Preemptive Offenses

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Saber Rattling For Fun And Profit

By the grace of God and the accumulation of a few millennia of history, we've learned a few things about dictators:

  • They tend to be ruthless;
  • They accept no criticism whatsoever;
  • They're monomaniacal about retaining power;
  • They view other institutions with influence over people as a threat;
  • Their priority is always strengthening the organs by which they maintain control;
  • They almost always depart from power, as the saying goes, "feet first."

Your beloved Offender, viewing the recent caperings of Kim Jong-un, North Korea's answer to Baby Doc Duvalier, sees nothing out of pattern. The Little Prince of Pyongyang finds himself in an objectively unenviable position: the country is bankrupt, the people are so beaten-down that an independent recovery is impossible; and all he has to work with is threats of military adventure. So he's brandishing his notional ability to wage nuclear war in hopes of extorting a few billion dollars in "aid" -- Danegeld, really -- from the United States. Hey, it worked for Pop, so why not? Besides, the alternative would require that the regime accept some responsibility for the condition of the country -- and that would mean that Kim, as the "face" of the regime, would receive an enema with high-velocity lead.

Ignore the threats to hit the United States. South Korea, the only plausible target for a North Korean attack, is an important trading partner and an (informal) American protectorate. Its military could not withstand a full-scale attack from the North without American support. And of course, it has no WMDs of its own with which to deter the Norks. So the operative thinking among Kim's inner circle is probably that by threatening a fresh war on the Korean peninsula, the Norks can coerce Washington into disgorging a few billion dollars' more "aid."

However, the threat to use nukes rebalances the equation, and not necessarily in Pyongyang's favor.

With a Republican -- any Republican but Chuck Hagel, at least -- in the Oval Office, the Pyongyang Gang would already be radioactive vapor. For decades, American strategic doctrine has held that the threat to use a weapon of mass destruction is equivalent to its actual use, thus justifying the immediate use of the American strategic force. The doctrine hasn't changed, nor should it. But the commander-in-chief of the moment isn't a Republican. Indeed, he isn't even an American.

Given Barack Hussein Obama's general wimpiness, he's probably hoping that China and / or Russia will take this cup from him. Fat chance (albeit nonzero) of that; China is happy to use North Korea as a cat's-paw of sorts, deflecting American attention and power from Chinese machinations in the Strait of Formosa and the China Sea. Russia has its own problems, and is unlikely to turn its attention from Europe and the Middle East, even for a chance at upstaging the United States.

Obama's Carteresque proclivities strongly suggest that he'll cave -- that he'll pay Danegeld to mollify the Little Prince and stave off any armed unpleasantness. It would work...for four years at most. Then the cycle would repeat, possibly with more bellicose rhetoric and a stronger North Korean military to give it punch. That's what happens when you feed a crocodile: he always comes back for seconds.

Say what you will about George W. Bush, he understood the dynamics of this sort of situation. Whether or not Obama understands them, his unwillingness to use military force at appropriate times and in an appropriate fashion makes it highly unlikely that he'll bare America's teeth in response to the Little Prince's provocations. After all, he has a legacy to consider -- and a Nobel Peace Prize to think about.

Don't expect The Won to hit this jump shot. He's already demonstrated that, in international affairs as in domestic policy, he "ain't got game."


daniel_day said...

"With a Republican (snip) in the Oval Office, the Pyongyang Gang would already be radioactive vapor... Say what you will about George W. Bush, he understood the dynamics of this sort of situation."
First thought: Are there any Republicans in national elective office?
Second thought: Japan lies directly downwind, and the Japanese would be extremely pissed about having yet another load of radioactive contamination dumped on them, no matter how much they despise the N.K. regime.
Bush nuking N.K. in response to threats: I wouldn't believe that until I saw it.
All that said, I generally agree with your column.

gwynn romano said...

After watching the video of Obama's prowess on the basketball court, I thought of a new nickname for him. The bricklayer. Seriously though, I read somewhere a theory that posited that Obama had sent Dennis Rodman to N. Korea to deliver a message to Kim Jung Un that now would be a good time to stir up trouble in order to take the focus off of Benghazi. Although I doubt this very much, how sad is it that we have a president who by his past actions, gives plausibility to theories like this ?