Commentary Magazine


Topic: Seoul

The China Show

According to the New York Times, Barack Obama is about to get tough on China. Helene Cooper quotes Clinton administration national-security expert David Rothkopf, who says, “There’s been this well-orchestrated and clearly well thought-out campaign, over the past two weeks, involving the secretary of state, Treasury, defense and commerce making strong statements regarding currency, the trade imbalance, human rights and China’s military stance.” Cooper notes: “The more assertive strategy comes after Mr. Obama was criticized as appearing to kowtow to China in his visit there in 2009, and then again for allowing Beijing to get the upper hand against the United States at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Seoul late last year.”

A genuine policy shift is certainly welcome, but this is not it. The administration’s new approach on China will likely fail because it is compartmentalized. Without a bold change in America’s larger foreign policy, these feints amount to no more than fleeting imitations of power. Why would Hu Jintao concern himself with a one-day human-rights condemnation from an administration that has spent two straight years softening its human-rights rhetoric? Why would Hu fear the retaliation of a president who is so mild on international trade that now, as the Times puts it, “corporate leaders are pressing” him to “take a tougher stance”? Why would Beijing be concerned with a narrow and localized military investment boost pledged by a White House that has sworn to shrink America’s military posture around the globe?

America cannot simultaneously apologize and intimidate. So long as there remains no connection between this week’s slapdash simulation of American confidence and long-term American policy, we are negotiating without credibility. Which will prove no more effective than asking nicely.

According to the New York Times, Barack Obama is about to get tough on China. Helene Cooper quotes Clinton administration national-security expert David Rothkopf, who says, “There’s been this well-orchestrated and clearly well thought-out campaign, over the past two weeks, involving the secretary of state, Treasury, defense and commerce making strong statements regarding currency, the trade imbalance, human rights and China’s military stance.” Cooper notes: “The more assertive strategy comes after Mr. Obama was criticized as appearing to kowtow to China in his visit there in 2009, and then again for allowing Beijing to get the upper hand against the United States at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Seoul late last year.”

A genuine policy shift is certainly welcome, but this is not it. The administration’s new approach on China will likely fail because it is compartmentalized. Without a bold change in America’s larger foreign policy, these feints amount to no more than fleeting imitations of power. Why would Hu Jintao concern himself with a one-day human-rights condemnation from an administration that has spent two straight years softening its human-rights rhetoric? Why would Hu fear the retaliation of a president who is so mild on international trade that now, as the Times puts it, “corporate leaders are pressing” him to “take a tougher stance”? Why would Beijing be concerned with a narrow and localized military investment boost pledged by a White House that has sworn to shrink America’s military posture around the globe?

America cannot simultaneously apologize and intimidate. So long as there remains no connection between this week’s slapdash simulation of American confidence and long-term American policy, we are negotiating without credibility. Which will prove no more effective than asking nicely.

Read Less

Korea at Thanksgiving

Most veterans have spent a Thanksgiving on duty. Many have spent Thanksgiving overseas. Some — a growing number — have spent it on alert or in combat. Veterans the world over know what the troops in South Korea said to each other on Tuesday, when North Korea started shooting: “Well, there goes Thanksgiving.”

The timing is uncanny. On November 24, 1950, a month after the discovery of Chinese troops in the war, General Douglas MacArthur launched what became known as the “Home by Christmas” offensive with the U.S. Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps along the Ch’ongch’on River, deep in North Korea. In the previous months, U.S. forces had landed at Inchon and, with other coalition troops, recaptured Seoul. There had been some contact with the Chinese army in November, but the assessment was that the Chinese intended to demonstrate force and then withdraw across their border. MacArthur didn’t expect the fierce resistance his forces would encounter, nor was there any hint of it on the first day of the offensive. The Eighth Army troops had put together a Thanksgiving feast on November 23, and spirits were high.

Much of the battle lore of the Korean conflict comes from the bloody campaign that followed. It dragged into December and saw the fighting retreat of the Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps through North Korea, at the onset of the coldest winter in 100 years. U.S. troops were unprepared for the nights in which temperatures dropped to -30 degrees F. The carnage was punctuated by the slaughter of coalition troops in the “Gauntlet”: the valley through which ran the road to Sunchon. The Eighth Army lost more than 11,000 soldiers in the offensive, but an exact count could never be established. Records had been lost, and whole units destroyed, in the retreat.

On Thanksgiving Day 60 years later, I am thankful that America and South Korea came back from that retreat to fight again. There is a poignant oddity in a 57-year armistice; there are many things to say about failed policies, shaky political nerves, and wrong priorities. But as Kim Jong-il fires an artillery barrage at the South and issues hysterical threats, I am thankful that South Korea today is free, well-armed, and intensively drilled. I am thankful that we have 28,000 troops in South Korea, and plenty of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps forces in Japan. These factors alone are Kim’s biggest deterrent. He knows they will perform well even if there is ambiguity in the policy governing their operations.

It’s Thanksgiving in Korea again, and our forces there are on alert. They are a dedicated volunteer force; they believe in their mission and purpose. They will keep faith with those who fought before them — and with all those who have missed many a Thanksgiving standing watch over American security in the years since the “Home for Christmas” campaign of 1950.

Most veterans have spent a Thanksgiving on duty. Many have spent Thanksgiving overseas. Some — a growing number — have spent it on alert or in combat. Veterans the world over know what the troops in South Korea said to each other on Tuesday, when North Korea started shooting: “Well, there goes Thanksgiving.”

The timing is uncanny. On November 24, 1950, a month after the discovery of Chinese troops in the war, General Douglas MacArthur launched what became known as the “Home by Christmas” offensive with the U.S. Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps along the Ch’ongch’on River, deep in North Korea. In the previous months, U.S. forces had landed at Inchon and, with other coalition troops, recaptured Seoul. There had been some contact with the Chinese army in November, but the assessment was that the Chinese intended to demonstrate force and then withdraw across their border. MacArthur didn’t expect the fierce resistance his forces would encounter, nor was there any hint of it on the first day of the offensive. The Eighth Army troops had put together a Thanksgiving feast on November 23, and spirits were high.

Much of the battle lore of the Korean conflict comes from the bloody campaign that followed. It dragged into December and saw the fighting retreat of the Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps through North Korea, at the onset of the coldest winter in 100 years. U.S. troops were unprepared for the nights in which temperatures dropped to -30 degrees F. The carnage was punctuated by the slaughter of coalition troops in the “Gauntlet”: the valley through which ran the road to Sunchon. The Eighth Army lost more than 11,000 soldiers in the offensive, but an exact count could never be established. Records had been lost, and whole units destroyed, in the retreat.

On Thanksgiving Day 60 years later, I am thankful that America and South Korea came back from that retreat to fight again. There is a poignant oddity in a 57-year armistice; there are many things to say about failed policies, shaky political nerves, and wrong priorities. But as Kim Jong-il fires an artillery barrage at the South and issues hysterical threats, I am thankful that South Korea today is free, well-armed, and intensively drilled. I am thankful that we have 28,000 troops in South Korea, and plenty of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps forces in Japan. These factors alone are Kim’s biggest deterrent. He knows they will perform well even if there is ambiguity in the policy governing their operations.

It’s Thanksgiving in Korea again, and our forces there are on alert. They are a dedicated volunteer force; they believe in their mission and purpose. They will keep faith with those who fought before them — and with all those who have missed many a Thanksgiving standing watch over American security in the years since the “Home for Christmas” campaign of 1950.

Read Less

North Korea Playing the U.S. — Still

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

Read Less

Coming Apart at the Seams

As much as Obama’s aura has dimmed in the United States, his international standing is potentially in worse condition, and with more dire consequences. As this report explains, he’s finding it hard — no matter how lucrative the bribe — to get any nation to make a deal:

From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control treaty with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency. …

“He assumed that because he was liked so clearly and overwhelmingly he could merely assert what he wanted to achieve and people would follow,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Clearly enough, the world that he imagined proved to be different than the world as it is.” …

The Middle East peace process he inaugurated two months ago has stalled. His mercurial ally in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is calling for scaled-back U.S. military operations there at the height of the 30,000-troop escalation Obama approved a year ago.

His pledge to remedy one polarizing legacy of the Bush administration by closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered this week when a jury convicted the first former detainee to face civilian trial on only one of 285 criminal counts. Read More

As much as Obama’s aura has dimmed in the United States, his international standing is potentially in worse condition, and with more dire consequences. As this report explains, he’s finding it hard — no matter how lucrative the bribe — to get any nation to make a deal:

From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control treaty with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency. …

“He assumed that because he was liked so clearly and overwhelmingly he could merely assert what he wanted to achieve and people would follow,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Clearly enough, the world that he imagined proved to be different than the world as it is.” …

The Middle East peace process he inaugurated two months ago has stalled. His mercurial ally in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is calling for scaled-back U.S. military operations there at the height of the 30,000-troop escalation Obama approved a year ago.

His pledge to remedy one polarizing legacy of the Bush administration by closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered this week when a jury convicted the first former detainee to face civilian trial on only one of 285 criminal counts.

You get the picture. So Obama’s gambits become more and more desperate. Hence, the cockeyed attempt to spare himself the collapse of the non-direct, non-peace talks. “National security analysts say the price Obama is willing to pay for another three months of talks is high, in part because he set a one-year timeline for their successful conclusion. Many believe that the deadline, like other of Obama’s foreign policy goals, was overly optimistic.” Well, that’s a generous way of putting it. To be blunt, he’s made hash out of our relationship with Israel, diminished our credibility with every player in the Middle East, and now is panicked that it is all about to come tumbling down around his ears.

Likewise, out of desperation to get a “win,” Obama is trying to force a Senate vote on New START. Saner voices are trying to warn him:

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations who held senior foreign-policy positions in both Bush administrations, said “it’s no big deal if gets kicked off until February, March, then passes.”

“You don’t want to bring this to a vote and lose,” Haass said. “You don’t want to have the Senate equivalent of going to Seoul and not getting a trade agreement.”

Funny how each new foreign policy fumble has a precursor. Seoul is like Copenhagen. New START is like the Syrian ambassador’s nomination. The handling of the Honduras “coup” is like pulling the rug out from under our Eastern European allies on missile defense. And on it goes — an endless series of half-baked ideas, offended allies, stalled negotiations, and poorly executed gambits. And we haven’t even gotten to the worst of it: an emboldened Iran racing toward membership in the nuclear power club.

It’s not all a disaster. Obama is showing some recognition that we must remain engaged in Iraq. He’s coming around to erasing the ill-advised Afghanistan deadline. And perhaps, after two years, he’s cluing into the need to get serious about human rights in Egypt and elsewhere. But the continuities with his predecessor (annoyingly accompanied by chest-puffing and refusal to credit President Bush) are outnumbered and overshadowed by the gaffes.

This is not a time for conservatives to cheer. It is deeply troubling that the president has imperiled our standing in the world. Congress is no substitute for a commander in chief, but responsible voices in the House and Senate should work — by resolution, oversight, private conversation, and funding — to guide the administration to more sober policymaking and less erratic execution. Unfortunately, once the credibility of the American president is diminished by hapless moves and unserious rhetoric, it’s hard to get it back.

Read Less

A More Dangerous World

COMMENTARY contributor Bret Stephens identifies the cumulative danger posed by an administration obsessed by multilateralism and possessing many false and bad ideas about international affairs:

Last week, Mr. Obama was so resoundingly rebuffed by other leaders at the G-20 summit in Seoul that even the New York Times noticed: Mr. Obama, the paper wrote, faced “stiff challenges… from the leaders of China, Britain, Germany and Brazil.” His administration has now been chastised or belittled by everyone from the Supreme Leader of Iran to the finance minister of Germany to the president of France to the dictator of Syria. What does it mean for global order when the world figures out that the U.S. president is someone who’s willing to take no for an answer?

The answer is that the United States becomes Europe. Except on a handful of topics, like trade and foreign aid, the foreign policy of the European Union, and that of most of its constituent states, amounts to a kind of diplomatic air guitar: furious motion, considerable imagination, but neither sound nor effect. When a European leader issues a stern demarche toward, say, Burma or Russia, nobody notices. And nobody cares.

And, as Bret points out, the world becomes more chaotic, and the smaller democracies get the shaft as a result of America’s feckless approach:

The small and distant abuses of power, would grow bolder and more frequent. America’s exhortations for restraint or decency would seem cheaper. Multipolarity is a theory that, inevitably, leads to old-fashioned spheres of influence. It has little regard for small states: Taiwan, Mongolia, Israel, Georgia, Latvia, Costa Rica.

That approach to foreign affairs is also characterized by an inordinate amount of disingenuousness. Obama says he’s in favor of free trade but loses the face-off with South Korea because he is on the side of the auto companies’ efforts to maintain protectionist barriers just a little bit longer. Obama says he’s a grand friend of Israel but continues the lopsided public bullying of Israel. Obama says he’s a great champion of human rights and democracy, but his policy choices are curiously lacking in any meaningful assistance for the oppressed and any real opposition to the oppressors. There is, to be blunt, a collapse of our moral standing and our credibility, which is frittered away in an effort to mask the essential amorality of our policy.

Gradually the bullies and the despots get the idea the U.S. can be played and its allies pushed about. We’ve been down this road before, and the results are never good.

COMMENTARY contributor Bret Stephens identifies the cumulative danger posed by an administration obsessed by multilateralism and possessing many false and bad ideas about international affairs:

Last week, Mr. Obama was so resoundingly rebuffed by other leaders at the G-20 summit in Seoul that even the New York Times noticed: Mr. Obama, the paper wrote, faced “stiff challenges… from the leaders of China, Britain, Germany and Brazil.” His administration has now been chastised or belittled by everyone from the Supreme Leader of Iran to the finance minister of Germany to the president of France to the dictator of Syria. What does it mean for global order when the world figures out that the U.S. president is someone who’s willing to take no for an answer?

The answer is that the United States becomes Europe. Except on a handful of topics, like trade and foreign aid, the foreign policy of the European Union, and that of most of its constituent states, amounts to a kind of diplomatic air guitar: furious motion, considerable imagination, but neither sound nor effect. When a European leader issues a stern demarche toward, say, Burma or Russia, nobody notices. And nobody cares.

And, as Bret points out, the world becomes more chaotic, and the smaller democracies get the shaft as a result of America’s feckless approach:

The small and distant abuses of power, would grow bolder and more frequent. America’s exhortations for restraint or decency would seem cheaper. Multipolarity is a theory that, inevitably, leads to old-fashioned spheres of influence. It has little regard for small states: Taiwan, Mongolia, Israel, Georgia, Latvia, Costa Rica.

That approach to foreign affairs is also characterized by an inordinate amount of disingenuousness. Obama says he’s in favor of free trade but loses the face-off with South Korea because he is on the side of the auto companies’ efforts to maintain protectionist barriers just a little bit longer. Obama says he’s a grand friend of Israel but continues the lopsided public bullying of Israel. Obama says he’s a great champion of human rights and democracy, but his policy choices are curiously lacking in any meaningful assistance for the oppressed and any real opposition to the oppressors. There is, to be blunt, a collapse of our moral standing and our credibility, which is frittered away in an effort to mask the essential amorality of our policy.

Gradually the bullies and the despots get the idea the U.S. can be played and its allies pushed about. We’ve been down this road before, and the results are never good.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t be president, then. “Obama miffed by questions on U.S.”

Don’t think Dems fail to grasp how toxic ObamaCare is. “A leading Senate Democrat vowed Friday to introduce legislation killing a part of the new healthcare reform law that imposes new tax-filing requirements on small businesses. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee and a leading architect of the reform law, said a provision requiring businesses to report more purchases to the IRS will impose undue paperwork burdens on companies amid an economic downturn when they can least afford it.”

Don’t get your hopes up. “All the president has to do is abandon some foolish ideological presuppositions, get down to work, and stop fishing for compliments. If he did so, he’d end up getting genuine compliments—from us and, we dare say, from the American people. And then his self-respect would have a firmer ground than vanity.”

Don’t underestimate your impact, Nancy. “‘We didn’t lose the election because of me,’ Ms. Pelosi told National Public Radio in an interview that aired Friday morning.” No wonder Republicans are “giddy.”

Don’t believe that Obama learned anything from his rebuffs in Copenhagen (on global warming and the Olympics). Charles Krauthammer nails it: “Whenever a president walks into a room with another head of state and he walks out empty-handed — he’s got a failure on his hands. And this was self-inflicted. With Obama it’s now becoming a ritual. It’s a combination of incompetence,  inexperience, and arrogance. He was handed a treaty by the Bush administration. It was done. But he wanted to improve on it. And instead, so far, he’s got nothing. … And this is a pattern with Obama. He thinks he can reinvent the world. With Iran, he decides he has a silver tongue, he’ll sweet-talk ’em into a deal. He gets humiliated over and over again. With the Russians he does a reset, he gives up missile defense, he gets nothing.”

Don’t you wish the Obami would stop giving excuses that make them sound even more incompetent? “The U.S. position on settlements has not officially changed, [National Security Council's Dan] Shapiro said. The United States still believes that the Israeli settlement moratorium should be extended, but that Palestinians should stay in peace talks even if it is not. He said that President Obama — who said Monday that Israeli settlement construction was ‘never helpful’ to peace talks Israel announced further construction plans in East Jerusalem — wasn’t trying to publicly criticize Netanyahu with his remarks. He simply answered a question put to him in a direct way, said Shapiro.” But not publicly criticize Bibi? They are frightfully inept — or disingenuous.

Don’t you miss smart diplomacy? “President Obama’s failure to conclude the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is a disaster. It reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America’s leadership in the global economy. The implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan. … The debacle in Seoul is a slap in the face of a critical U.S. ally in a critical region, and it will cast doubt on U.S. trade promises in other negotiations elsewhere. But if an American president loses his credibility, the damage spreads beyond the narrow confines of economic deals and Northeast Asia.”

Don’t be shocked. CNN’s guest roster skews left.

Don’t let your family pet do this at home. “A 150-pound mountain lion was no match for a squirrel-chasing terrier on a farm in eastern South Dakota. Jack the Jack Russell weighs only 17 pounds, and yet he managed to trap the cougar up a tree on Tuesday. Jack’s owner, Chad Strenge, told The Argus Leader that the dog ‘trees cats all the time,’ and that the plucky terrier probably ‘figured it was just a cat.’”

Don’t be president, then. “Obama miffed by questions on U.S.”

Don’t think Dems fail to grasp how toxic ObamaCare is. “A leading Senate Democrat vowed Friday to introduce legislation killing a part of the new healthcare reform law that imposes new tax-filing requirements on small businesses. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee and a leading architect of the reform law, said a provision requiring businesses to report more purchases to the IRS will impose undue paperwork burdens on companies amid an economic downturn when they can least afford it.”

Don’t get your hopes up. “All the president has to do is abandon some foolish ideological presuppositions, get down to work, and stop fishing for compliments. If he did so, he’d end up getting genuine compliments—from us and, we dare say, from the American people. And then his self-respect would have a firmer ground than vanity.”

Don’t underestimate your impact, Nancy. “‘We didn’t lose the election because of me,’ Ms. Pelosi told National Public Radio in an interview that aired Friday morning.” No wonder Republicans are “giddy.”

Don’t believe that Obama learned anything from his rebuffs in Copenhagen (on global warming and the Olympics). Charles Krauthammer nails it: “Whenever a president walks into a room with another head of state and he walks out empty-handed — he’s got a failure on his hands. And this was self-inflicted. With Obama it’s now becoming a ritual. It’s a combination of incompetence,  inexperience, and arrogance. He was handed a treaty by the Bush administration. It was done. But he wanted to improve on it. And instead, so far, he’s got nothing. … And this is a pattern with Obama. He thinks he can reinvent the world. With Iran, he decides he has a silver tongue, he’ll sweet-talk ’em into a deal. He gets humiliated over and over again. With the Russians he does a reset, he gives up missile defense, he gets nothing.”

Don’t you wish the Obami would stop giving excuses that make them sound even more incompetent? “The U.S. position on settlements has not officially changed, [National Security Council's Dan] Shapiro said. The United States still believes that the Israeli settlement moratorium should be extended, but that Palestinians should stay in peace talks even if it is not. He said that President Obama — who said Monday that Israeli settlement construction was ‘never helpful’ to peace talks Israel announced further construction plans in East Jerusalem — wasn’t trying to publicly criticize Netanyahu with his remarks. He simply answered a question put to him in a direct way, said Shapiro.” But not publicly criticize Bibi? They are frightfully inept — or disingenuous.

Don’t you miss smart diplomacy? “President Obama’s failure to conclude the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is a disaster. It reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America’s leadership in the global economy. The implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan. … The debacle in Seoul is a slap in the face of a critical U.S. ally in a critical region, and it will cast doubt on U.S. trade promises in other negotiations elsewhere. But if an American president loses his credibility, the damage spreads beyond the narrow confines of economic deals and Northeast Asia.”

Don’t be shocked. CNN’s guest roster skews left.

Don’t let your family pet do this at home. “A 150-pound mountain lion was no match for a squirrel-chasing terrier on a farm in eastern South Dakota. Jack the Jack Russell weighs only 17 pounds, and yet he managed to trap the cougar up a tree on Tuesday. Jack’s owner, Chad Strenge, told The Argus Leader that the dog ‘trees cats all the time,’ and that the plucky terrier probably ‘figured it was just a cat.’”

Read Less

Plus Ça Change

A poignant development illustrates the disintegration of the rarefied post-Cold War order we have inhabited since the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of shocks to that order over the past year and half, this little event may seem minor. But it is emblematic of the actions our strategic opponents no longer fear to take openly.

President Obama, currently in Indonesia, will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul on Nov. 11-12. Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Seoul today for a state visit and will hold bilateral talks with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak prior to the summit. These discussions – in which Korean security and global economic policy are expected to be major topics – continue the theme of Medvedev’s summit with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in October. Each case involves the Russian president talking over the biggest of global and regional issues with key American allies, in advance of the general summits to be held this month (the G-20 meeting in Seoul and the NATO summit in Lisbon).

But that’s not the most telling aspect of Russia’s posture for the G-20 summit in Seoul. That aspect is to be observed down the road in Inchon, from the pier where the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the missile cruiser Varyag, will be moored throughout the summit. The unambiguous signal from this visit is underscored by the report that South Korea will turn over to Varyag a set of artifacts Russia has been requesting for years: a battle flag and remnants of weapons from Varyag’s namesake, which participated in the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago.

The earlier Varyag, attacked in Inchon in 1904 by a Japanese task force, was scuttled by the captain rather than being surrendered to the more powerful Japanese flotilla. Artifacts recovered from it by the Japanese have been stored in Inchon for decades – and each year since 1996, the modern cruiser Varyag has visited Inchon in February to commemorate the battle. Besides the latent bellicosity of bringing a warship to a G-20 summit, Russia is dealing a symbolic slap to Japan: occupying, under the aegis of a U.S. ally and an international body, the position in which a Japanese force once inflicted defeat on Russian ships.

To the American mind, the era before World War I seems to have existed across an unbridgeable historical divide. In a geopolitical sense, in particular, we have believed for decades that we inhabit a different order now. The old territorial resentments seem antique and irrelevant for global technological powers; we think of these obsessions as the province of benighted tribal cultures. But it shouldn’t surprise us to see Russia reverting to this age-old pattern. What we have to understand – but probably don’t today – is that this isn’t a meaningless gesture from Russia: it’s a marking of territory. This is how Russia operates. It all matters.

A poignant development illustrates the disintegration of the rarefied post-Cold War order we have inhabited since the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of shocks to that order over the past year and half, this little event may seem minor. But it is emblematic of the actions our strategic opponents no longer fear to take openly.

President Obama, currently in Indonesia, will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul on Nov. 11-12. Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Seoul today for a state visit and will hold bilateral talks with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak prior to the summit. These discussions – in which Korean security and global economic policy are expected to be major topics – continue the theme of Medvedev’s summit with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in October. Each case involves the Russian president talking over the biggest of global and regional issues with key American allies, in advance of the general summits to be held this month (the G-20 meeting in Seoul and the NATO summit in Lisbon).

But that’s not the most telling aspect of Russia’s posture for the G-20 summit in Seoul. That aspect is to be observed down the road in Inchon, from the pier where the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the missile cruiser Varyag, will be moored throughout the summit. The unambiguous signal from this visit is underscored by the report that South Korea will turn over to Varyag a set of artifacts Russia has been requesting for years: a battle flag and remnants of weapons from Varyag’s namesake, which participated in the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago.

The earlier Varyag, attacked in Inchon in 1904 by a Japanese task force, was scuttled by the captain rather than being surrendered to the more powerful Japanese flotilla. Artifacts recovered from it by the Japanese have been stored in Inchon for decades – and each year since 1996, the modern cruiser Varyag has visited Inchon in February to commemorate the battle. Besides the latent bellicosity of bringing a warship to a G-20 summit, Russia is dealing a symbolic slap to Japan: occupying, under the aegis of a U.S. ally and an international body, the position in which a Japanese force once inflicted defeat on Russian ships.

To the American mind, the era before World War I seems to have existed across an unbridgeable historical divide. In a geopolitical sense, in particular, we have believed for decades that we inhabit a different order now. The old territorial resentments seem antique and irrelevant for global technological powers; we think of these obsessions as the province of benighted tribal cultures. But it shouldn’t surprise us to see Russia reverting to this age-old pattern. What we have to understand – but probably don’t today – is that this isn’t a meaningless gesture from Russia: it’s a marking of territory. This is how Russia operates. It all matters.

Read Less

A Pro-Jobs Measure Both Parties Should Support

There aren’t many opportunities these days for bipartisan agreement or for quick boosts to the flagging economy. But the passage of the South Korea free trade agreement would be both. The Washington Post reminds us:

For three years, since it was negotiated by the Bush administration, the free-trade agreement has languished in Congress. Now trade officials from both countries are trying to resolve the problems that have kept it bottled up, including a dispute over U.S. access to the South Korean auto market and restrictions on U.S. beef imposed after the mad cow scare several years ago.

The agreement would eventually eliminate tariffs between the two countries. Because those levies are typically higher on the South Korean side, administration officials estimate the deal could mean more than $10 billion annually in increased U.S. exports to Seoul and tens of thousands of new U.S. jobs. South Koreans say they would benefit from lower prices — some tariffs on food imports from the U.S. are as high as 40 percent — and a more efficient flow of investment in and out of their country.

This is such an obvious no-brainer that the only explanation for the failure to move forward must be and, in fact, is political: the power of Big Labor, specifically. When running for the nomination, Obama naturally voiced concerns about the agreement. But once safely in office he has of late “placed a priority on export promotion, calling it a key to job growth, and embraced the agreement with South Korea as a opportunity to weigh in on the broader debate over trade policy and advance U.S. interests.” He even dispatched his trade representative to drum up support around the country.

Yet it is far from clear that the agreement will be approved. Free trade is simply an anathema with many elected Democrats. (“Unions, environmental advocacy groups, and other organizations, meanwhile, are urging Obama to keep his campaign promises and stiffen the terms for South Korean access to the U.S. market.”)

This would be an opportunity for Obama to stand up to special interests, the Democrats in Congress to do the same, and both parties to claim credit for a pro-jobs measure. So, naturally, the safe bet is that nothing will get done.

There aren’t many opportunities these days for bipartisan agreement or for quick boosts to the flagging economy. But the passage of the South Korea free trade agreement would be both. The Washington Post reminds us:

For three years, since it was negotiated by the Bush administration, the free-trade agreement has languished in Congress. Now trade officials from both countries are trying to resolve the problems that have kept it bottled up, including a dispute over U.S. access to the South Korean auto market and restrictions on U.S. beef imposed after the mad cow scare several years ago.

The agreement would eventually eliminate tariffs between the two countries. Because those levies are typically higher on the South Korean side, administration officials estimate the deal could mean more than $10 billion annually in increased U.S. exports to Seoul and tens of thousands of new U.S. jobs. South Koreans say they would benefit from lower prices — some tariffs on food imports from the U.S. are as high as 40 percent — and a more efficient flow of investment in and out of their country.

This is such an obvious no-brainer that the only explanation for the failure to move forward must be and, in fact, is political: the power of Big Labor, specifically. When running for the nomination, Obama naturally voiced concerns about the agreement. But once safely in office he has of late “placed a priority on export promotion, calling it a key to job growth, and embraced the agreement with South Korea as a opportunity to weigh in on the broader debate over trade policy and advance U.S. interests.” He even dispatched his trade representative to drum up support around the country.

Yet it is far from clear that the agreement will be approved. Free trade is simply an anathema with many elected Democrats. (“Unions, environmental advocacy groups, and other organizations, meanwhile, are urging Obama to keep his campaign promises and stiffen the terms for South Korean access to the U.S. market.”)

This would be an opportunity for Obama to stand up to special interests, the Democrats in Congress to do the same, and both parties to claim credit for a pro-jobs measure. So, naturally, the safe bet is that nothing will get done.

Read Less

Sanctions on Iran: A Tale of Two Narratives

In a session with journalists at the White House last week, President Obama reportedly “made the case that his Iran policy is working.” He also hedged his bets by acknowledging that the “Iranians may be impervious to sanctions.” Friendly journalists being a quiescent filter, the Obama narrative comes through quite well: our president, earnest and competent, is doggedly wielding every tool in his toolbox. He sees some progress — reportedly in the form of “rumblings” that sanctions are prodding Iran to rethink its nuclear ambitions — but he recognizes the recalcitrant character of the Iranian leadership. He’s no fool, but this is, after all, a big problem.

That’s one narrative. It’s not a narrative about what Iran wants or is going to get, or what kind of threat that might pose to the Middle East or the U.S. It’s a narrative about what Obama is doing and how he sees the problem. We can call this one the Narrative of Obama.

The other narrative running in parallel with it is what we might call the Narrative of Events. Its elements are brought to our attention primarily by nontraditional media. The Obama administration simply ignores them in formulating its media themes, focusing instead on what Obama is doing and what he might have to do. Three developments in particular have cropped up in the last week.

One is the confirmation by IAEA inspectors that Iran has begun enriching uranium more efficiently. It’s a technical point, but it shortens the timeline to a weapon. As the Institute for Science and International Security observes, the procedure Iran has inaugurated mirrors the steps to a nuclear weapon outlined in the A.Q. Khan plans recovered from Libya. The Khan method essentially allows Iran to squeeze the most medium-enriched uranium possible from a given amount of low-enriched uranium, accelerating its progress toward the high-enriched uranium needed for a bomb. As the Reuters report notes, analysts say Iran “could advance to weapons-grade level in months.”

The other developments are interrelated and concern the economic sanctions themselves. One is the extent to which China — along with Turkey, India, and Russia — is stepping into the void created by tightened Western sanctions. This article from the new-right journal Il Foglio (available only in Italian) summarizes a number of mutually reinforcing factors, from Iran’s significance in China’s petroleum strategy to the dramatic increase in trade between the two countries and India’s determination not to be sidelined. According to Il Foglio, Turkey has proposed that Iran use major Turkish ports — rather than Dubai — as hubs for its foreign business. As I wrote in July, the rail lines are in place to make this a reality, allowing Iran to simply bypass the Strait of Hormuz for much of its trade.

Worrying about the danger it might create to inspect cargo ships in the Persian Gulf may soon be an outdated concern. Meanwhile, the third development reported in the last week is South Korea’s dilemma over the sanctions. This editorial reflects the significant concerns in Seoul about oil imports and the impact on medium-size businesses; Il Foglio points out, moreover, that if South Korea cooperates fully on sanctions, it will be abandoning one of its fastest-growing foreign markets to China. South Korean enthusiasm for effective cooperation is by no means assured.

Indeed, we are reaching the point at which it’s just as likely that patterns of trade and regional power will shift as it is that nations will continue to respond reflexively to American requests. Rick’s piece today is a timely reminder that the Narrative of Obama is an especially verbose one. It is also increasingly divorced from the Narrative of Events.

In a session with journalists at the White House last week, President Obama reportedly “made the case that his Iran policy is working.” He also hedged his bets by acknowledging that the “Iranians may be impervious to sanctions.” Friendly journalists being a quiescent filter, the Obama narrative comes through quite well: our president, earnest and competent, is doggedly wielding every tool in his toolbox. He sees some progress — reportedly in the form of “rumblings” that sanctions are prodding Iran to rethink its nuclear ambitions — but he recognizes the recalcitrant character of the Iranian leadership. He’s no fool, but this is, after all, a big problem.

That’s one narrative. It’s not a narrative about what Iran wants or is going to get, or what kind of threat that might pose to the Middle East or the U.S. It’s a narrative about what Obama is doing and how he sees the problem. We can call this one the Narrative of Obama.

The other narrative running in parallel with it is what we might call the Narrative of Events. Its elements are brought to our attention primarily by nontraditional media. The Obama administration simply ignores them in formulating its media themes, focusing instead on what Obama is doing and what he might have to do. Three developments in particular have cropped up in the last week.

One is the confirmation by IAEA inspectors that Iran has begun enriching uranium more efficiently. It’s a technical point, but it shortens the timeline to a weapon. As the Institute for Science and International Security observes, the procedure Iran has inaugurated mirrors the steps to a nuclear weapon outlined in the A.Q. Khan plans recovered from Libya. The Khan method essentially allows Iran to squeeze the most medium-enriched uranium possible from a given amount of low-enriched uranium, accelerating its progress toward the high-enriched uranium needed for a bomb. As the Reuters report notes, analysts say Iran “could advance to weapons-grade level in months.”

The other developments are interrelated and concern the economic sanctions themselves. One is the extent to which China — along with Turkey, India, and Russia — is stepping into the void created by tightened Western sanctions. This article from the new-right journal Il Foglio (available only in Italian) summarizes a number of mutually reinforcing factors, from Iran’s significance in China’s petroleum strategy to the dramatic increase in trade between the two countries and India’s determination not to be sidelined. According to Il Foglio, Turkey has proposed that Iran use major Turkish ports — rather than Dubai — as hubs for its foreign business. As I wrote in July, the rail lines are in place to make this a reality, allowing Iran to simply bypass the Strait of Hormuz for much of its trade.

Worrying about the danger it might create to inspect cargo ships in the Persian Gulf may soon be an outdated concern. Meanwhile, the third development reported in the last week is South Korea’s dilemma over the sanctions. This editorial reflects the significant concerns in Seoul about oil imports and the impact on medium-size businesses; Il Foglio points out, moreover, that if South Korea cooperates fully on sanctions, it will be abandoning one of its fastest-growing foreign markets to China. South Korean enthusiasm for effective cooperation is by no means assured.

Indeed, we are reaching the point at which it’s just as likely that patterns of trade and regional power will shift as it is that nations will continue to respond reflexively to American requests. Rick’s piece today is a timely reminder that the Narrative of Obama is an especially verbose one. It is also increasingly divorced from the Narrative of Events.

Read Less

Hissing in North Korea

North Korea is escalating tensions in response to South Korean military exercises. Especially as the United States seeks Seoul’s help in punishing not only North Korea but also Iran, it’s important that the Obama administration show its commitment to our allies.

Yesterday, North Korea seized a fishing boat with seven sailors aboard, four South Koreans and three Chinese. (It will be interesting to see how the weary patron state, China, responds to its unruly ward.) And today, North Korea shot artillery rounds near the sea border it shares with the South. These acts have been accompanied by the usual North Korean statements of sensationalist vitriol.

All this, of course, underscores a bigger point: neither North Korea nor Iran plans to go gentle into that good night. But by taking a strong line against one aggressor, we send the right message to others. Pyongyang’s aggression follows the robust military drills that South Korea held in response to North Korea’s sinking of the Southern Navy boat the Cheonan. These military drills include one completed recently alongside the United States in the East Sea, one being conducted right now in the Yellow Sea despite Chinese protestations, and more likely to follow.

South Korea’s leadership deserves hefty American support for its tough stance against North Korea, especially as Pyongyang continues troublemaking. The joint military exercise was a good first step, but it should be followed by further displays of American solidarity.

North Korea is escalating tensions in response to South Korean military exercises. Especially as the United States seeks Seoul’s help in punishing not only North Korea but also Iran, it’s important that the Obama administration show its commitment to our allies.

Yesterday, North Korea seized a fishing boat with seven sailors aboard, four South Koreans and three Chinese. (It will be interesting to see how the weary patron state, China, responds to its unruly ward.) And today, North Korea shot artillery rounds near the sea border it shares with the South. These acts have been accompanied by the usual North Korean statements of sensationalist vitriol.

All this, of course, underscores a bigger point: neither North Korea nor Iran plans to go gentle into that good night. But by taking a strong line against one aggressor, we send the right message to others. Pyongyang’s aggression follows the robust military drills that South Korea held in response to North Korea’s sinking of the Southern Navy boat the Cheonan. These military drills include one completed recently alongside the United States in the East Sea, one being conducted right now in the Yellow Sea despite Chinese protestations, and more likely to follow.

South Korea’s leadership deserves hefty American support for its tough stance against North Korea, especially as Pyongyang continues troublemaking. The joint military exercise was a good first step, but it should be followed by further displays of American solidarity.

Read Less

Storms Brewing in the Asian Seas

In response to North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean ship last March, the United States and South Korea will hold a series of joint military exercises beginning next week. But the joint exercises have become as much about geopolitics and China as they are about North Korea.

Although the exercises may be adroitly executed from a military-strategic standpoint, their success in sending a political and symbolic message is less certain. As the exercises have been considered throughout recent months, the Chinese protested aggressively and created a situation that tempts U.S. overreaction — which would be especially destructive now, as Sino-U.S. relations are already strained. The Obama administration has avoided that temptation, and the handling of the joint exercises has been both reasonable and measured. But the risk remains that Washington’s tact will be misinterpreted as a major concession to Beijing. This would be a pity. In a rare act of real smart diplomacy, the Obama administration is standing by our ally, South Korea, while also taking a moderate approach to China.

After Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates met with counterparts in Seoul this week, the Department of Defense announced a series of exercises to be held in both the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. In the Sea of Japan, a large-scale air and naval exercise will begin Sunday. But notably, the details of the Yellow Sea exercises, to be held at some point in the future, were not announced, leaving more questions than answers. (The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.)

The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.

Given Beijing’s strong objections to military escapades in the Yellow Sea, which it considers its territorial backyard, the U.S.-South Korean exercises take on new significance. The fear is that unless the United States stridently defies Chinese concerns, it will be seen as conceding to Beijing and setting a precedent about what constitutes Chinese territory. This perception would be overblown given the facts, but it is all the more worrisome in the context of growing Chinese naval assertiveness.

Some have speculated that the Chinese are seeking to establish their own Monroe Doctrine and see this as a chance to reinforce it. Contrary to the UN Law of the Sea, China has objected to any unapproved non-surveillance navy activity in its exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 miles from shore. Beijing has repeated strongly worded protests against exercises in the Yellow Sea, especially those involving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington.

If the United States proceeds with a major military exercise in the Yellow Sea, a military response from the Chinese would not be unprecedented; during the 1994 North Korea nuclear crisis, the U.S. sent a similar carrier, the Kitty Hawk, into the Yellow Sea. Although China was then a lesser military power, a Chinese submarine trailed the Kitty Hawk, and the Chinese air force dispatched fighters.

But the biggest risk is not military but political: China is trying to assert sea control; Sino-U.S. relations are already rocky, especially given Obama’s adherence to an arms deal with Taiwan; under a new prime minister, Japan is questioning whether to tilt its national-security strategy toward Beijing or toward Washington; South Korea is determining how steadfastly the United States intends to defend it from its hostile Northern neighbor; and North Korea wants to know what it can get away with.

Upon examining the facts, it’s clear that the plan announced yesterday serves the United States’s primary objectives: the Sea of Japan exercise is sufficient warning to North Korea, and it is also an impressive display of solidarity with South Korea. The scale of the exercises is huge: about 8,000 American and South Korean military personnel will participate. And the United States will employ some flashy assets. The exercise will include the George Washington, which is the core of U.S. naval power, and F-22s, the best of the best among tactical aircraft. The few disadvantages of a Sea of Japan–based exercise is that the South Korean ship, the Cheonan, was sunk in the Yellow Sea, and Pyongyang lies closer to the West. Hillary Clinton announced today, however, that the Obama administration would be imposing further economic sanctions against North Korea, strengthening the U.S. stance even more. The message to Pyonyang and to our allies is loud and clear.

This approach also enables the U.S. to avoid needlessly provoking China without conceding U.S. military rights, while taking into consideration the unavoidably necessary collaboration with China regarding the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese have suffered some of their most embarrassing historic defeats in the Yellow Sea, so they’re understandably sensitive. At the same time, joint Yellow Sea exercises will follow eventually, and the Pentagon’s press secretary, Geoff Morrell, stated clearly that the United Statesobviously [has] the right to navigate all international waters, conduct operations in all international waters at the time and place of our choosing.” Furthermore, China will also be a major player in the future of North Korea and in any reunification of the Korean Peninsula; therefore, our allies in Seoul could suffer more harm than benefit from outright defiance of Beijing’s concerns.

The Obama administration’s challenge now will be to convey the wisdom of this approach to China and to America’s allies. The Nobel-winning president has made this harder on himself because of his history of pacifying aggressors and distancing allies.  But in international relations, perception is reality. Had Obama been more fearsome before, he’d be more credible now.

In response to North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean ship last March, the United States and South Korea will hold a series of joint military exercises beginning next week. But the joint exercises have become as much about geopolitics and China as they are about North Korea.

Although the exercises may be adroitly executed from a military-strategic standpoint, their success in sending a political and symbolic message is less certain. As the exercises have been considered throughout recent months, the Chinese protested aggressively and created a situation that tempts U.S. overreaction — which would be especially destructive now, as Sino-U.S. relations are already strained. The Obama administration has avoided that temptation, and the handling of the joint exercises has been both reasonable and measured. But the risk remains that Washington’s tact will be misinterpreted as a major concession to Beijing. This would be a pity. In a rare act of real smart diplomacy, the Obama administration is standing by our ally, South Korea, while also taking a moderate approach to China.

After Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates met with counterparts in Seoul this week, the Department of Defense announced a series of exercises to be held in both the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. In the Sea of Japan, a large-scale air and naval exercise will begin Sunday. But notably, the details of the Yellow Sea exercises, to be held at some point in the future, were not announced, leaving more questions than answers. (The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.)

The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.

Given Beijing’s strong objections to military escapades in the Yellow Sea, which it considers its territorial backyard, the U.S.-South Korean exercises take on new significance. The fear is that unless the United States stridently defies Chinese concerns, it will be seen as conceding to Beijing and setting a precedent about what constitutes Chinese territory. This perception would be overblown given the facts, but it is all the more worrisome in the context of growing Chinese naval assertiveness.

Some have speculated that the Chinese are seeking to establish their own Monroe Doctrine and see this as a chance to reinforce it. Contrary to the UN Law of the Sea, China has objected to any unapproved non-surveillance navy activity in its exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 miles from shore. Beijing has repeated strongly worded protests against exercises in the Yellow Sea, especially those involving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington.

If the United States proceeds with a major military exercise in the Yellow Sea, a military response from the Chinese would not be unprecedented; during the 1994 North Korea nuclear crisis, the U.S. sent a similar carrier, the Kitty Hawk, into the Yellow Sea. Although China was then a lesser military power, a Chinese submarine trailed the Kitty Hawk, and the Chinese air force dispatched fighters.

But the biggest risk is not military but political: China is trying to assert sea control; Sino-U.S. relations are already rocky, especially given Obama’s adherence to an arms deal with Taiwan; under a new prime minister, Japan is questioning whether to tilt its national-security strategy toward Beijing or toward Washington; South Korea is determining how steadfastly the United States intends to defend it from its hostile Northern neighbor; and North Korea wants to know what it can get away with.

Upon examining the facts, it’s clear that the plan announced yesterday serves the United States’s primary objectives: the Sea of Japan exercise is sufficient warning to North Korea, and it is also an impressive display of solidarity with South Korea. The scale of the exercises is huge: about 8,000 American and South Korean military personnel will participate. And the United States will employ some flashy assets. The exercise will include the George Washington, which is the core of U.S. naval power, and F-22s, the best of the best among tactical aircraft. The few disadvantages of a Sea of Japan–based exercise is that the South Korean ship, the Cheonan, was sunk in the Yellow Sea, and Pyongyang lies closer to the West. Hillary Clinton announced today, however, that the Obama administration would be imposing further economic sanctions against North Korea, strengthening the U.S. stance even more. The message to Pyonyang and to our allies is loud and clear.

This approach also enables the U.S. to avoid needlessly provoking China without conceding U.S. military rights, while taking into consideration the unavoidably necessary collaboration with China regarding the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese have suffered some of their most embarrassing historic defeats in the Yellow Sea, so they’re understandably sensitive. At the same time, joint Yellow Sea exercises will follow eventually, and the Pentagon’s press secretary, Geoff Morrell, stated clearly that the United Statesobviously [has] the right to navigate all international waters, conduct operations in all international waters at the time and place of our choosing.” Furthermore, China will also be a major player in the future of North Korea and in any reunification of the Korean Peninsula; therefore, our allies in Seoul could suffer more harm than benefit from outright defiance of Beijing’s concerns.

The Obama administration’s challenge now will be to convey the wisdom of this approach to China and to America’s allies. The Nobel-winning president has made this harder on himself because of his history of pacifying aggressors and distancing allies.  But in international relations, perception is reality. Had Obama been more fearsome before, he’d be more credible now.

Read Less

A Tale of Two Ships

It is instructive to see how differently the UN and the Obama team reacted to two naval incidents: the terrorist flotilla and the sinking of a South Korean ship. Israel was and remains the target of the unending ire of the “international community,” which thrills at the prospect of another excuse to lambaste the Jewish state and to launch another attack on its legitimacy. But it’s quite a different story when there is an act of unprovoked aggression by a totalitarian state.

The Wall Street Journal editors write:

It’s as if the attack was a Sherlock Holmes mystery about a murder without a body. Never mind that everyone in the world knows that the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, killing 46 sailors in one of the worst acts of aggression since the Korean War ended nearly 60 years ago. A May report by a panel of global experts convened by South Korea to investigate the sinking left no doubt that the North perpetrated the act, despite Pyongyang’s denials.

Seoul went to the Security Council to seek the global rebuke of the North, but China objected to a resolution that specifically blamed its clients in Pyongyang. Thus the Security Council retreated to writing a resolution that condemned the act of aggression but named no aggressor. Apparently the rogue underwater missile targeted and then launched itself against the South Korean vessel. I, Torpedo.

This episode is a microcosm of the feckless Obama policy. First, there is the disingenuousness, which is needed to disguise the ineptness:

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tried to make the best of this embarrassment by saying the message to the North was “crystal clear” and that “The Security Council condemns and deplores this attack. It warns against any further attacks. And insists on full adherence to the Korean Armistice Agreement.”

Then there is the appeasement mentality: “Follow the logic: Since the North wasn’t condemned for doing what everyone knows it did it, the North’s leaders might now be appeased enough to return to the nuclear talks they walked out of last year.”

Most tragically, however, it is the reliance on morally decrepit international institutions in lieu of American power and, yes, smart diplomacy. The Obami insist on using institutions that don’t — despite all his speechifying — share our values and interests. The result, whether on North Korea or Iran, is thin gruel sanctions and watered-down statements, which encourages rather than retard aggression by rogue states.

It is these same institutions that revel in the opportunity to call out Israel and condemn the Jewish State for daring to defend itself against those wishing its annihilation. Like the equally bankrupt “peace process,” Obama’s fixation on multilateralism is making the world more dangerous, America weaker, and despots breathe easier — and, of course, Israel more embattled, as the Israel-haters enjoy newfound respectability and attention from the U.S. and, therefore, the West more generally. A “smart” diplomatic approach would downplay and minimize the role of these bodies and instead emphasize the full panoply of weapons (diplomatic, economic, and military) in the U.S. arsenal. That Obama has done the opposite goes a long way toward explaining why his foreign policy is in such disarray.

It is instructive to see how differently the UN and the Obama team reacted to two naval incidents: the terrorist flotilla and the sinking of a South Korean ship. Israel was and remains the target of the unending ire of the “international community,” which thrills at the prospect of another excuse to lambaste the Jewish state and to launch another attack on its legitimacy. But it’s quite a different story when there is an act of unprovoked aggression by a totalitarian state.

The Wall Street Journal editors write:

It’s as if the attack was a Sherlock Holmes mystery about a murder without a body. Never mind that everyone in the world knows that the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, killing 46 sailors in one of the worst acts of aggression since the Korean War ended nearly 60 years ago. A May report by a panel of global experts convened by South Korea to investigate the sinking left no doubt that the North perpetrated the act, despite Pyongyang’s denials.

Seoul went to the Security Council to seek the global rebuke of the North, but China objected to a resolution that specifically blamed its clients in Pyongyang. Thus the Security Council retreated to writing a resolution that condemned the act of aggression but named no aggressor. Apparently the rogue underwater missile targeted and then launched itself against the South Korean vessel. I, Torpedo.

This episode is a microcosm of the feckless Obama policy. First, there is the disingenuousness, which is needed to disguise the ineptness:

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tried to make the best of this embarrassment by saying the message to the North was “crystal clear” and that “The Security Council condemns and deplores this attack. It warns against any further attacks. And insists on full adherence to the Korean Armistice Agreement.”

Then there is the appeasement mentality: “Follow the logic: Since the North wasn’t condemned for doing what everyone knows it did it, the North’s leaders might now be appeased enough to return to the nuclear talks they walked out of last year.”

Most tragically, however, it is the reliance on morally decrepit international institutions in lieu of American power and, yes, smart diplomacy. The Obami insist on using institutions that don’t — despite all his speechifying — share our values and interests. The result, whether on North Korea or Iran, is thin gruel sanctions and watered-down statements, which encourages rather than retard aggression by rogue states.

It is these same institutions that revel in the opportunity to call out Israel and condemn the Jewish State for daring to defend itself against those wishing its annihilation. Like the equally bankrupt “peace process,” Obama’s fixation on multilateralism is making the world more dangerous, America weaker, and despots breathe easier — and, of course, Israel more embattled, as the Israel-haters enjoy newfound respectability and attention from the U.S. and, therefore, the West more generally. A “smart” diplomatic approach would downplay and minimize the role of these bodies and instead emphasize the full panoply of weapons (diplomatic, economic, and military) in the U.S. arsenal. That Obama has done the opposite goes a long way toward explaining why his foreign policy is in such disarray.

Read Less

The Symbol Fetish

At the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier writes that Israel has lost “the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas.” Somehow, among all the wars and skirmishes and ambushes that define Israeli existence and threaten to erase the Jewish state, I find it hard to swallow Wieseltier’s post-modern competition “for symbols and meanings” as “the all important war.”

Ethan Bronner writes, in the New York Times, “the world powers have grown increasingly disillusioned with the blockade, saying that it has created far too much suffering in Gaza and serves as a symbol not only of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians but of how the West is seen in relation to the Palestinians.”

You know what else the blockade serves as? A blockade. It separates Israel’s sworn enemies from those who would help them arm and kill Israelis. Oh, and by the way, as a blockade – and not a symbol – the blockade works. So, too, do the fences, check points, and walls that separate Israel from would-be terrorists in the Palestinian territories.

Oops, did I say walls? This comes from a Reuters story that ran last year: “Pope Benedict stood by the wall Israel is building round the West Bank on Wednesday and called it a symbol of “stalemate” between Israel and the Palestinians, urging both sides to break a ‘spiral of violence.’”

What kind of Freudian limbo do Israelis now supposedly inhabit where everything they do and create is just another telling symbol of chauvinism, paranoia, and frustration. Friends of Israel often decry the absurd standards to which “world powers” try to hold the Jewish state. But this isn’t even about selective standards; it’s a category distinction. Here are the rules: Russia, which has been illegally occupying Georgia for almost two years, and facilitating Iran’s nuclear and anti-aircraft programs for even longer, is a state. North Korea, which recently sank a South Korean navy boat full of 46 sailors (not in oh-so-precious international waters, but in South Korean waters), starves its own population, and threatens to destroy Seoul, is a state. Pakistan — the creation of which led to a million deaths and millions more displaced, in order to give a single religious group its own area– is a terrorist Disneyland; it is also a state, achieving independence in 1947. Israel, on the other hand, is the world’s Hitchcock dream sequence. And it better not forget it.

That’s what all this criticism of the flotilla operation amounts to. How dare Israel act in service of its existence as a country when it’s so valuable as a symbol. In this way, those who wag their fingers at Israel for insufficiently weighing optics and PR and world opinion have put an insidious twist on the denial of Israel’s right to exist. For if it is forbidden to act on its own behalf as a state then there is an implicit denial of its right to be one. After all, when a state prevents a fleet of armed enemies from breaking its blockade with no casualties on their side it’s called a smashing success. When it’s done by Israel it’s just another sinister emblem of increasingly violent suicidal tendencies.

At the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier writes that Israel has lost “the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas.” Somehow, among all the wars and skirmishes and ambushes that define Israeli existence and threaten to erase the Jewish state, I find it hard to swallow Wieseltier’s post-modern competition “for symbols and meanings” as “the all important war.”

Ethan Bronner writes, in the New York Times, “the world powers have grown increasingly disillusioned with the blockade, saying that it has created far too much suffering in Gaza and serves as a symbol not only of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians but of how the West is seen in relation to the Palestinians.”

You know what else the blockade serves as? A blockade. It separates Israel’s sworn enemies from those who would help them arm and kill Israelis. Oh, and by the way, as a blockade – and not a symbol – the blockade works. So, too, do the fences, check points, and walls that separate Israel from would-be terrorists in the Palestinian territories.

Oops, did I say walls? This comes from a Reuters story that ran last year: “Pope Benedict stood by the wall Israel is building round the West Bank on Wednesday and called it a symbol of “stalemate” between Israel and the Palestinians, urging both sides to break a ‘spiral of violence.’”

What kind of Freudian limbo do Israelis now supposedly inhabit where everything they do and create is just another telling symbol of chauvinism, paranoia, and frustration. Friends of Israel often decry the absurd standards to which “world powers” try to hold the Jewish state. But this isn’t even about selective standards; it’s a category distinction. Here are the rules: Russia, which has been illegally occupying Georgia for almost two years, and facilitating Iran’s nuclear and anti-aircraft programs for even longer, is a state. North Korea, which recently sank a South Korean navy boat full of 46 sailors (not in oh-so-precious international waters, but in South Korean waters), starves its own population, and threatens to destroy Seoul, is a state. Pakistan — the creation of which led to a million deaths and millions more displaced, in order to give a single religious group its own area– is a terrorist Disneyland; it is also a state, achieving independence in 1947. Israel, on the other hand, is the world’s Hitchcock dream sequence. And it better not forget it.

That’s what all this criticism of the flotilla operation amounts to. How dare Israel act in service of its existence as a country when it’s so valuable as a symbol. In this way, those who wag their fingers at Israel for insufficiently weighing optics and PR and world opinion have put an insidious twist on the denial of Israel’s right to exist. For if it is forbidden to act on its own behalf as a state then there is an implicit denial of its right to be one. After all, when a state prevents a fleet of armed enemies from breaking its blockade with no casualties on their side it’s called a smashing success. When it’s done by Israel it’s just another sinister emblem of increasingly violent suicidal tendencies.

Read Less

What Real Threats Look Like

There is a set of realities identified by the American left as threats to national, if not global, security. These include things like the U.S.’s own nuclear arsenal, the stationing abroad of some 370,000 American troops, Israel’s capable defenses, and warm weather. To call these phenomena threats is no mere act of speculation. It is a bold inversion of the truth.

Few policies boast a perfect record of 50-plus years, but U.S. nuclear deterrence has the right to do so. The American arsenal kept Russia from invading Western Europe throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Similarly, U.S. military bases, whether established in postwar Germany and Japan or set up 50 years later in the Balkans, have underwritten long-term stability in every hemisphere.

The left has ignored entirely the debt owed to Israel’s military. In 1981, the Israeli Airforce’s Operation Babylon took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, robbing the world’s most dangerous leader of his own deterrence capabilities. This is to say nothing of Israel’s attack on other dangerous weapons programs and of the Jewish state’s perpetual battle to defeat Islamist terrorism the world over.

As for the deadly threat of high temperatures, a 2007 study reported: “From 1979 to 1997, extreme cold killed roughly twice as many Americans as heat waves, according to Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

It is remarkable how fast these boutique “threats” fall by the wayside when the genuine article appears. Today, the AP reports, “The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 Tuesday after traders dumped stocks on worries about the global economy and tensions between North and South Korea.” Funny, you never read about a stock-market nosedive in response to a balmy June, the ongoing maintenance of American nuclear weapons, an Israeli response to Hamas, or the construction of a distant American military base.

The world sets itself on edge like this only when an unmistakable, demonstrable threat to peace emerges. We now see one in the increasing bellicosity of Kim Jong-il’s regime.

And speaking of those dangerous American military bases abroad, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak doesn’t seem to be too offended by President Obama’s declaration that “the Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States.” When Seoul turns down that support, we can start worrying about the left’s critical-threat list. Until then, the world has some actual problems to deal with, thanks very much.

There is a set of realities identified by the American left as threats to national, if not global, security. These include things like the U.S.’s own nuclear arsenal, the stationing abroad of some 370,000 American troops, Israel’s capable defenses, and warm weather. To call these phenomena threats is no mere act of speculation. It is a bold inversion of the truth.

Few policies boast a perfect record of 50-plus years, but U.S. nuclear deterrence has the right to do so. The American arsenal kept Russia from invading Western Europe throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Similarly, U.S. military bases, whether established in postwar Germany and Japan or set up 50 years later in the Balkans, have underwritten long-term stability in every hemisphere.

The left has ignored entirely the debt owed to Israel’s military. In 1981, the Israeli Airforce’s Operation Babylon took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, robbing the world’s most dangerous leader of his own deterrence capabilities. This is to say nothing of Israel’s attack on other dangerous weapons programs and of the Jewish state’s perpetual battle to defeat Islamist terrorism the world over.

As for the deadly threat of high temperatures, a 2007 study reported: “From 1979 to 1997, extreme cold killed roughly twice as many Americans as heat waves, according to Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

It is remarkable how fast these boutique “threats” fall by the wayside when the genuine article appears. Today, the AP reports, “The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 Tuesday after traders dumped stocks on worries about the global economy and tensions between North and South Korea.” Funny, you never read about a stock-market nosedive in response to a balmy June, the ongoing maintenance of American nuclear weapons, an Israeli response to Hamas, or the construction of a distant American military base.

The world sets itself on edge like this only when an unmistakable, demonstrable threat to peace emerges. We now see one in the increasing bellicosity of Kim Jong-il’s regime.

And speaking of those dangerous American military bases abroad, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak doesn’t seem to be too offended by President Obama’s declaration that “the Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States.” When Seoul turns down that support, we can start worrying about the left’s critical-threat list. Until then, the world has some actual problems to deal with, thanks very much.

Read Less

South Korea, Yes. Israel, No.

The Obama administration is perking up when it comes to North Korea:

The White House said Monday that North Korea should stop its “belligerent and threatening behavior,” and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged “unequivocal” support for Seoul in its escalating dispute with its neighbor.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama “fully supports” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who on Sunday cut off trade with North Korea and shut down sea lanes to North Korean ships in response to the March 26 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. North Korea was found responsible for the attack by an international group of investigators.

It remains to be seen what “fully supports” means, but it’s a step in the right direction.

And now it’s time to do the same with Israel. After all, Israel is an ally subjected to the “belligerent and threatening behavior” of a neighbor that seeks nuclear weapons. But Obama seems not remotely interested in providing a firm guarantee for Israel that might have some deterrent value and at the very least expanding the array of options we currently have. (Nor do American Jewish leaders demand that he do so.) Such a notion, in fact, seems nearly preposterous for this president. His antipathy for Israel is too great, as is his desperation to avoid confrontation with the thugocracy that seeks the Jewish state’s destruction, to contemplate a promise of unqualified support for our democratic ally.

If the president ever gave a press conference or faced a tough interviewer, he might be asked: why South Korea and not Israel?

The Obama administration is perking up when it comes to North Korea:

The White House said Monday that North Korea should stop its “belligerent and threatening behavior,” and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged “unequivocal” support for Seoul in its escalating dispute with its neighbor.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama “fully supports” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who on Sunday cut off trade with North Korea and shut down sea lanes to North Korean ships in response to the March 26 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. North Korea was found responsible for the attack by an international group of investigators.

It remains to be seen what “fully supports” means, but it’s a step in the right direction.

And now it’s time to do the same with Israel. After all, Israel is an ally subjected to the “belligerent and threatening behavior” of a neighbor that seeks nuclear weapons. But Obama seems not remotely interested in providing a firm guarantee for Israel that might have some deterrent value and at the very least expanding the array of options we currently have. (Nor do American Jewish leaders demand that he do so.) Such a notion, in fact, seems nearly preposterous for this president. His antipathy for Israel is too great, as is his desperation to avoid confrontation with the thugocracy that seeks the Jewish state’s destruction, to contemplate a promise of unqualified support for our democratic ally.

If the president ever gave a press conference or faced a tough interviewer, he might be asked: why South Korea and not Israel?

Read Less

Fear and Loathing in the Far East

Conspiracy theorists would imagine that the Americans engineered the sinking of South Korean ship Cheonan – and pinned it on North Korea — as a means of pressuring Japan to agree to relocate the disputed Marine Corps air base on Okinawa. But conspiracies don’t work that well; only the natural course of events produces such ironies.

Shortly after Seoul announced its findings last week on the Cheonan sinking, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama publicly reversed his position on relocating the U.S. base. Vocal Okinawan activists have long wanted the U.S. Marine Corps out of their archipelagic prefecture entirely. Hatoyama promised during his 2009 campaign to revisit the previous government’s agreement to move the air base from its current position at Futenma to a new location in the Henoko district. And late last year he did just that, producing a months-long standoff with the U.S. over the fate of Marine Corps basing in Japan.

The Obama administration’s stance has been unyielding and less than cordial: December saw a painfully undiplomatic sequence in which President Obama refused a request for a sidebar with Hatoyama at the Copenhagen environmental summit; the Hatoyama government announced that it would not move on the basing matter at all until May 2010; and Hillary Clinton summoned the Japanese ambassador to lecture him on his government’s obligations under the previous agreement.

In spite of this unpromising history, however, the Hatoyama government has now agreed to continue with the plan to move the air base to Henoko. The move remains deeply unpopular in Okinawa, but Hatoyama is quite explicit about his reason: his concern for Japanese security in light of the tensions on the Korean peninsula.

This is a pyrrhic victory for Obama’s diplomacy. The alliance with Japan is worth tending better; it might have been possible to achieve this or a similarly advantageous outcome without leaving Japan’s government and the Okinawans feeling cornered and resentful. But our “smart power” administration didn’t even try.

Events will not always yield blind luck and drive our allies to do what we want. With events likely to begin piling up faster than we can react to them, greater care is called for. Observing with our allies the basic norms of courtesy, access, negotiation, and compromise would go a long way toward cementing our commonality of purpose as the challenges to our global security arrangements accelerate.

Conspiracy theorists would imagine that the Americans engineered the sinking of South Korean ship Cheonan – and pinned it on North Korea — as a means of pressuring Japan to agree to relocate the disputed Marine Corps air base on Okinawa. But conspiracies don’t work that well; only the natural course of events produces such ironies.

Shortly after Seoul announced its findings last week on the Cheonan sinking, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama publicly reversed his position on relocating the U.S. base. Vocal Okinawan activists have long wanted the U.S. Marine Corps out of their archipelagic prefecture entirely. Hatoyama promised during his 2009 campaign to revisit the previous government’s agreement to move the air base from its current position at Futenma to a new location in the Henoko district. And late last year he did just that, producing a months-long standoff with the U.S. over the fate of Marine Corps basing in Japan.

The Obama administration’s stance has been unyielding and less than cordial: December saw a painfully undiplomatic sequence in which President Obama refused a request for a sidebar with Hatoyama at the Copenhagen environmental summit; the Hatoyama government announced that it would not move on the basing matter at all until May 2010; and Hillary Clinton summoned the Japanese ambassador to lecture him on his government’s obligations under the previous agreement.

In spite of this unpromising history, however, the Hatoyama government has now agreed to continue with the plan to move the air base to Henoko. The move remains deeply unpopular in Okinawa, but Hatoyama is quite explicit about his reason: his concern for Japanese security in light of the tensions on the Korean peninsula.

This is a pyrrhic victory for Obama’s diplomacy. The alliance with Japan is worth tending better; it might have been possible to achieve this or a similarly advantageous outcome without leaving Japan’s government and the Okinawans feeling cornered and resentful. But our “smart power” administration didn’t even try.

Events will not always yield blind luck and drive our allies to do what we want. With events likely to begin piling up faster than we can react to them, greater care is called for. Observing with our allies the basic norms of courtesy, access, negotiation, and compromise would go a long way toward cementing our commonality of purpose as the challenges to our global security arrangements accelerate.

Read Less

The Koreas: Sanctions Effectiveness Watch

The most informative development in the Korean ship-sinking case this week is the silence of China on the matter, something South Korea’s press has addressed in pointed fashion. The Chinese announced on the 19th, moreover, that their ambassador would send a deputy to Thursday’s high-level diplomatic briefing from the South Korean government rather than attending it himself. Editorial staffs in Seoul interpret this as de facto support for North Korea’s position in the confrontation. They have reason to.

In the month before the sinking of South Korean navy corvette Cheonan (on March 26), North Korea extended to 2028 China’s lease on the eastern port of Rajin, which sits on the Sea of Japan. China is modernizing the port extensively for commercial use; Japan and South Korea have the obvious concern that China might begin sending warships there as well. In the month after Cheonans sinking, North Korea switched partners in its flagship tourism venture from South Korea to China. China’s tourists lost no time in taking advantage of that opportunity: the first tourist train from China entered North Korea on April 24. Tourism is a latecomer to the burgeoning trade between China and North Korea, which reportedly hit an all-time high in the first two months of 2010.

China’s proprietary relations with North Korea face an aggressive rival in Russia, which obtained a new 50-year lease on the Rajin port in March and plans to connect the port to its eastern railway system. Maintaining China’s position as Pyongyang’s principal patron is high on Beijing’s priority list, which explains why the Chinese welcomed a rare visit from Kim Jong-Il in early May and allowed North Korea to capitalize on that trip with its first-ever national display at the World Expo in Shanghai. (The chirpy cluelessness of MSNBC’s coverage here is priceless.) Neither the Cheonan incident nor reports in April that Pyongyang is planning a third nuclear test threw a damper on the fraternal amity blossoming in Northeast Asia.

The sense among China’s leaders that they have the latitude to display their true intentions in Korea has grown markedly in the last year. It was never accurate to perceive China as a like-minded ally of the U.S. in the Six-Party talks but, as late as April 2009, Beijing was still making a show of acting from common interests. That it no longer does can be attributed largely to the passivity and incoherence of the Obama administration. The administration’s only serious diplomatic response during the tense period after Cheonan’s sinking was to offer food aid to North Korea if it would rejoin the Six-Party talks.

But China has other examples to draw from as well, such as Obama’s unrealistic handling of Iran. The parallels between the Iran and Korea situations include, of course, multiple rounds of toothless international sanctions and U.S. bluster unsupported by any effective action. In the case of the Cheonan sinking, they also include a very specific analogue: the North Korean naval weapons involved. The analytical team’s finding is that North Korea used a Yono-class “midget” submarine to launch a former-Soviet-style 21-inch torpedo — the world’s most common type — at the South Korean corvette. Iran has produced seven Yono-design hulls as its Ghadir class since 2007, has fitted them to launch 21-inch torpedoes, and began adding them to the fleet in 2009. Iran, like North Korea, has been under UN sanctions throughout that period.

The most informative development in the Korean ship-sinking case this week is the silence of China on the matter, something South Korea’s press has addressed in pointed fashion. The Chinese announced on the 19th, moreover, that their ambassador would send a deputy to Thursday’s high-level diplomatic briefing from the South Korean government rather than attending it himself. Editorial staffs in Seoul interpret this as de facto support for North Korea’s position in the confrontation. They have reason to.

In the month before the sinking of South Korean navy corvette Cheonan (on March 26), North Korea extended to 2028 China’s lease on the eastern port of Rajin, which sits on the Sea of Japan. China is modernizing the port extensively for commercial use; Japan and South Korea have the obvious concern that China might begin sending warships there as well. In the month after Cheonans sinking, North Korea switched partners in its flagship tourism venture from South Korea to China. China’s tourists lost no time in taking advantage of that opportunity: the first tourist train from China entered North Korea on April 24. Tourism is a latecomer to the burgeoning trade between China and North Korea, which reportedly hit an all-time high in the first two months of 2010.

China’s proprietary relations with North Korea face an aggressive rival in Russia, which obtained a new 50-year lease on the Rajin port in March and plans to connect the port to its eastern railway system. Maintaining China’s position as Pyongyang’s principal patron is high on Beijing’s priority list, which explains why the Chinese welcomed a rare visit from Kim Jong-Il in early May and allowed North Korea to capitalize on that trip with its first-ever national display at the World Expo in Shanghai. (The chirpy cluelessness of MSNBC’s coverage here is priceless.) Neither the Cheonan incident nor reports in April that Pyongyang is planning a third nuclear test threw a damper on the fraternal amity blossoming in Northeast Asia.

The sense among China’s leaders that they have the latitude to display their true intentions in Korea has grown markedly in the last year. It was never accurate to perceive China as a like-minded ally of the U.S. in the Six-Party talks but, as late as April 2009, Beijing was still making a show of acting from common interests. That it no longer does can be attributed largely to the passivity and incoherence of the Obama administration. The administration’s only serious diplomatic response during the tense period after Cheonan’s sinking was to offer food aid to North Korea if it would rejoin the Six-Party talks.

But China has other examples to draw from as well, such as Obama’s unrealistic handling of Iran. The parallels between the Iran and Korea situations include, of course, multiple rounds of toothless international sanctions and U.S. bluster unsupported by any effective action. In the case of the Cheonan sinking, they also include a very specific analogue: the North Korean naval weapons involved. The analytical team’s finding is that North Korea used a Yono-class “midget” submarine to launch a former-Soviet-style 21-inch torpedo — the world’s most common type — at the South Korean corvette. Iran has produced seven Yono-design hulls as its Ghadir class since 2007, has fitted them to launch 21-inch torpedoes, and began adding them to the fleet in 2009. Iran, like North Korea, has been under UN sanctions throughout that period.

Read Less

The Ongoing Korean War

Having just visited South Korea, I felt as if I were in a time warp. It’s not that South Korea itself is out of date; if anything, it is ultra-modern — at the cutting edge of technology, culture, and social and economic development. But its neighbor to the north seems never to have passed out of its Stalinist phase. In addition to starving and repressing its own people, and proliferating weapons technology, counterfeit currency, and other illegal substances, North Korea keeps on threatening the south.

The latest manifestation was of course the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which occurred back in March and which killed 46 sailors. It is now generally agreed that the culprit was a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. This is a bit out of the norm, but not wildly so. Every few years, North Korea commits some provocation along those lines. This is actually fairly mild compared with the bomb blast back in 1983, which killed a number of top Korean officials while they were on a visit to Rangoon.

More often, of course, the North-South standoff results not in actual fighting but in tensions along the DMZ, or demilitarized zone — a misnomer for one of the most heavily armed places on earth. Along with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, I visited Panmunjom, the area in the DMZ where negotiations with the north are conducted, and found a surreal scene, with North Korean guards peering at us through the windows of a hut as if we were animals at the zoo. Meanwhile tense South Korean soldiers in sunglasses and shiny helmets stood around, fists clenched, in what is called the “ROK Ready” position. Don’t dare open the back door, we were told; a soldier who made that mistake was snatched by the North Koreans.

There seems scant hope of ending this standoff anytime soon — not unless the bizarre North Korean regime collapses. It is certainly dysfunctional enough to come to an end at any time, but it could just as easily last for decades as impoverished dictatorships still do in Burma and Cuba. The ultimate objective for American and South Korean policy should be to encourage the north’s peaceful implosion, and that in turn means reducing outside support for the regime. That’s something South Korea, under a more conservative government led by Lee Myung-bak, has already been doing lately. Ultimately, though, the north relies for life support on China, and there seems scant prospect that Beijing will do anything that might undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. There is nothing that Chinese leaders fear more than an implosion on their border, leading to huge refugee flows and possibly the establishment of a unified Korea aligned with the West, not with China.

So in practical terms, South Korea and its American allies will have no choice but to continue preparing for the resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. That task is increasingly being taken up by the Republic of Korea, which has 655,000 active-duty military personnel and 3 million reservists — the sixth-largest military in the world. The U.S. still maintains 28,000 troops in the south, but they are increasingly being pulled back from Seoul and from the DMZ toward a new base farther south, away from any major population center. Their role is not to so much to contribute ground combat power as to help in the naval and air operations against North Korea while, critically, providing a tripwire that will guarantee American nuclear protection against North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean generals already exercise full control of their forces in peacetime, but if war were to break out, their military would revert to the control of the Combined Forces Command, run by an American four-star. That is due to change in 2012, when “opcon” (operational control) is supposed to revert to the Koreans even in wartime, but South Korean officials we spoke to said they want to move that date back by several years. Not only are they still lacking confidence that they can exercise the same kind of command and control as U.S. officers, but they also think it would be a bad signal of disengagement to the north at a dangerous time. Of course, on the Korean Peninsula, every moment since 1950 has been a dangerous one.

Having just visited South Korea, I felt as if I were in a time warp. It’s not that South Korea itself is out of date; if anything, it is ultra-modern — at the cutting edge of technology, culture, and social and economic development. But its neighbor to the north seems never to have passed out of its Stalinist phase. In addition to starving and repressing its own people, and proliferating weapons technology, counterfeit currency, and other illegal substances, North Korea keeps on threatening the south.

The latest manifestation was of course the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which occurred back in March and which killed 46 sailors. It is now generally agreed that the culprit was a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. This is a bit out of the norm, but not wildly so. Every few years, North Korea commits some provocation along those lines. This is actually fairly mild compared with the bomb blast back in 1983, which killed a number of top Korean officials while they were on a visit to Rangoon.

More often, of course, the North-South standoff results not in actual fighting but in tensions along the DMZ, or demilitarized zone — a misnomer for one of the most heavily armed places on earth. Along with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, I visited Panmunjom, the area in the DMZ where negotiations with the north are conducted, and found a surreal scene, with North Korean guards peering at us through the windows of a hut as if we were animals at the zoo. Meanwhile tense South Korean soldiers in sunglasses and shiny helmets stood around, fists clenched, in what is called the “ROK Ready” position. Don’t dare open the back door, we were told; a soldier who made that mistake was snatched by the North Koreans.

There seems scant hope of ending this standoff anytime soon — not unless the bizarre North Korean regime collapses. It is certainly dysfunctional enough to come to an end at any time, but it could just as easily last for decades as impoverished dictatorships still do in Burma and Cuba. The ultimate objective for American and South Korean policy should be to encourage the north’s peaceful implosion, and that in turn means reducing outside support for the regime. That’s something South Korea, under a more conservative government led by Lee Myung-bak, has already been doing lately. Ultimately, though, the north relies for life support on China, and there seems scant prospect that Beijing will do anything that might undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. There is nothing that Chinese leaders fear more than an implosion on their border, leading to huge refugee flows and possibly the establishment of a unified Korea aligned with the West, not with China.

So in practical terms, South Korea and its American allies will have no choice but to continue preparing for the resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. That task is increasingly being taken up by the Republic of Korea, which has 655,000 active-duty military personnel and 3 million reservists — the sixth-largest military in the world. The U.S. still maintains 28,000 troops in the south, but they are increasingly being pulled back from Seoul and from the DMZ toward a new base farther south, away from any major population center. Their role is not to so much to contribute ground combat power as to help in the naval and air operations against North Korea while, critically, providing a tripwire that will guarantee American nuclear protection against North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean generals already exercise full control of their forces in peacetime, but if war were to break out, their military would revert to the control of the Combined Forces Command, run by an American four-star. That is due to change in 2012, when “opcon” (operational control) is supposed to revert to the Koreans even in wartime, but South Korean officials we spoke to said they want to move that date back by several years. Not only are they still lacking confidence that they can exercise the same kind of command and control as U.S. officers, but they also think it would be a bad signal of disengagement to the north at a dangerous time. Of course, on the Korean Peninsula, every moment since 1950 has been a dangerous one.

Read Less

Justice, Prudence, and North Korea

Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s tough-as-nails president, is in an uncomfortable position as it looks more and more like North Korea is to blame for the sinking of one of its ships, and Barack Obama’s softie stance toward tyrannical regimes isn’t helping.

Christian Whiton writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s reluctance to blame North Korea for sinking the corvette ROKS Cheonan on March 26 reflects his political quandary. The center-right government finds itself potentially warred upon by its belligerent neighbor to the north, with little backup from an indifferent population and its American ally. The greater danger is not an immediate war, but an even stronger signal to Pyongyang and the region’s other belligerents that force can be applied without consequence.

The likelihood that North Korea is to blame for the attack increased dramatically in recent days. On Sunday, South Korea’s defense minister blamed the ship’s demise on a torpedo. While he stopped short of fingering North Korea directly, this seemed to rule out hope that the deaths of at least 40 sailors was something other than an intentional act of war. This is far more serious than the usual affrays North Korea is known to instigate.

Mr. Lee has a history of taking a hard line with North Korea, but in this instance, his options are limited.

In just-war theory, there are two criteria that must be considered by any head of state who contemplates how to counter an aggressor. First, he must decide whether military action is justified. If, in fact, Kim Jong-il’s army did deliberately sink the South Korean ship, then that would constitute an attack — a valid justification for South Korean retaliation.

Mr. Lee’s hesitation, then, has more to do with the second criterion: whether retaliation is prudent, regardless of whether or not it is justified. In this, Mr. Lee is at a disadvantage. As noted earlier, because North Korea was allowed to attain nuclear status, Seoul and its allies must tread with caution.

But Mr. Lee’s tough stance is further undermined by Obama’s consistently soft foreign policy and by his trend of pandering to enemies instead of our allies. South Korea can hardly be confident of Washington’s support, regardless of how justified its cause may be. So Mr. Lee can’t be blamed for wondering whether singlehandedly staring down a nuclear-armed, irrational aggressor is really the prudent course for South Korea to take.

However, as Mr. Whiton suggests, the biggest risk isn’t an all-out war with North Korea. At stake is Mr. Lee’s plausibility — but also the plausibility of any nation that claims it will not tolerate an unprovoked attack on a peaceful country. North Korea will almost certainly take the absence of the threat of deterrence as further encouragement to behave badly.

So what to do? Whiton writes:

The alternative need not necessarily be a military strike against North Korea in retaliation, but a realigned security strategy that reacts to the threats posed by Pyongyang. A start could be a naval and aviation show of force that goes right up to North Korea’s territory and reasserts freedom of navigation throughout the region.

But Obama has issued only vague “support and condolences” and an offer for the U.S. Navy’s “assistance to South Korea’s ongoing search and recovery effort.”

It has been said often that Obama’s foreign policy emboldens international troublemakers. But to go a step further, one of the gravest consequences of Obama’s appeasement strategy has been to make it strategically imprudent for a country to justly act in defense of its citizens.

Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s tough-as-nails president, is in an uncomfortable position as it looks more and more like North Korea is to blame for the sinking of one of its ships, and Barack Obama’s softie stance toward tyrannical regimes isn’t helping.

Christian Whiton writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s reluctance to blame North Korea for sinking the corvette ROKS Cheonan on March 26 reflects his political quandary. The center-right government finds itself potentially warred upon by its belligerent neighbor to the north, with little backup from an indifferent population and its American ally. The greater danger is not an immediate war, but an even stronger signal to Pyongyang and the region’s other belligerents that force can be applied without consequence.

The likelihood that North Korea is to blame for the attack increased dramatically in recent days. On Sunday, South Korea’s defense minister blamed the ship’s demise on a torpedo. While he stopped short of fingering North Korea directly, this seemed to rule out hope that the deaths of at least 40 sailors was something other than an intentional act of war. This is far more serious than the usual affrays North Korea is known to instigate.

Mr. Lee has a history of taking a hard line with North Korea, but in this instance, his options are limited.

In just-war theory, there are two criteria that must be considered by any head of state who contemplates how to counter an aggressor. First, he must decide whether military action is justified. If, in fact, Kim Jong-il’s army did deliberately sink the South Korean ship, then that would constitute an attack — a valid justification for South Korean retaliation.

Mr. Lee’s hesitation, then, has more to do with the second criterion: whether retaliation is prudent, regardless of whether or not it is justified. In this, Mr. Lee is at a disadvantage. As noted earlier, because North Korea was allowed to attain nuclear status, Seoul and its allies must tread with caution.

But Mr. Lee’s tough stance is further undermined by Obama’s consistently soft foreign policy and by his trend of pandering to enemies instead of our allies. South Korea can hardly be confident of Washington’s support, regardless of how justified its cause may be. So Mr. Lee can’t be blamed for wondering whether singlehandedly staring down a nuclear-armed, irrational aggressor is really the prudent course for South Korea to take.

However, as Mr. Whiton suggests, the biggest risk isn’t an all-out war with North Korea. At stake is Mr. Lee’s plausibility — but also the plausibility of any nation that claims it will not tolerate an unprovoked attack on a peaceful country. North Korea will almost certainly take the absence of the threat of deterrence as further encouragement to behave badly.

So what to do? Whiton writes:

The alternative need not necessarily be a military strike against North Korea in retaliation, but a realigned security strategy that reacts to the threats posed by Pyongyang. A start could be a naval and aviation show of force that goes right up to North Korea’s territory and reasserts freedom of navigation throughout the region.

But Obama has issued only vague “support and condolences” and an offer for the U.S. Navy’s “assistance to South Korea’s ongoing search and recovery effort.”

It has been said often that Obama’s foreign policy emboldens international troublemakers. But to go a step further, one of the gravest consequences of Obama’s appeasement strategy has been to make it strategically imprudent for a country to justly act in defense of its citizens.

Read Less

North Korea’s Dilemma

Uncanny events in North Korea this week hint at the fragility of the regime and the effectiveness of sanctions. Though tough to confirm, it’s being reported that two senior members of the government have been canned, and the DRPK has had to backtrack on some of its pet policies, which were targeted at centralizing the economy and choking the black market.

In November, Pyongyang enacted major economic changes. It cracked down on private markets allowed to operate with very limited freedom since 2002. It restricted imports from China. It revalued the currency, replacing old bank notes with new ones and limiting how much money a normal citizen could swap out, introducing the new currency in a way that flagrantly favored corrupt party members and the elite. That policy alone wiped out the savings of many average North Koreans. Reports suggest the price of rice is now 100 times what it was in October, and starvation deaths are on the rise.

This problem is worsened because aid has been cut off. The South Koreans, led by the formidable Lee Myung-bak, have made aid contingent upon North Korean nuclear concessions. And North Korea lost 500,000 tons of food from the United States last year.

Though it’s tough to say exactly what’s going on in North Korea, the food shortage seems to have elicited popular outrage, becoming a turning point for its citizenry. Veterans from the Korean War staged a protest in Danchon, riots have broken out, and citizens have attacked officials patrolling the markets, according to news reports gathered from defectors, smugglers, South Korean news agencies, and off-the-record comments from Seoul officials. The ruthlessly repressive North Korean government appears to be caught off guard by the uprisings.

Now Pyongyang is yielding slightly. The author of the November policies has been fired, as was the government official responsible for ensuring access to foreign currency for Kim Jong-Il, almost certainly because European Union blacklisting. The North Korean government is likely easing some of the November restrictions.

This isn’t the concession the West has been looking for, by any means. But it’s a good sign. The sanctions, paired with North Korea’s own suicidal policies, are inflicting pain – pain that is evoking reaction from ordinary North Koreans, pain that is forcing Pyongyang to make at least some changes against its will. If Obama and his friends are smart, they’ll acknowledge that their sanctions can put Kim Jung-Il’s government in a corner. One of these punches may just be a deadringer.

Uncanny events in North Korea this week hint at the fragility of the regime and the effectiveness of sanctions. Though tough to confirm, it’s being reported that two senior members of the government have been canned, and the DRPK has had to backtrack on some of its pet policies, which were targeted at centralizing the economy and choking the black market.

In November, Pyongyang enacted major economic changes. It cracked down on private markets allowed to operate with very limited freedom since 2002. It restricted imports from China. It revalued the currency, replacing old bank notes with new ones and limiting how much money a normal citizen could swap out, introducing the new currency in a way that flagrantly favored corrupt party members and the elite. That policy alone wiped out the savings of many average North Koreans. Reports suggest the price of rice is now 100 times what it was in October, and starvation deaths are on the rise.

This problem is worsened because aid has been cut off. The South Koreans, led by the formidable Lee Myung-bak, have made aid contingent upon North Korean nuclear concessions. And North Korea lost 500,000 tons of food from the United States last year.

Though it’s tough to say exactly what’s going on in North Korea, the food shortage seems to have elicited popular outrage, becoming a turning point for its citizenry. Veterans from the Korean War staged a protest in Danchon, riots have broken out, and citizens have attacked officials patrolling the markets, according to news reports gathered from defectors, smugglers, South Korean news agencies, and off-the-record comments from Seoul officials. The ruthlessly repressive North Korean government appears to be caught off guard by the uprisings.

Now Pyongyang is yielding slightly. The author of the November policies has been fired, as was the government official responsible for ensuring access to foreign currency for Kim Jong-Il, almost certainly because European Union blacklisting. The North Korean government is likely easing some of the November restrictions.

This isn’t the concession the West has been looking for, by any means. But it’s a good sign. The sanctions, paired with North Korea’s own suicidal policies, are inflicting pain – pain that is evoking reaction from ordinary North Koreans, pain that is forcing Pyongyang to make at least some changes against its will. If Obama and his friends are smart, they’ll acknowledge that their sanctions can put Kim Jung-Il’s government in a corner. One of these punches may just be a deadringer.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.