The North Korean nuclear problem has gone from bad to worse, even though for the last several years it’s been pretty clear they have or were close to having nuclear weapons.
We got on the wrong road with Clinton’s bribery deal (brokered by Jimmy Carter) which the North Korean’s promptly ignored. Upon resuming production and other threatening gestures, Geroge W Bush responded by tough talk and little action, putting the Korea problem on the backburner while the war in Iraq spun out of control. Now, seeing a new and apparently even weaker president in office, the North Koreans have made a gambit for bigger payoffs and leverage.
I don’t think this is a situation where someone can say Obama has an easy move, even if he were not so naive about the limits of diplomacy. There is a serious risk of conventional war on the Korean peninsula. North Korea clearly will not abide by its commmitments not to develop nuclear and ballistic missile technology. China may finally snap into action because of concern about North Korea’s volatility, but so far it has done little, and it’s the key to keeping North Korea in line, along with credible nuclear deterrence.
Our toothless repsonse to North Korea should expose to the whole world why war against would-be nuclear powers can only really take place before they go nuclear, and that preemption, for all the flaws of execution in Iraq, still should be part of the tool kit. After a country goes nuclear, most of the options are taken off the table.
Consider this. Blockade? They nuke Japan. Bombing? They nuke Japan and shell Seoul. More bribes? They feign compliance and up the ante.
The most disconcerting thing about this whole situation is Obama’s empty rhetoric and the sense it creates that nothing in this man’s life experience has trained him to deal with complicated situations like these. He’s been a word master, a teacher, an affable Illinois politician, and the consumate bullshit artist. But perceptive strategist and cool-under-fire decisionmaker with a proper appreciation for risk? This he’s not, and neither was Bush, whose only saving grace was his deep, instinctual patriotism after the 9/11 attacks.