Sim Sang-jung of the labor-oriented Justice Party stressed her peace-only assertion of allowing no war on the Korean Peninsula.

True, the candidates had to answer within a limited time so they couldn't communicate their thoughts in detail. Still, it is deplorable that Ahn and Moon _ one of whom will likely be the next president _ lack a philosophy about where our nation should go and global insight. It is not hard to fathom that it was more for votes than for strategic adjustments that caused the two to change their views on the controversial deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system. We can't afford to elect a populist with no backbone and leadership, or a domestically oriented dogmatist. There appears to be none that can meet the criteria so it is the voters' duty to search for one that can break out of the mold and grow into the job of leading the nation.

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