Paradoxes of the Present Age, Profound and Trivial

Sometimes reality seems at odds with perceived wisdom. Yet these disconnects rarely seem to enter public discussion. Here are a few examples, big and small.

The Axis of Evil and Unending Wars

The Korean mess reminds us again of who was and who was not in the ill-famed "axis of evil" as articulated in January 2002. Germany, Japan, and Vietnam were not, all once bitter foes of the United States. The former two were defeated and their hostility ended in reformed, postwar democratic governments. The latter won a political victory over the United States, and the question whether there would be a South Vietnam analogous to an independent South Korea was answered in the negative.

By the same token, the triad of evil all had ongoing but unresolved wars with the United States. Saddam Hussein at the time had lost the Gulf War but survived, and that fact in turn had led to an unending no-fly zone war. (Note that today Iraq would not be in the axis, given that Saddam is no more). An armistice in 1953 did not settle the question of whether an aggressive communist North Korea would leave South Korea alone. And our war that had de facto started with Iran in 1979, and which waxed and waned over the next thirty years through terrorist surrogates and American counter-measures, continues today.

Perhaps peace ensues when clear-cut defeat or victory decides a war. In contrast, an ongoing, on/off conflict is the legacy of truces and temporary armistices, as we pass the unresolved war on to our children.

The present strategy in Korea? Who knows? But I think a prosperous South Korea is between the rock of hoping for the relatively nonviolent implosion of the failed state of North Korea in some sort of East German fashion, and the hard place of a communist thugocracy in the bunker lashing out in "we will take you down with us" fashion.

Note well that in the supposed age of counter-insurgency, we still have assets like carrier battle groups, armored divisions, bombers, and high-tech fighters. War is cyclical, and while some thought the U.S. would only fight in messy, dirty Vietnam-like wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan, we should remember that even that scenario was not always the recent norm -- remember Grenada, Panama, Gulf War I, and the Balkans.

Military history reminds us that wars of all sorts — insurgencies, terrorism, conventional land invasions, high-tech aerial combat, missile exchanges — can in theory break out anytime. It was always the great strength of the postwar U.S. army, nursed on the experience of World War II from the jungles of Guadalcanal to the B-17 missions over Germany, that it was multifaceted and ready for any challenge.

Some ask: "Why do we have any F-22s given the realities of an Afghanistan?" Others would counter: "Why do we not have more given the realities of an even more important Korean peninsula?"

Fewer or More Terrorist Plots?

The latest foiled terrorist attempt in Portland comes on the heels of the Times Square bombing plot, the New York subway plot, the unsuccessful Mutallab Christmas bombing, the Fort Hood shootings, and the increasing high alerts in Europe and the U.S. of new terrorist attempts to come.

All that raises questions about why radical Islamic terrorists are either increasing their efforts to kill Westerners, or at least not abating them — despite the reset/outreach efforts of the new administration. Have these wannabe killers forgotten the widely reported al-Arabiya interview, the Cairo speech, the bowing to the Saudi royal family, the promised civilian trial of KSM and closing of Guantanamo, the declarations from the head of NASA, and the euphemisms of “man-caused disasters” and “overseas contingency operations”? Did not the radical Islamists understand the message of outreach of the new American administration, the end of the dark days of “smoke 'em out” and “dead or alive,” and the de facto confession that our policies were unnecessarily provocative during the eight years between 2001 to 2009? Thereby will they not at least mitigate their efforts to murder Americans, given our newfound decision to seek compromise rather than confrontation? And if not, why not? Why treat our magnanimity with contempt?