Friday, April 5, 2013

A Damn Fool Thing In The Korean Peninsula


The ghost of Otto Van Bismarck has been whispering in my ear. He hovers over me, murmuring warnings about the situation in Korea. Bismarck quietly reminds me of how the recent crisis in the land of the morning calm resembles the damn fool thing in the Balkans that ignited the World War One.

I keep looking at Korea through this lens and I do not like the view. The first thing I notice is that a series of alliances makes the Korean Peninsula a very dangerous place indeed. The U.S., Japan, and South Korea are wound very tightly in a defensive coalition backed by mutual interest and the nuclear stockpile of the U.S. The North Koreans are supported by China. Russia is the odd nation out. It is a neighbor of Korea and used to be a confederate but with the collapse of Communism in Russia relations between the DPRK and the Russians are much less simpatico. Still, the Russian can and do act as a break to the Washington/ Tokyo / Seoul nexus.

If the alliance structure was not worrisome enough, the leadership issues are even more troublesome. Watching Kim The Third, Kim Jong Un, and listening his rhetoric is a nerve-wracking experience. Only three years ago, he was at best a shadow prince, a barely real presence in the obscure and secretive nether-land of Pyongyang. Today, the boy-king waddles though the halls of power, his porcine face adorning every possible nook and cranny of the public space. Not even thirty years old, he controls one of the largest armies in the world.

Jong Un is the not only worry. The South has just elected their own deeply disturbing leader. Park Geun-hye has followed dear old dad’s foot steps into political power. In this case it is more like foot stomps as dear old dad was Park Chung-hee, a brutal military dictator that was finally put to bed by assassination. Showing a little more filial piety than is warranted, even for an Asian female, Ms. Park has followed dad’s predilection for authoritarianism. 

I should talk about Tokyo’s leader here, but that is a fool’s game. Japan has been playing musical chairs with its leadership with the present seat warmer being Yoshihiko Noda. The man may just mark his first year as leader on April 21, 2013; or not. 

This leaves us with “The Leader Of The Free World” the oh so dreamy Barack Obama. Our man Barry has just swapped his own Iron Lady, Hillary Clinton for a Boston Brahman, John Kerry. The new SoS has long experience in the trenches of foreign policy having been the lead Senator on the Foreign Affairs committee. What Kerry does not have is much room to maneuver as Obama is a top-down kind of guy.

Unfortunately for my peace of mind Mr. Obama has often demonstrated a very transactional frame of mind. Barack’s “let’s make a deal” default is exactly the kind of values-free mentality that can lead to real trouble. I also wonder if Obama has the mental landscape to adequately deal with the serious weirdness coming out of Pyongyang. How does “No Drama Obama” deal with the Drama Prince of the DPRK? 

Obama has a poor track record in this regard. While the Republicans in Congress are a little less obstreperous and cannot back their brinkmanship with nuclear weapons, they have been richly rewarded for their bad behavior. If Obama cannot deliver a smack down on Mitch McConnell, what chance does he have with Kim?

Circling back to Mr. Kim, I do wonder if the 29 year old has the seasoning and gravitas to truly lead. Other than the accomplishment of becoming morbidly obese in a land ware  millions a starving, what else is there? He was not groomed for office like dear old dad, Kim Jong-il. Only three years on the job, and very young at that, Kim Jong-un is a wild card in a deck stacked with jokers. 

Yet the crisis escalates. Missiles are being moved. Embassies are being threatened and the DPRK gets ever more hysterical in its propaganda. Meanwhile, the US is quietly stacking up military hardware in the region like a real world version of “Risk.” B-52s and B-2s have popped up and with the Air Force in town can the Navy be far behind? Just like just before August, 1914 the military is on the move. And just like in 1914 the leaders are acting cavalier about those movements. It’s a case of “nothing to see here, move along.” 

The message of “Keep Calm” is the most unsettling part of the present crisis. To quote Don Rumsfeld there are far too many unknown unknowns for real comfort. Things can go real wrong real fast in Korea. I can see a real disconnect between the overly transactional Obama and the untested Kim causing a major snafu. I don’t trust either of these men to do the right thing. I especially don’t trust Obama. Obama is far too much a inhabitant of the brain-dead DC bubble conventional wisdom. There is no bigger oxymoron than the DC “Conventional Wisdom.” The same kind of unexamined group-think (mis)guided the European Powers into the destruction of WWI and then WWII, thereby ending European hegemony. 

I shudder to think what kind of disaster the present unexamined consensus may bring. I’m seeing Kim Jong Un as a wild card of history. Those wild cards; Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Mohammed, Gavrilo Princip, Genghis Khan always leave a swath of devastation behind them. I do not like what I see in Korea gentle reader, part two of the Korean War is not a sequel worth the price of admission. 
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