Vice President Biden once warned that the world would “test” Barack Obama. According to a multitude of reports, that slimy toad Kim Jong Il will be the first to take up the challenge. North Korea is preparing a launch of its Taepodong-2 long-range missile, which would constitute an unjustified provocation from North Korea, although it would be entirely consistent with Kim’s previous patterns of behavior.
Victor D. Cha, the former director for Asian affairs in Bush’s White House, describes these North Korean escalations as “coercive bargaining” in his 2003 book Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies. Cha explains:
These provocations are deliberate pinpricks — i.e., they fall short of all-out war but are serious enough to rattle the allies and raise concerns about escalation. Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo are thus manipulated into the awkward position of wanting to respond punitively to DPRK misbehavior, but are constrained by fears of provoking an unnecessary and costly larger conflict. As a result, the allies usually issue a denouncement of the DPRK act, but still come to the negotiating table to reduce tensions. From Pyongyang’s perspective, the purpose of these provocations is not to win some military advantage but to create a crisis, disrupting the status quo and initiating a coercive bargaining process that eventuates in a new status quo on current or new negotiations more favorable to the North.
It is high time we stop playing Kim’s game. There is no better person than a new president — and no better time than an economic crisis — to take serious and swift action against such a tyrannical despot hell bent on nuclear proliferation.
In short, we should blow the North Korean missile out of the sky. Here’s why:
Struggling through an economic downturn, Americans are more worried and anxious about domestic issues. The world’s tyrants sense this and look on advantageously. Additionally, President Obama is perceived around the world as a borderline pacifist. His is not only a new, untested administration, but he himself is a new, inexperienced face on the international scene. (In case you’re wondering, the tyrants like that, too.)
Kim Jong Il no doubt feels more comfortable provoking Obama than he would have, say, John McCain. It should be President Obama’s mission, then, to force Kim out of his comfort zone by taking a hard line against Pyongyang. Standing up to North Korea in a brazen fashion would be unexpected at this time and would be unexpected from this administration. It would come as a surprise to Kim’s inner circle — and to dictators all over the globe — which is all the more reason why Obama should consider doing it.
But we shouldn’t hold our breath. Secretary of State Clinton has talked about a “response” to the looming missile launch and the “range of options available … in the wake” of such a provocation. Secretary of Defense Gates has said, “I would say we’re not prepared to do anything about it.”
Nonsense. Admiral Timothy J. Keating, commander of PACOM, has explained in great detail the military’s capacities and capabilities. There are 18 U.S. Navy ships off the Korean peninsula with the Aegis missile defense system; Japanese and South Korean warships have the system, as well. Navy vessels with interceptor missiles are prepared to fire “on a moment’s notice,” according to Admiral Keating. “Should it look like something other than a satellite launch, we will be fully prepared to respond as the president directs. … Odds are very high that we’ll hit what we’re aiming at. This should be a source of great confidence and reassurance for our allies.”
Keating’s right. And have no doubt this is not a mere benign “satellite launch” — despite what Pyongyang claims. Missile experts from the Iranian theocracy are present at the launch site to “help” the North Koreans. Ahmadinejad has sent a letter to Kim, stressing the importance of cooperation in nuclear and missile technology. And remember, Pyongyang was caught red-handed in the A.Q. Khan black-market network and was also caught helping the Syrians with their nuclear program. Kim’s is a cash-strapped nation and his nuclear program is for export — in other words, for cash.
Even if the Obama administration, by some divine miracle, convinces Tehran to forgo its pursuit of atomic bombs and to embrace values derived from the Enlightenment, the mullahs can still ascertain a nuclear arsenal on a moment’s notice — with the appropriate intercontinental ballistic missile technology to go along with it — should the North Koreans make the price right. Therefore, stopping North Korea’s export business should be atop the list of our concerns.
In July 2006, the North Korean regime fired two Taepodong-2 missiles, both of which fell into the Sea of Japan minutes after their launch. Although it remained unclear at the time whether or not the test launch was a “success” for the regime, it still allowed Kim’s hermit enclave to perfect intercontinental ballistic missile capability. At the time, Bill Clinton’s former Pentagon chief William Perry and his assistant Ashton Carter actually recommended destroying North Korea’s missiles at their launch site.
Of course, no such action was taken. The result was an unpredictable dictatorship armed with nuclear weapons and capable of testing an ICBM, thereby violating international accords and threatening regional peace. The previous administration took no adequate measures to prevent the launch or to punish thereafter.
President Obama should not repeat this mistake. Unlike President Bush, he should shoot North Korea’s missile down — or, if he truly wants to send a message, blast the ICBM off the launch site before Kim is able to conduct the test.
Yes, risks are involved. A war on the peninsula would be disastrous. But I’m convinced action can be taken to stop North Korea’s proliferation racket and we can still walk back from the precipice of full-scale conflict with Pyongyang. It has been our inaction and inability to confront Kim Jong Il that has emboldened him to this extent and has brought us to this point.
Mr. Obama has made it known that he wants to champion diplomacy during his presidency. He can do that cause a great long-term service if he draws a line in the sand now. Future diplomacy with the North Koreans, with the Iranians, with the Palestinians — with whomever — will carry a lot more credibility in 2010, 2011, and 2012 should Obama prove himself to be no pushover in 2009.
This is a perfect opportunity. Obama should seize it.