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Is South Korea our problem?

There are question we do not ask. We don’t ask why the United States must defend South Korea from an enemy with half its population and less than a one-twentieth of its wealth.

The United States should begin talks to turn over the defense of South Korea to the strong and industrious South Korean people.

The North Korean government is a bully. It cannot feed itself or grow its economy. But it can bully the South Koreans because it has nuclear weapons. North Korea can frighten Americans because the U.S. government has neglected civil defense for two generations.

So America – the nation that prides itself on being the “most powerful” in the world – is subject to blackmail.

The irresponsibility of the American government stems from pride and incompetence; arrogance and folly are a dangerous combination. The reality is that much of the world no longer needs swaggering American generals or the State Department to protect them or advise their governments. In fact, the South Korean and German economies – just to give two examples ­– are in better shape than the U.S.

In any event, the world has changed but successive U.S. administrations, the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom seem oblivious to the changing national interests – or to the existence of a national interest. Perhaps the fastest way to eliminate a North Korean threat to America is a nuclear South Korea and a nuclear Japan. As China and Russia continue to play proliferation games, and new powers like India and Pakistan join the nuclear club, it is time for America to disentangle and reassert itself.

If the U.S. were to secretly OK the development of South Korean and Japanese nuclear programs, and also agree to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea and Japan when the programs are complete, it would give the Chinese and North Koreans something to think about other than the United States. It would also impose a penalty for threatening the United States.

Furthermore, it will be harder to rally their subjects against an American threat if the American forces leave Asia and return home. They will need other boogie men to frighten their people into loyalty. Let their communist propaganda explain why they antagonized the Japanese into getting the bomb.

This is the course the United States should pursue. It time for America to leave the East Asians to their rivalries and concentrate on rebuilding its own economy and society. The North Koreans think they can manipulate U.S. presidents; they have done so before, but let them try that on Japan or an independently armed South Korea.

Either way, we must ask ourselves why this is still our problem.