About That "Fire Shower of Nuclear Retaliation"
"Silliness," is how a Pentagon spokesman has just dismissed North Korea's recent threats to wipe America off the globe and drench South Korea in "A fire shower of nuclear retaliation."
Think again. For starters, let's ask whether it's really a good idea for America to treat lightly -- even for p.r. puposes -- a rogue regime testing nuclear weapons, testing long-range missiles and making direct threats of nuclear war. The world is watching this stuff, and it gives Kim's pals in places from Venezuela to Iran all sorts of ideas about how far they can go in threatening and pushing around America and America's allies. That line is moving right now almost by the day -- and not in a good direction.
The list of North Korean outrages, transgressions and rank barbarisms is by now so long, and much of it so familiar, that it should hardly need repeating. The missile proliferation into the Middle East; the nuclear proliferation networks, including the secret reactor built by Syria in cahoots with North Korea (destroyed by an Israeli air strike in 2007); the gulag inside North Korea in which people are starved, worked to death, or executed outright for "disloyalty" to the regime. North Korea's counterfeiting of U.S. currency (which should be taken, in itself, as an act of war); the narcotics peddled over the years out of North Korean legations around the world; the kidnapping of Japanese citizens; the kangaroo trial and sentencing to 12 years at hard labor of two American journalists this spring; the raw threats, the nuclear extortion, the broken promises, the failed Agreed Framework nuclear freeze of the 1990s, the failed Six-Party Talks of the Bush administration, the impotent flailings to date of the Obama adminstration ("Words must mean something" ... oh really?).
Houston -- or, rather, Washington -- we have a problem. A big problem. And even if you believe that Kim Jong Il is much too fond of his pleasure-women and French cognac to actually sacrifice himself to the rigors of genuine nuclear war, we still have an enormous problem. That problem is the North Korean regime, which has been in the business of inflicting mayhem and misery on its own citizens, and the wider world, since Stalin installed Kim's father as the tyrannical Great Leader (does that remind anyone of Iran's "Supreme Leader?" -- it should) at the end of World War II.
One of the mantras we're now hearing is that North Korea's uptick in threats, nuclear and missiles tests, and whatnot, are all just part of the preparations for the evidently ailing Kim Jong Il to hand over control to one of his sons -- at the moment the designated heir seems to be Kim Jong Un. If so, this is -- as the State Department might put it -- an unhelpful succession process. The civilized world cannot afford a global scheme in which tyrants ensure dynastic continuation of their regimes by waving around nuclear weapons and threatening to rain nuclear fire on places such as South Korea, or the United States.
For President Obama to go to the UN is not going to stop this. Neither is any amount of purely diplomatic haggling -- witness the failed talks and deals cited above.
The product of the latest UN resolution sanctioning North Korea, passed in April, just after Kim's second nuclear test, is that American warships are now trailing around after a North Korean cargo ship --but not allowed by the UN to board and inspect its freight, unless North Korea gives its OK. Now THAT is the definition of "silliness" -- and America looks weaker and more foolish with every day that this farce continues.
Meanwhile, for all you North Korea news junkies, note that on June 24th North Korea's KCNA (Korean Central News Agency) included this choice tidbit in its daily roundup: "Iranian Embassy Officials to Help Korean Farmers." That would be the Iranian ambassador to North Korea. While his bosses back in Tehran have been busy crushing Iran's democratic protests, Ambassador Morteza Moradian has been enjoying such good relations between Tehran and Pyongyang that he has been frolicking around North Korean cooperative farms, admiring monuments to North Korea's founding tyrant, Kim Jong Il's father, Kim Il Sung.
Take that as the tip of an Iranian-North Korean iceberg which has a lot of potential to glow in the dark.
What neither North Korea nor Iran has felt from the U.S. is any demonstration of will to get rid of either regime. At this point, we know plenty about the trangressions, aggressive ambitions, and growing dangers of North Korea and its pals. What's missing -- apart from the brave strike by Israel on the Syrian reactor two years ago -- is the will to do anything about it. All courses are fraught with risk. But the worst possible course is to bluster, and talk, and wheedle, and confirm to Pyongyang, Tehran and the rest of world's web of rogue and nuclear-aspiring states that America, faced with a game of chicken, will stand down.
Recall that cooling tower at North Korea's Yongbyon reactor complex, which the North Koreans blew up with great fanfare last year, while the Bush administration paid the out-sized bill of millions for the farcical demolition. I wonder -- might America be safer today if Bush had chosen to impress North Korea with a different sort of display for the occasion -- and dispatched that cooling tower with a strike from a cruise missile?