In a Passive World, Aggression Pays
Why was it necessary to draw on the power struggles in Pyongyang to explain North Korea's sudden artillery attack on the Yellow Sea border island of Yeonpyeong on Tuesday, Nov. 23 and its voluntary disclosure three days earlier of a new enrichment facility at the Yongbyon nuclear center to an America scientist?
True, the ailing ruler Kim Jong-Il, his heir apparent Kim Jong-un, the latter's powerful uncle and aunt, Jang Song-taek and Kim Kyonghui, and the rival generals all have private cliques jockeying for position.
Prof. Siegried Hecker called the modern, clean facility he witnessed in North Korea "stunning," an epithet that fit the case more accurately than President Barack Obama's description of the North Korean shelling attack as a "provocative incident."
What did President Obama and South Korean President Lee Mung-bak expect when, Monday, Nov. 22, while both were in a weakened state due to different domestic setbacks, they embarked on a big joint military exercise right on the maritime border where Yeonpyeong island is located? It involved 70,000 South Korean troops and substantial US strength led by the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, "watching them from a distance with open eyes," as a Pentagon spokesperson put it.
Even if Kim Jong-un did seek to give North Korea's generals proof he was tough, this was not what prompted the well-laid, calculated artillery attack Pyongyang staged with great precision on the island. What counted here was North Korean rulers' perception of the US-South exercise as a hostile American response to its presentation to Prof. Hacker. They saw South Korean and US forces massing on their border for a training exercise which could have sent artillery shells flying over. And so they reacted immediately and violently, as is their way.
North Korea pursues a foreign policy of big guns
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's analysts stress that Washington, Tokyo – and certainly Seoul – cannot hope to change the way North Korean political and military leaders behave. It is not in the nature of these despots to adapt themselves to Western norms. And they have no compulsion to do so. After all, North Korea is no East Germany to disintegrate and be swallowed up by the South. East Germany collapsed when the fall of the USSR left it standing alone, whereas Pyongyang is propped up by Beijing which will not allow the Democratic Republic of North Korea to fall.
Therefore, to confront North Korea, it will be necessary to first deal with China, which far from declining is going from strength to strength, compared with the weakened states of Washington and Seoul. Neither is therefore in a position to take Beijing on.
Japan, the only Asian power capable of jerking America and the Obama administration out of their military torpor, is itself in trouble over Prime Minister Naoto Kan's political woes.
In the South Korean capital, acutely conscious of the need for a wake-up call against North Korea, the presidential spokesman commented Thursday, Nov. 25 that "Seoul is concerned it had become too passive."
A few hours later, the president accepted the resignation of Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, who was rebuffed by Washington for suggesting the redeployment of US tactical nuclear arms in his country.
North Korea's rulers read this map accurately. Therefore, whether power rivalries rise or fall in Pyongyang, they will stick to their big gun strategy. Their nuclear test of May 2009, the sinking of the South Korean Cheonan with the loss of 46 seamen in April and the 200 shells fired on Yeonpyeong this week will stand as manifestations of their foreign policy with Chinese backing.
Obama draws no lines in the sand in Korea either
Under the shock of Tuesday's shelling, the South Korean President vowed "enormous retaliation" if North Korea attacked again. But by Wednesday, journalists were already reporting from Seoul that most South Koreans were uncertain about the wisdom of a strong military response to North Korea's attack given the proximity of their capital to its massed guns.
Even Zbigniew Brzezinski, US National Security Adviser of the Carter Administration and a leading authority on Communist regimes, wrote Wednesday in the British Financial Times that, although the North Korean attack could qualify as an act of war and the North Korean regime had reached a point of insanity, "it is important for President Barack Obama to display cool, firm and globally visible personal leadership."
Many in Washington wonder where President Obama will find these qualities overnight after failing to display them in his first two years in office. And indeed, the track President Obama opted for on the Korean crisis was directly opposite to the one advised by Brzezinski.
Instead of taking charge of the crisis and displaying global leadership by relaying images of himself talking to Chinese President Hu Jintao with the South Korean president urgently summoned to Washington at his side, Obama passed its management to his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. He thus distanced himself from a leadership role in a world crisis, repeating a recurring pattern of conduct visible in his handling of Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.
Beijing responded by postponing the Chinese foreign minister's trip to Seoul on the pretext of "scheduling issues" to indicate that if the matter was not urgent enough for the US president to step in, the Chinese were in no hurry either. North Korea was meanwhile left free to continue its provocations without fear of reprisals.
President Obama is not to blame personally for the three wars he inherited in Afghanistan, Iraq and on terrorism, conflicts which the US can neither win nor extricate itself from. Obama did not cause the debilitating economic crisis which has felled the US and the Western world. But in his two years in office, he hasn't managed to get a handle on any solutions or remedies – a shortcoming which underscores the mounting strength of a China free of the burdens of fighting wars and able, so far, to rise above the global economic crisis.
US dogged by unreal intelligence
For years, Washing has suffered setback after setback because of the failure of its intelligence machinery to come to grips with the real world. How did it fail to notice North Korea building a uranium enrichment plant with 2,000 active centrifuges – not in some underground facility or secret mountain tunnel but in Building Number 5 in the center of the North Korean nuclear compound at Yongbyon? Where were US spy agencies and spy satellites and their special instruments for detecting nuclear activity anywhere on the globe? How was it missed until the North Koreans decided to lead a US scientist on a sightseeing tour of the facility?
And what were they doing in the hours leading up to the North Korean attack on Yeonpyeong? How did they miss its preparation?
Even harder to believe is the way the Americans and Brits in Afghanistan were conned by a grocer from Quetta, Pakistan, Afghan Taliban's headquarters, who posed as a Taliban leader ready to negotiate an end of the war. British intelligence was taken in by the impostor who posed as Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour and spent a whole year developing him as a source. He was flown into Kabul by a special US flight, sat down with President Hamid Karzai and was paid handsomely for coming forward.
The farce was rounded off when the fake negotiator was allowed to disappear across the border.
Like in Tehran and Pyongyang and even in Quetta, people in this globalist era keep track of world events and are quick to make connections.
The Obama administration's reluctance to mess with an enemy was carefully noted on July 28, when neither Washington nor Tokyo responded to an attack on the Japanese supertanker M STAR by Iranian Revolutionary Guards special marines. (DEBKA-Net-Weekly 456 of Aug. 6: Iranian-US Tit for Tat – Covered up.)
That attack took place in the vitally strategic Strait of Hormuz, the chokepoint of the supply route for most of the world's oil. Yet neither the US nor Japan hit back. So why, three months later, would either be expected to meet the North Korean shelling of a populated island with commensurate force?