Tread Lightly, North Korea

Does Kim Jong Un know what he's getting into?

By SHARE
EC_130329_thompson.jpg

There are an awful lot of serious threats coming from North Korea these days. And, as usual, there are several ways for us to react to them: The extremes are "ho-hum, business as usual with the backward DPRK" and, "uh-oh, the little guy has nukes now and we have to take him seriously". And, everything in between, including sending Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Dennis Rodman to deliver a conciliatory message from the President.

Not going to happen.

The real danger is that Kim Jong Un is so full of himself (he is 30) and his trappings as "supreme leader" or whatever they call him, that he makes a tactical or judgmental error (he is 30) and actually starts a war in Korea, or attacks one of our bases, ships, airplanes, etc., in the area.

What happens then? It is a highly likely response on the order of nothing the 30-year-old and his "yes men" sycophant generals ever believed possible.

[See a collection of political cartoons on North Korea.]

What am I saying? Before I commit myself, I want to condition my response with the following:

  • We are broke—this insofar as we are simply not going to afford or finance another land-conflict or a expensive conventional war that involves even the remotest possibility of a stalemate. In this context, it is important to recall—politically—that both the Korean War and the Vietnam War were "Democratic" wars that ended that way.
  • We are already war-weary from ten years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • We also have a political crisis at home of monumental proportions: The Democrats are increasingly aggressive in their "redistribution of wealth" agenda, while the Republicans are being torn apart by Libertarians (Ron Paul) and the Tea Party. Congress has rendered themselves ineffective: This has resulted in increased executive powers for the president.
  • The "Red State/Blue State" liberal/conservative conflict is being encouraged/aggravated by the president, especially in matters involving basic Constitutional issues. Again, this increases executive powers.
  • Our country is changing faster than most anyone here had imagined, because of simple demographics, birth rates and immigration (we should watch what is happening in Russia). This makes many others feel particularly vulnerable and increases executive powers.
  • North Korea does not involve a Muslim issue or country; not only that, it's an embarrassing issue that China and Russia would love to simply see go away. The Chinese, for example, can predict too easily that North Korea will soon "drive" the Japanese to "go nuclear"—something which would change the basic security structure in Asia.
  • We have, already, a war of testosterone between a 30-year-old North Korean despot and a young president on our side who is increasingly concerned about proving his relevancy in a complex world (witness his recent trip to the Middle East). And, don't forget that neither of these guys has —for entirely different reasons, of course—ever had a "real job". Scary enough for you?
  • [See a collection of political cartoons on the Middle East.]

    So, what's going to happen if Kim and the North Koreans are so stupid as to attack someone—anyone? Even more stupid: To use a nuke to attack someone?

    Easy –maybe even too easy. For the combination of reasons outlined above, ordering a devastating, regime-ending nuclear strike against North Korea would be so incredibly easy for President Obama to do, with a minimum of explanation, coordination or repercussion.

    And, it would be over quickly. And, it will be a heck of a lot cheaper to rebuild North Korea (like Japan and Germany post World War II) than it would be to deal with them—even in the much shorter term. They are, in short, a bunch of crazy kids with nukes and no adult supervision.

    [See a collection of political cartoons on defense spending.]

    So, let's see how stupid Kim really is. The truly scary part is that the "real threshold" or "red line" for his aggression is far lower than he is old enough to understand. And it is that fact alone that "drives" the real danger in this increasingly volatile situation.

    It may—pun intended—be a shot that Rodman can't block!

    • Read Stephen Hayes: Is Ethiopia the Next China?
    • Read Robert Nolan: Five Lessons Learned From the Syrian Civil War
    • Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad