The recent attack by North Korea on South Korea killed numerous civilians. It created panic and outrage in South Korea. It roiled the South Korean government, leading to the resignation of their defense minister and unprecedented language from their leaders vowing “a thousand fold” revenge on the North. This attack is the worst violence on the Korean Peninsula since the end of the war in 1953. It has struck fear into the entire Asian region.
However, the untold story of this attack is that it could have been prevented. You even could say that the North Koreans have a point when they claim that the United States “orchestrated” the circumstances that led to this attack.
The appeasement policy of the Obama administration, including his endless apologies for America and his coddling of dictators such as Hugo Chavez and Ahmedinejad are the diplomatic equivalent of throwing red meat in front of North Korea’s wild, carnivorous beast of a regime and daring them to eat it.
They have not disappointed.
Conventional wisdom is that this attack was caused by the inevitable turmoil resulting from the ongoing transfer of power from longstanding dictator Kim Jong-il to his young son, Kim Jong-un. Some have suggested the attack was intended to give the appearance inside heavily controlled North Korea that Kim Jong-un was responsible for a great military victory against the South.
This may be true, but why do something so extreme and risk creating a real war, as well as angering their benefactors in China, just for internal public relations reasons? People say the North Koreans are crazy and their behavior can’t be explained with reason, but I think their behavior shows a rational mind at work. They have calculated that the current American administration is so weak, so willing to surrender and appease an aggressor, that they really don’t have any significant risk of paying the price for this attack.
The North Koreans may have miscalculated though. South Korea was shaken to its core by what happened. Up until this attack, the South Koreans have been moving away from a close alliance with America’s military. They have been pushing for U.S. troops to leave. They have been objecting to the economic and political costs of a perceived military and diplomatic dependency on America. They generally have been conciliatory with North Korea and have bent over backwards to avoid confrontation and hostility. They have supported the Chinese approach to engaging North Korea, which basically involves treating them as equals. Even after the incident earlier this year in which North Korea sank a South Korean ship, killing 46 sailors, the South exercised restraint.
This time is different. South Korea’s people and government are enraged by this attack. The rhetoric coming from South Korea towards the North is now the most hostile that it has been since the two countries were at war nearly 60 years ago. For South Korea, this attack seems to feel like Pearl Harbor. Their national identity has been violated. Any kinship they have felt with the North seems to be gone. High level government officials in the South are calling for military retaliation and not ruling out the possibility of war with the North.
Suddenly, South Korea is begging to get closer to America’s military. They requested one of our carrier groups be sent immediately to conduct war games with them. Of course, we have accommodated them. We have no choice but to help them not only by treaty but also because we cannot afford to turn our back on an ally. If we don’t support our allies, especially those allies of over 60 years, we won’t have any allies in the world.
China is in a similar mess. They cannot back down from their support of North Korea even as this situation is exactly what they don’t want for both diplomatic and economic reasons. There is no upside for the Chinese to get dragged into a war on the Korean Peninsula. They want to keep North Korea, which is basically their violent stepchild, in a controlled box. Unfortunately, North Korea is making it clear that they want more. They want to flex their muscles. That’s what this attack was really trying to demonstrate. North Korea wanted to show that they could blatantly attack the South at will, kill civilians, and get away with it because both the South Koreans and the Americans don’t have the guts to do anything about it.
North Korea further has threatened to use nuclear weapons both on South Korea and even on the United States, Japan or any country supporting South Korea if war does occur. They have moved surface to surface missiles into position. This provocation cannot be taken lightly. We know that North Korea has nuclear warheads as well as the necessary long range surface to surface missiles on which to send them. They probably don’t have the technology to reach the mainland of the United States, but they could possibly reach Hawaii.
Defense analysts have feared something like this for years. Of course, any such attack logically would be suicide. The United States easily could annihilate the entire country of North Korea. In all likelihood, these are empty threats. However, the risk of a severe and disastrous miscalculation by the North Koreans grows with every sign of weakness by the United States.
During the Cuban missile crisis decades ago, the only way we prevailed was by convincing the Soviets that we would annihilate them if they attacked us. We and our allies need similar resolve, rather than half measures and conciliation, right now.
North Korea is a bully. They view any attempts to help them as weak. They view negotiation and diplomacy as weak. They view civilized behavior as weak. The only thing they understand is strength. They need to believe that we will destroy them if they do not stop their aggression.
The Chinese can help deliver this message to the North Koreans, but first the Chinese have to believe it themselves. The Chinese have been pushing us around economically for years. They violate trade and currency agreements at will. Every time we raise an objection to their human rights abuses or aggressive behavior towards Taiwan, Tibet, or Japan, they tell us shut up and stay out of their affairs. We have a credibility problem with them as well.
To be fair to the Obama administration, this appeasement of North Korea has been going on for decades. No administration has been willing to step up and get rid of this rogue state that is a danger to the entire world. The difference now is that we have circumstances inside North Korea that are more volatile than they have been in decades combined and an American administration that is perceived as the weakest on national security since Jimmy Carter.
This is an extremely dangerous mixture.
Hopefully Obama and his team can, like John Kennedy and his team did during the Cuban crisis, rise to the occasion and get the North Koreans to back down. War can be prevented, but the possibility of war is real. This situation could spin out of control and lead to a catastrophe if it is not handled properly. Let’s hope that this administration is up to daunting job at hand. Potentially millions of lives depend on it.