Obama Should Shoot Down North Korea's Missile
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.