Belmont Club

The Message

By firing a barrage of missiles into the Yellow Sea, USA Today thinks ‘North Korea is sending a message to the USA’. “North Korea is saying, ‘You can do all the exercises you want and we have the ability to hit you at a moment’s notice,'” a USA Today source adds.

Time Magazine agrees that it’s a signal, but they think the message is that North Korea would like the attention of president Obama. “If they really wanted to start something they wouldn’t have given advanced warning,” one expert was quoted as saying.

The incident seems to be a careful and precisely timed message from the North. If they wanted to hit the South, they could have. Instead, they sent a warning, firing most of their missiles right up to, but not over, the line. “If they really wanted to start something they wouldn’t have given advanced warning,” says John Delury, of Seoul’s Yonsei University. “The North Koreans did this to make a point.”

And that point was “to bring the focus back to stalled talks with the U.S. and others”.

But there’s an alternative way to interpret North Korea’s actions. Rather than reflecting a desire to return to smart diplomacy, rather than a desire to attend the king’s court, it may simply be the action of a wolf taking advantage of the distraction of a moose caused by other members of the pack.  Here’s the wolf’s chance to take a bite out of Obama’s hindquarters and he’s taking it.

As pointed out in the previous post, president is engaged in circular evolutions; pivoting to Asia from the Middle East, then pivoting from Asia to Europe and pivoting from Europe to the Middle East.  He is describing a complete circle. Now with North Korea causing trouble, he may be forced to pivot from the Europe to Asia again.

In November, 2011 President Obama pledged to pivot to the Asia Pacific from the Middle East. Then on March 27, 2014 president Obama declared he would shift his focus from Europe to the Middle East.   On March 28, Time Magazine announced: the Middle East matters most to Obama, not Putin. Then on March 30, 2014 the Hill reported that the US was shifting its focus from the Asia Pacific to Europe.  So I guess Putin matters after all.

Pretending that North Korea is simply a child trying to attract the attention of the “only grownup in the room” is to perversely miss the point. President Obama is experiencing what most historians of conflict know. The weaker the hegemon becomes the harder he must work to assert his hegemony.  The more Obama reduces American power, the more it will be challenged. Keeping the peace is always cheaper than fighting a war. And right now America is being challenged on many fronts. Were American power what it formerly was he would rarely have to use it since it would be less frequently challenged.

However the president appears to have had another theory, which we shall cause the theory of root causes.  He may have imagined that hydrocarbon abundance was the cause of ‘global warming’; that defense was the source of war or that wealth was the source of poverty and resentment. So by clamping down on the oil industry, disarming the country and distributing the wealth he sought to solve the problem. But he may now find that he has made things worse.

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If anything the world is on the verge of arming up with nukes. The Ukraine has seen what use his guarantees are. Japan and Korea will be having similar thoughts. And as for those unneeded combat systems and “unproven missile defense systems”, they are much in demand.  It’s a real head-scratcher for him, almost as if someone had played a terrible trick on him and rewired the control cables in his airplane of history making it do the reverse of what he expected.

What will the sad experience of the last five years encourage him to do? Will it suggest that his model of the world is wrong? How can it be wrong? He will double down of course.


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