U.S. Delays ICBM Test: A Mixed Message to North Korea?

The decision just made by the Obama administration to delay a long-scheduled test of a U.S. Minuteman III-class intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) out of concern that it might further escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula is wrongheaded but unsurprising.

The cornerstone of the president’s foreign policy–from removing promised missile interceptors from ally Poland to bizarrely and improperly bowing to foreign heads of state and government–has always been the dovish gesture. This is new in the American experience.

Typically, American presidents from both the political right and left have entered the Oval Office with a clear set of priorities, doctrines, and objectives–not a vague hopefulness and belief that a simple display of demurring gestures would bring about a sea change in the behaviors of declared enemies.

Results…just not positive ones

In fairness, this belief on the part of the president is partly correct: an observable sea change has taken place. In Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, Damascus, and Pyongyang, antagonistic world leaders have ratcheted up their rhetoric and belligerence in the vacuum of American leadership.

The phrase “leading from behind” is, of course, somewhat a contradiction in terms. Or at the least, a little slick-sounding and shallow. Nevertheless, it was used by administration officials in describing previous foreign policy endeavors that have managed to get the president’s attention. Perhaps a more apt and equally oxymoronic description of the president’s foreign policy might be “advancing in retreat”.

Taken by itself and viewed by the uninitiated, the president’s decision to show deference to the warlike Kim Jong-Un with the cancellation of the Minuteman missile test at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California might seem, prima facie, logical. After all, past wars have indeed begun after certain actions were misinterpreted as overt acts of hostility. The president’s decision could be easily confused with pragmatism and prudence.

However, the missile test cancellation is most certainly not happening by itself–it is, instead, part of a larger pattern of confusion in Washington with regard to Korea policy.

A muddled response to North Korean belligerence

Without question, the ad-hoc decision to dispatch two, nuclear weapons-capable, U.S. B-2 stealth bombers all the way from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to within striking distance of the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang is a far more overt and provocative act than the carrying-out of a long-scheduled ballistic missile test thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean.

And the timing cannot be ignored. The B-2 flights came before the cancellation of the test at Vandenberg. To a young, untested, megalomaniacal, 30-year-old boy dictator, the cancellation of the Minuteman test could easily appear as a backing down; a blinking by the Superpower in the proverbial game of chicken.

As we have witnessed with each passing year of the president’s failed foreign policy, (to the degree it can be considered a ‘policy’ at all), Washington’s weakness inspires foreign aggression. While there is, to be certain, a danger in taking actions that could be misconstrued as overt acts of war, there is also considerable danger in taking actions that might convey fear or weakness to a hotheaded communist gangster intent on building his own perverse, brutal legacy.

What kind of Kim does he intend on becoming?

This Kim, unlike his father who was decidedly bad enough, may well seek to emulate the deadly history and path of his grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the unintentionally ironic name of this starving hermit state.)

The first of the murderous Kim dynasty launched a war of military aggression that claimed the lives of roughly 40,000 American soldiers and an untold number of Koreans, (communist and free alike), as well as Chinese.

Despite its ravages, the Korean War has long been called, “The Forgotten War” owing to its timing; wedged between the absolutely devastating Second World War and the culturally tumultuous Vietnam conflict. But to “forget” the Korean War, one must first know it happened in the first place and, more or less, understand the history and genesis of the rogue North Korean state…does President Obama? One wonders.

Does either leader understand the ramifications of their policies?

The president served but one unremarkable term in the U.S. Senate before his election to the presidency, and before that, an even more unremarkable stint in the Illinois State Senate. Despite the media’s opinion page love affair with the president, (maybe because of it), five long years into his presidency, there’s scant evidence of any intellectual curiosity on his part for matters historical, military, or diplomatic–short of some very visible failures.

At this juncture in history, we have a precarious and inherently frightening situation: two inexperienced world leaders, each existing within a carefully constructed cult of personality. Each man is, if recent history is any guide, likely far more concerned with domestic political concerns than history books, military theory, or the sort of boring statecraft stuff that has preserved an uneasy truce, (note: not peace; the Korean War was ended by an armistice, not a surrender or treaty), on the peninsula for 60 years.

A satellite view of North Korea after sundown reveals a benighted, impoverished state, shrouded in literal darkness. The only visible bastion of electric light is found in Pyongyang, the incongruously lively capital. 

A satellite view of the United States, on the other hand, reveals an abundance of activity and illuminating lights everywhere–including those on at the White House. Sadly, the question we must ask ourselves is: while our lights are indeed on–is anybody home?


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