Hankyoreh honors my work on the U.S. and South Korea

One year ago I had the incredible honor of having my work on the United States and South Korea featured in Hankyoreha newspaper founded by courageous journalists forced out of their jobs during the Park and Chun dictatorships. 


Hankyoreh posted this spread after the Consulate General in New York representing the government of Park Guen Hye complained to The Nation about an article I had written about Park’s repression of Korean trade unions, titled “In South Korea, a Dictator’s Daughter Cracks Down on Labor.”

This sparked a furious response inside Korea – recounted here – with even the opposition parties joining in the criticism of the government. Hankyoreh wrote a scathing editorial. The give-and-take I had with the Consulate General was later printed in The Nation’s letters section (scroll to the bottom for our exchange). As Park Guen Hye – “dejected, sleepless and alone” – huddles in the Blue House as the nation demands her resignation, her corruption and authoritarian practices are now clear to everyone – even her allies in the U.S. government.

As an American who has been concerned since an early age about my country’s relationship with South Korea, I was deeply touched by my colleagues’ response to Park’s actions in 2015. The Hankyoreh depiction of my work, from my reporting as a kid in Seoul of the 1960 Revolution against Syngman Rhee to the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, was the icing on the cake. I can’t thank the newspaper enough for this tribute.




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Whatever happened to the COINdinistas?

screenshot-2016-12-07-17-03-59A few years ago, I was leaked a large trove of documents from a contractor deeply engaged in the counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan. As I slowly made my way through them, I decided I had to go back to my years of studying the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam to understand what I was dealing with. This article, just published in The Baffler, is the result. I couldn’t have done it without the support of several friends and colleagues, including Mark Ames of Pando and Jason Leopold of Vice, both of whom provided valuable insight and suggestions. I also owe a huge thanks to Matthew Hoh, the Marine vet who resigned from the State Department in 2009 to protest the war; he helped frame the story and, as you’ll see my conclusions. Here’s how it starts:

Eight years ago, as Washington was making the transition from the nightmare years of George W. Bush to the endless possibilities of Barack Obama, national security elites were transfixed by a military doctrine called counterinsurgency.

The modern counterinsurgency faith stirred to life in the glory days of JFK’s “hearts and minds” campaign in Vietnam. Its champions promised to win over conquered lands by eschewing raw firepower for enlightened social projects. They pledged to use cash, economic aid, and military training to convince locals that America offered their last, best hope for a better life. When they retrofitted the doctrine to help salvage the disastrous 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, they called themselves “COINdinistas.”

Leading the twenty-first-century revival of counterinsurgency was an up-and-coming army general, David H. Petraeus, who had participated in nearly every major U.S. intervention overseas since Vietnam, including those in El Salvador, Haiti, Bosnia, and Iraq. After preaching the COIN gospel for decades on the margins of the national security establishment, Petraeus was appointed in 2007 to command U.S. forces in Iraq. There, he finally got his chance to practice what his followers liked to call the “new American way of war.”

Within a year of Petraeus’s ascension, the Sunni insurgents and the Al Qaeda hardliners had been subdued, and the innovative tactician was suddenly a national hero. According to Washington mythology, Petraeus’s counterinsurgency methods, together with Bush’s exquisitely timed “surge” of thirty thousand troops, finally allowed the Pentagon to extricate the United States from Iraq, and reverse the invasion’s rapid plunge into imperial folly.

Strangely, this myth also won the hearts of many antiwar liberals and Democrats, who seized on the humanitarian ethos that sparks counterinsurgency efforts as the antidote to the neocon model of unilaterally blundering into one “war of choice” after another. “All of them glommed onto this narrative,” Gian Gentile, an Iraq combat veteran and the author of Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency, told me. “Why? Because it maintains the idea that American wars in foreign lands still work. And the proof in the pudding was in the surge in Iraq.”

But for these liberal strategists, the proving ground for mature counterinsurgency techniques would be Afghanistan—the conflict that President Bush had sidestepped in favor of Iraq and that candidate Obama described as a war of necessity. By 2008, the turnaround was complete and counterinsurgency was now “the coin of the realm,” as Time sardonically put it.

Indeed, president Obama seized the earliest chance during his first year in office to launch his own “surge” in Afghanistan—and along with it, he embraced the hearts-and-minds strategy promoted by Petraeus and his new commander in Kabul, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Flush from their latest success, the COINdinistas were riding high. David Kilcullen, the Australian Army officer who served as Petraeus’s senior counterinsurgency adviser in Iraq and later Afghanistan, began talking of a “Global COIN” to fight terrorism from Somalia to the Philippines, winning the admiration of CNN’s Peter Bergen and other prominent terrorism experts. A new era of warfare seemed to be upon us…

To continue, click here.


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Trump’s Man from Contractor Land

Remember Iraq? Trapwire? Abu Ghraib?

Meet Trump’s Top Military Adviser


Just posted at The Nation:

Over the last two days, Donald Trump has put together a national security team that will move US foreign policy far to the right.

The most shocking appointment, announced Thursday, was retired Army General Michael Flynn, a fanatical opponent of radical Islam, as his national security adviser. On Friday, Trump named Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas, to run the CIA. Popeo is a member of the House intelligence committee who strongly opposed the Iran nuclear deal as well as the post-Snowden “reforms” of US intelligence.

 But so far, little attention has been paid to a retired Army lieutenant general, Joseph “Keith” Kellogg, one of Trump’s closest military and foreign policy advisers. He is a former contracting executive who is considered a front-runner for a senior position at the Pentagon. He has been among the small group of advisers coming and going to Trump Towers this week.

Kellogg played a critical role in the disastrous US occupation of Iraq as the director of operations of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran the country after the 2003 invasion. Since leaving the military, he has been deeply involved in the high-tech, computer-driven style of warfare that has spawned the enormous business complex of contractors and suppliers that ring Washington, DC, from the CIA to the National Security Agency.

And with Flynn, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, now in charge of Trump’s national security team, Kellogg in a prime spot to select the officials to run Trump’s military policies. In that position, Kellogg brings 20 years of experience as an executive for some of the nation’s largest and most notorious military contractors.

To read on, click here.


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With Clinton, Expect Increased Tensions with North Korea


Antiwar protesters in New York denounce THAAD deployment to Korea, Oct. 21. (NewsPro)

My latest, just posted at The Nation (with the Korean version at NewsPro):

Over the past two weeks, South Korea has been obsessed with a huge scandal involving its president, Park Geun-hye. Highly unpopular, she faces fierce criticism and protests over her mysterious relationship with a religious cultist without any position in government who apparently edited Park’s speeches and may have made critical decisions concerning North Korea.

But in Washington, where foreign-policy elites generally ignore the politics of South Korea, the obsession was over North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un. He has built a small arsenal of nuclear weapons and—claiming that his country’s survival is at stake—is moving relentlessly to develop missiles capable of reaching not only South Korea and Japan but even the United States.

On October 24, James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, essentially threw up his hands over Kim, expressing exasperation over the failure of economic sanctions to slow his weapons program. ““I think the notion of getting the North Koreans to denuclearize is probably a lost cause,” he said in a speech in New York.

That same week, John Hamre, a former Pentagon official and the president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, admitted in a conference on Korea at the conservative Heritage Foundation that many in Washington are embracing a more militaristic approach. “I’ve been at meetings with senior US officials who say we need to change policy to formally embrace regime change,” he said. Hamre argued that such a policy would be counterproductive because it would lose China’s support for denuclearization.

So what will the next US president—widely believed to be Hillary Clinton—do about Korea? It just so happens that, as November 8 draws near, she has quietly mapped out hawkish positions on North Korea and China that would go well beyond President Obama’s policy mix of military pressure and economic sanctions.

To read on, click here.

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The 4.19 Democratic Uprising in South Korea

South Korea’s First Revolution

Through the eyes of an American boy in Seoul


In 1960, I was living in Seoul, where my father was working for a religious organization that distributed relief aid in postwar South Korea. During the presidential elections of March 1960, I had observed truckloads of people being driven to the polls to vote for the right-wing pro-US dictator, Syngman Rhee. I was not surprised in late March when I began reading of protests throughout the country against what many Koreans said was a rigged election.

On April 19, the anger and fury against Rhee and his police state burst into the streets, when thousands of students and ordinary citizens launched massive demonstrations against the government. That night, my father, who worked in an office downtown, was trapped in his building for hours as police shot into the crowds, killing dozens. For the next few days, my American missionary school near Yonsei University was closed, and I began tracking the daily events. Every day I would cut out relevant stories from the newspapers, some of them – to my utter astonishment – censored and scratched out by the military.

By early May, Rhee had been forced out of the country, and was flown to Hawaii in a plane owned by Civil Air Transport, the CIA’s proprietary airline. For the first time in my life, I had witnessed people stand up and overthrow an unpopular government; suddenly, revolution was real to me.

Unfortunately, the “democratic spring” of 1960 didn’t last long, ending when General Park Chung Hee seized power in a military coup in May 1961. But the spirit of 4.19 lived on, through the 1980 uprising in Kwangju and the 1987 restoration of democracy. And it’s alive today as Koreans protest the drift into authoritarian rule by Park’s daughter, President Park Geun-hye.

I never forgot 4.19, and the 1960 uprising has always signified my baptism into the politics of liberation (the last photo is me in Seoul, in front of the only monument I could find in the city to those tumultuous days). Here is my record of the events, as I recorded them in my scrapbook – my first ever venture into journalism (age 9!).

4-19-p3 4-19-p4
4-19-p7 4-19-p8 4-19-p9 4-19-p10 4-19-p11 4-19-p12 4-19-p13 4-19-p14 4-19-p15 4-19-p17 4-19-p18 4-19-p19 4-19-p20 4-19-p21 4-19-p22 4-19-p23 4-19-p24 4-19-p25 4-19-p26 4-19-p27 4-19-p27-1 4-19-p28 4-19-p29 4-19-p30



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