Is the Possibility of a Unified Korea Lost?

Two decades ago, Harold Koh thought he would soon see North and South Korea reunited. Today, the Yale professor who served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations says he no longer expects it will happen in his lifetime, if ever. Koh explained why he believes a series of missteps by Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump have stopped progress toward a unified peninsula during a recent talk at UC Santa Barbara.

Koh has dealt with the challenges of North and South Korea since before he was born. His mother was trapped in North Korea when the country was divided after WWII. She and her family hiked for days to the border, and were able to make it back to Seoul. His father worked in politics, but was forced to seek asylum in the United States after the South Korean government was overthrown in 1961. Koh eventually followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a legal scholar and diplomat.

Koh was optimistic about a peaceful resolution between North and South Korea back in 2000. He had just left Pyongyang after what was the highest-level diplomatic visit up to that point. He says there were plans in motion to move the 2002 World Cup to North Korea with a unified Korean team. But, when George W. Bush took office and named North Korea as part of the “axis of evil,” Koh says those plans, and any hope of uniting the countries, died.

As much as Koh disagrees with the Bush administration’s approach to North Korea, he is even more critical of how President Trump has handled the situation. Koh says the summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un was a mistake, because the administration should have demanded concessions from the North Korean regime before agreeing to such a high-level meeting. He also says Trump should have made clear demands from Kim, and certainly should not have publicly said he, “fell in love” with the dictator. But, Koh does believe we’re approaching a “moment of change.”

Watch The Trump Administration and North Korea

Beyond 2018: What’s Next for Congress and Country as a Whole

The results of the 2018 midterm elections are in, but what’s next? Will a Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate be able to work together? What do the results mean for 2020? And, what should Democrats do to capitalize on midterm gains? Professor Emeritus Sanford A. Lakoff shared his thoughts on those questions and more at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC San Diego Extension. He begins by looking at midterm turnout, changing demographics, and increasing political polarization. He notes that many point to the Gingrich Revolution as the beginning of modern-day polarization, and suggests President Trump has only added to the trend.

But, there is also division within the Democratic Party. Several newly-elected representatives have pledged not to vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. Lakoff argues that would be a mistake. He cautions that the coalition risks becoming a “Tea Party of the Left” if they are unwilling to compromise, especially without holding either the Senate or the Presidency. He suggests Pelosi should pledge to only serve as Speaker until 2020, and prepare new Democratic representatives to take on leadership positions in the future.

Lakoff then lays out what he believes should be the top priorities for Democrats over the next two years. His list includes healthcare, immigration reform, climate change, and gun control. While he admits it’s unlikely Democrats will make significant progress on the issues, Lakoff says the effort would show voters what they can expect should Democrats take the Senate and White House in 2020. Lakoff also suggests lawmakers go beyond legislation, and set up think tanks and non-partisan commissions on the major issues of our time. Those include electoral reform, medical coverage, gun violence, the national debt, and ensuring employment with the development of artificial intelligence. But, the ability to make any progress on any of these issues may rest on an unpredictable variable: the Robert Mueller investigation.

Watch Breaking Down the 2018 Midterm Election Results with Professor Emeritus Sanford Lakoff — Osher UC San Diego