That act is of a different sort from what previous administrations have done. We might recall the episode when Madeleine Albright herself went to North Korea to meet Kim Jung-Il, the present leader’s deceased father, and held out the hand of friendship. The Clinton administration and other successor administrations signed quickly ignored agreements with North Korea that gave the appearance of the regime’s willingness to give up a nuclear arsenal. As usual, attempts to gain the good will of the totalitarian regime through a policy of appeasement failed to have any impact.
It is hard, looking at the boyish leader with his Mickey Mouse wannabes behind the podium with his model wife, and his carousing with Dennis Rodman who many argued inadvertently was showing the North Koreans that the United States was not so bad, to take his threats seriously.
One thing is certain. The CIA does not have any top-level covert officers among the military leadership, or indeed among the Communist Party Politburo. North Korea is a lot more closed than even Communist Cuba or modern-day state capitalist China, whose regimes are more open, and in which I suspect it is far easier to infiltrate agents or to turn apparatchiks so they work for the United States. Hence, any response to North Korean threats must be taken seriously, and the extent of the regime’s real attitudes can only be judged by evaluation of the new, more heated rhetoric emanating from the mouth of Kim-Jong Un. And don’t count on another journey by Dennis Rodman to perform some magic that will soften the new threats. I suspect that were Rodman to fly there tomorrow, he might very well find himself under arrest as an “imperialist agent.”
So as most people talked about the U.S. predicament in Syria and the Obama administration’s obvious policy failures in dealing with that growing crisis, Kim-Jong Un has seized this moment to up the ante in Asia, hoping that the U.S. will be distracted and perhaps allow him to make moves against South Korea. Let us hope that this time in Asia, the administration will act accordingly and show that its commitment to South Korea’s independence is firm.
For those who do not think North Korea is a danger, read this report at The Daily Beast by an expert on the issue. Gordon Chang explains why Kim-Jong Un’s current posturing is very different from the threats made earlier by his father.