Koreagate, that flash in the pan of Washington scandals, tarnished few political reputations, turned no one out of office (not directly, at least), but did succeed in leaving many Americans puzzled about South Korea, that erstwhile militaristic protectorate America has been supporting so steadily for so long.
South Korea surely needs United States support during its present turmoil. But beyond that the US should, it seems, condition its financial and military largess on greater integrity and democracy in the peninsular nation.
True, American aid has helped South Korea make tremendous economic strides in the past two decades, and one day the "land of the morning calm" may join Japan as a model of free-enterprise democracy in East Asia. But massive American troop support and hand-over-fist dole-outs to South Korea also have encouraged internal corruption, and, there is reason to believe, actually fueled the bribing of American congressmen.
One of the most surprising conclusions of Robert Boettcher's book is that Koreagate came about because of the confluence of the misdeeds of three powerful South Koreans: Park Chung Hee, the late repressive dictator; Tongsun Park, the playboy influence peddler; and, curiously, Sun Myung Moon, the mysterious and controversial religious leader.
Tongsun Park comes off as a sort of Korean Billy Sol Estes, who parlayed a ready smile and mastery of the English language into a social relationship with congressmen that led to lucrative rice brokerage deals and eventually to both freelance and government-sponsored attempts to manipulate American foreign policy through a "charmed circle" of American leaders.
In the estimation of Mr. Boettcher, a Far Eastern specialist who worked as staff director of the House Subcommittee on International Relations, Tongsun Park was exposed relatively easily.
The KCIA and the Park government, on the other hand, presumably would respond to pressure to cease and desist by the US government.
But Rev. Moon, Boettecher says, was "a distant second to the press fixation on the bribing of congressmen." As a result, he maintains, most Americans never knew the Korean influence campaign had an element "much more destructive to society" than Tongsun Park. Mr. Boettecher's detailed analysis of why he believes this to be the case contains a fascinating description of the theology and intermingled recruiting, business, and political activities of the Unification Church and its assorted affiliates.
These was no evidence that Mr. Moon bribed a congressman, but the Moonsponsored Korean Cultural and Freedom Foundation, and his zealouz Washington follower (also linked to the KCIA), Bo Hi Pak, lobbied for President Park. Rev. Moon, says Mr. Boettcher, also planted young female followers in the offices of key congressmen. His agents promoted Korean interests on Capitol Hill, and the KCIA's 1976 plan for operations in the US included a component of the Moon organization.
Mr. Boettcher warns that Americans should not turn sour on Korea: "It is no longer the pitiful povert case it was in the 1980s. It is a growing industrial nation and an important trading partner with the United States. Growth of democracy could have a change with Park gone."
The lesson from the Koreagate episode is not as clearcut as that from Watergate. Koreagate has affected comity between America and an ally, leaving a legacy of doubt where once there was almost automatic support. And perhaps it has reminded us that corruption is not the exlusive domain of a single person, party, or ideology.