A Trick Question

The most obvious question to the American observer of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah should be what course the United States should pursue to obtain a peaceful end to hostilities. In today’s reality, where most look to the US to make the first move in responding to international conflicts, temendous pressure is on the US to get involved. So we look for a solution from an American standpoint. Usually the answers are none too easy to come by, and in this conflict all the answers are unfortunately the wrong ones.

First, consider the option of helping the Lebanese government gain control of Hezbollah-dominated southern third of the country. Today Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora petitioned the international community to halt the destruction of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure and citizens. Siniora also promised to “seek compensation from Israel for what he described as the “unimaginable losses” to the nation’s infrastructure.” Though Lebanon has made huge strides in developing itself as a stable nation over the past decade, its inability to mitigate the influence of Hezbollah in the south has presented a big obstacle in further stabilization. Formation of Lebanon as a stable nation would seem to complement the US agenda to create democracies in the Middle East to contribute stability to the region. But what would result if the US were to involved itself in Lebanon?

US aid to Lebanon in the form of money, diplomatic pressure, or military resources would almost certainly only occur if the interests of Lebanon and Israel were aligned, meaning that they would have to become allies in a sense. If that were achieved, the next step is to look at the consequences. Certainly Lebanon would be ostracized from the Arab community. More importantly, Hezbollah would be marginalized, but not without fighting desperately for survival. This would certainly be a violent event. Worse still, Iran, the real inspiration for Hezbollah, would undoubtedly become involved. Iran’s newfound belligerence and position of power in the region makes such involvement highly undesireable.

Clearly, that option is fraught with peril for the US. Little better is a second option for the US–maintaining a detached stance while offering verbal support for Israel. If this course is pursued, the result is further alienation from the international community, which undoubtedly will soon gather in a unanimous effort to obtain a cease fire. Rumblings about a non-proportional approach to the Israel-Hezbollah conflict by the US relative to its audacious deomcracy-planting experiment in Iraq are already being heard. Lou Dobbs on CNN asks “Where is our sense of perspective?” as he points out how much attention is focused on several hundred dead in Israel and Lebanon while thousands die yearly in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The credibility if the US in the Middle East, already very marginalised, would be lessened further by non-action in this conflict.

And the last option, the more popular one internationally, would be to push Israel to accept a cease fire. Unfortunately, this too brings very undesireable consequences. Jospeph Puder of frontpagemag.com insists that “the one word the Bush Administration should refrain from using at this time is restraint. Half measures by Israel will only invite escalated aggression in the future.” A cease fire can only be held by a prisoner swap. To have responded so decisively to aggression only to accept a prisoner swap as Hezbollah and Hamas desire would be for Israel to admit to defeat. Israel for the sake of itself as a nation and for the sake of its people cannot afford to appear weak. Furthermore, there is little chance Israel would even consider a such a concession anyway. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert himself said that “trading prisoners with a terrorist, bloody organization such as Hamas is a major mistake that will cause a lot of damage to the future of state of Israel.”

So then, if answers A, B, and C are wrong, is there an acceptable choice D? Or does D simply equate to the same bad results of all of the above?

Middle East Mess

In the struggle to understand the intensity with which Israel has felt obliged to wage war on Hamas and Hezbollah ostensibly in retaliation for abduction of Israeli troops (one by the former, two by the latter organization), one is likely to soon find him or herself overwhelmed by the complexity of the conflict. One of the first things that becomes apparent is the logic behind Hezbollah’s comeback to Israel’s claim that the abductions were unprovoked. Hezbollah contends that Israel continues to detain many Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners incommuncado, and the only way to obtain their release is to create a situation favorable to a prisoner exchange. And according to Amnesty International (which is admittedly pretty harsh in evaluating nations), Israeli held “some 1500” prisoners without charges in 2005. So it seems clear to Hezbollah and indeed to the Arab community that abducting a few Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips is very just. On the other side, Israel maintains that those detained are security risks, and considers the three hostages taken by Hamas and Hezbollah to be flagrant unprovoked acts.

One might very well wonder, though, if something deeper does not lie beneath the surface for both sides. Perhaps Israel on one hand is using this opportunity not only to recover the hostages but to go beyond and destroy the capabilities of Hamas and Hezbollah. In fact Israel does not hide that goal; this just seems to be the perfect occasion to pursue it. On the other side, it might be argued that a much more sinister operation is afoot that is directed from elsewhere than Southern Lebanon, the power center for Hezbollah. Though the most violence in centered on the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, the conflict actually began first with a sigle hostage being taken by Hamas, the Palestinian paramilitary/terrorist organization. Hamas is linked very closely to Hezbollah, and actually draws its power from Hezbollah in the form of among many other things training; in fact “Hezbollah operates dozens of terrorist operative groups in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip,” according to intelligence.org. So Hamas is a client of Hezbollah, and Hezbollah in turn is very closely related to, who else but Iran.

Just what is the relation between Hezbollah and Iran? In short, intelligence.org says, Hezbollah is “used by the Iranians as an operative leverage vis-a-vis Israel.” Its stated goal–the destruction of Israel and formation of a fundamentalist state in Lebanon “and beyond”–is very much in accord with Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad’s pledge to wipe Israel from the face of the earth. Hezbollah has in fact been cozy with Iran for some time. In an article from 2000, an Iranian news site reported on the meeting between then-Iranian president the Ayatollah Khamanei and Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah; in the meeting Nasrallah thanked the Iranian president for his “spiritual support for the Lebanese resistance, and stressed continuation of Islamic Jihad with the Zionists until the freedom of all jailed Lebanese.” This seems very relevant to the impetus for today’s violence, at least in that is shows the detainee issue to be an ongoing concern of Hezbollah.

But Iran provides Hezbollah with much much more than moral support. From Iran, Hezbollah “gets everything from diplomatic aid to weapons to an estimated $100 million a year,” according to Slate’s Emily Yoffe. Hezbollah puts this aid to use by providing social services to Lebanese (to the extent of rendering the legitimate Lebanese government irrelevant), broadcasting by satellite training materials for suicide bombers, and now prosecuting a war. To elaborate is not essential here, but it is worth noting in addition that Syria joins Iran in supporting Hezbollah.

What I have provided in the previous paragraphs is really a very rough sketch of the situation involving Israel, Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, and Syria. But no more elaboration is necessary to see that what an insecure nation like Israel sees as it looks at its borders. It sees Hamas and Hezbollah determined on a daily basis to do harm to Israel. Again as was mentioned earlier, the two groups are dedicated to the eradication of the Israeli nation from the region. Israel has constantly engaged these groups outside of open hostilities–now it engages them on two fronts in open warfare. And Israel sees not only these paramilitary organizations; they see also the full support of Iran and Syria for the actions of these groups. These larger nations offer very substantial backing for war on Israel, particulary Iran, a nation with active apsirations for nuclear capability. This leaves tiny Israel with the Meditteranean Sea as its only friendly border in a region that would rather the Israeli nation disappeared into that very body of water.

Taking all that into account, it might be easier to see the Israeli point of view. At least a little easier. But it doesn’t make it any easier to stomach all the civilian casualties.


Today at the final luncheon at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, President Bush was chatting with his friend British PM Tony Blair, speaking informally and presumably off-camera and off-microphone. Only problem is, they weren’t–off the record, that is. Cameras were rolling when Bush spoke plainly with Blair about what should be done in respone to the violence between Israel and Lebanon. In short, Bush said that the pressure should be on Syria to weild its influence to reign in Hezbollah. The content was nothing groundbreaking; in fact in being congruent with his public statements it demonstrated again the President’s no-nonesense approach. What made such a splash was Bush’s use of an four-letter word in his analysis. “See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this sh*t and it’s over,”
Bush told Blair.

In reality, while I tend to shy away from such language personally, I find it amusing to hear such candid words from the mouth of a world leader. It is a reminder that someone like the President actually breathes the same oxygen we do. But what I like in this is that the President was not left scrambling to cover up some embarrassing admission. There’s was nothing to hide in what he said. And I think that is generally what I have come to expect from the President, whether or not I like what he says. He usually says what he thinks. Think the polar opposite of Bill Clinton. This lack of political acumen is detrimental to Bush’s success in diplomacy and PR sometimes, but I don’t think he cares. Have we ever seen the President afraid to push an unpopular agenda?

So we can return to the question posed in advance of the G8 last week: Is Cowboy diplomacy dead? I think the President’s steadfast refusal (right or wrong) to call on Israel to calm itself, and the content of his little chat with Tony Blair show that Cowboy Diplomacy is still alive. But the return to the nuclear issue with North Korea and Iran, as well as the apparent ratcheting up of violence in the Middle East, will provide further tests of the Bush Doctrine. Looking at precedent, I don’t anticipate the President going soft.

See the video at CBSNews.com.

No Peace in the Mideast

Hamas and Hezbollah have succeeded in riling up the military might of Israel. Now there is something going on that has surpassed the normal mild hostilities that erupt in the area. No short battle followed by cease fire and talks this time. This is something different, yes. Is the picture bigger? Yes. Someone is being forgotten here because they are not involved hands-on. Very wily of them–that is Iran. Indeed Iran is a strong supporter of Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah. As they said today on FOXNews’ Beltway Boys, “this is a proxy war between the US and Iran.” And we already had a little tiff going with Iran over nukes that has stalled a bit. To adapt a quote from Teddy Rooselvelt, as the talks go on, the nuclear weapons program does also. And now, as war goes with Israel and its naughty neighbors, the nuclear weapons program still goes on but now with the focus diverted elsewhere. This is certainly one of the least stable times in the Middle East’s recent history. It begins to lend some sense to the argument that stable deomcracies in the region are very desireable. It also reminds us just how difficult a task that is.

It would seem logical to predict further heightened tensions in the Middle East, perhaps further progress in Iraq in the meantime, and then a Kim Jong-Il who, jealous for more attention, launches a more audacious batch of missiles. The trend could be extrapolated a bit, the results of which would be discouraging indeed. The pushes and pulls and equal and opposite reactions in today’s international relations are maddening, and frightening at worst. If I were a national leader, I would have my think tanks and intel resources working overtime. We have not yet settled into a long-term international power alignment. Power is being jostled about in this ongoing, still-uncertain post-Cold War international mosh pit of nations.

This is the stuff think tanks were made for. Perhaps a cyber think tank can erupt here at american-revolution. Post comments. Ask questions. Get involved. Join the Revolution.

A Changing World

Attempting to understand the outlay of contemporary international relations is perhaps one of the most maddening tasks a political analyst could undertake today, save perhaps illegal immigration in the US. Terrorism stemming from religous fundamentalism is the most obvious “new” threat, but a number of major power shifts have taken place in the preceding years that have contributed to today’s murky picture of the world. One would be correct in pointing out the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the proliferation of nuclear capabilities in nations such as India and North Korea, and the emergence of an economic monolith in China as further examples of these global shifts of power structures.

It is important to look at these developments of the past decade and half in light of the previous half decade. That, as we know, was the period in which existed the Cold War. That era was wholly defined by the specter of mutually-assured destruction by nuclear missiles. The US and USSR were the undisputed superpowers of the world. Aside from fighting each other vicariously through various Third World countries, no material conflict ever erupted between the two. The relations between the two were, in that time, the only international relations that really mattered. In its own very peculiar and twisted way, it was a time of relative world stability, because the world knew where everyone stood, even if the stakes were the obliteration of the planet by nuclear weapons.

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, a definite power vacuum developed in Eastern Europe, and really in all the Soviet client states internationally. The US stood then as the only superpower as the world tried to reshuffle inself into the new world order as it were. It would seem logical to accept that we are still in the midst of this reshuffling period. No sustainable blocs of allies have developed; alignments are still very much in flux. The US itself has relatively few dedicated allies. Worse yet, the nuclear weapons of yore have not disappeared from the equation; instead they have proliferated in countries outside the two old Cold War powers. These new memebers of the nuclear club, like North Korea, can not generally be counted on to remember the rules held to by the US and USSR during the Cold War. They seem apt to forget the fact that while they now have a deterrent, they are also threated in a highly disproportionate way by the military might of the United States.

The changing landscape in not just in terms of military might; in fact the more relevant part of the change is economic. In those terms superpower status is held not only by the US but China as well. Furthermore, as the US relies increasingly on imports of goods and labor, its places its own economic future in the hands of many other countries, giving them considerable influence in the international level. Of course as in any era since the dawn of the industrial revolution, energy is of utmost importance, particularly in the form of fossil fuels. The reliance of both the US and China–the largest consumers of fossil fuels–on foreign nations for that fuel certainly lends much influence to those source nations.

The imminent threats most prominent in the news of late are belligerence on the part of the Iranians and North Koreans, two nations with designs on nuclear proliferation. The threat of terrorism is accepted more as a when, not if, phenomenon. But it is extremely short-sighted to stop short with these. In light of this, I would suggest this editorial by Neil Cavuto outlining another major threat to the US–one much closer to home.

The End of Cowboy Diplomacy?

This idea is increasingly being seized upon by pundits and commentators with respect to the supposed evolution of President Bush’s foreign policy. Time magazine’s July 9 cover story pointed at the President’s diplomacy-first approach to North Korea and presumably Iran as well as evidence of a softening in the White House’s tone on foreign policy. “Under the old Bush Doctrine, defiance by a dictator like Kim Jong Il would have merited threats of punitive U.S. action,” says the Time story; but now Bush “has mainly been talking up multilateralism and downplaying Pyongyang’s provocation.”

Daniel Schorr on NPR Wednesday echoed this sentiment in his analysis, observing that the President appears to be “putting away his cowboy spurs and trying a softer approach.” Shorr explains what he apparently deems to be the self-dismantling of the most aannoying elements of the Bush Doctrine. Instead of “Axis of Evil” rhetoric, North Korea and Iran are “admonished,”not threatened with punitive action. He points to the upcoming G8 summit in Russia as an indicator of whether “Cowboy Diplomacy” is truly dead or not, saying that the answer hinges on whether or not the President vocally bashes host Vladimir Putin’s backsliding on democratic government.

The Time story states that the obvious reason for the new soft diplomacy we are evidently seeing out off the White House is “that the Bush Doctrine foundered in the principal place the U.S. tried to apply it(Iraq).” Disregarding the success of the Iraq war itself, the important question in this context is if or not the Iraq issue is really to be considered on the same plane as the Iranian and North Korean problems. A closer look at the three in relation to each other suggests not.

Looking at Iraq circa late 2001 in comparison to today’s Iran and North Korea shows number of significant differences. First of all, with respect to threat posed by each, we see that Iraq in 2001 did in fact have WMDs, though they in the end the functional stuff proved mostly to be biological weapons (which are quite deadly nonetheless). Saddam Hussein’s nuclear threat was minimal. Data makes it appear very likely that nuclear research was ongoing, though probably it was not very highly developed. So there was a fairly legitmate threat, as there had been for some years reaching back into the Clinton era. Clinton, we rememeber, did in fact order missile strikes in 1998 to “attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors.”. Aside from the ongoing diplomatic battle that followed the Clinton-ordered strikes into the Bush administration’s dawning year, roughly eight months separated Septemeber 11 and the commencement of the US invasion of Iraq in May 2002. Clearly, a rather protracted diplomatic effort preceded the escalation of belligerent rhetoric on the part of President Bush.

Conversely, a look at the Iranian problem shows a definite push on the part of the Iranian government to acquire nuclear weapons capability. The cageyness on the part of the Iranian government in response to international pressure makes the threat unclear and destroys any predictability of the Iranian leadership. The North Korean issue is similarly muddy, especially with regard to what the North Koreans are truly willing to do with their weapons. This is due to the highly reclusive nature of that nation; but despite this we do know that unlike the other nations under consideration they actually do have nuclear weaponry.

Both Iran and North Korea pose real theats, but in relation to the timeframe of the Iraq issue these are very young threats. Iran began making louder noises about nukes in only the past few months, and the announcement that the North Koreans had test missiles poised to launch did not come until early or mid-June. So to say that there is no room for Cowboy Diplomacy seems very premature.

In reality, Iran and especially North Korea are real threats that have to be dealt with very carefully. The Bush doctrine, Bush has said, is constantly being defined by action, not just words. Bush and company are right to push diplomacy for awhile longer. But by the Iraq precedent, it is much too early to rule out that the President might don the spurs again if necessary. Especially in the case of North Korea, the US might even be joined by a small posse if tensions escalate to that point. The opponents of the President’s foreign policy approach should be wary of calling the perceived softened tone a “relief.”

Dubya might be speaking softly now, but my money says he still carries a big stick.

Immigration Reform: The Disappearing Act

Back in April, which was really not that long ago, one would have not have appeared too irrational too think the nation was on the brink of a cultural crisis. Hundreds of thousands of protesters filled the streets of American cities waving flags and chanting “Si se puede.” Employees took the day off from work and schoolchildren skipped class to participate. The passion of those people so acutely affected by their status as illegal immigrants was made very apparent by these demonstrations.
In direct response to these developments, President Bush announced in an address on May 15 an immigration initiative from the executive branch. “We are launching the most technologically advanced border security initiative in American history. We will construct high-tech fences in urban corridors, and build new patrol roads and barriers in rural areas. We will employ motion sensors infrared cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles to prevent illegal crossings. America has the best technology in the world and we will ensure that the Border Patrol has the technology they need to do their job and secure our border.” That initiative was put into action immediately, made the talk show rounds, and was soon old news.

The House and Senate each passed their own immigration reform bills. They varied significantly, the Senate version more in consonance with the President’s relatively liberal approach while the House version more closely reflected the intransigent hard-line approach of vocal minuteman types. According to the Heritage Foundation, the Senate bill offered amnesty to 85 percent of America’s almost 12 million illegal immigrants and a number of avenues for immigrants to enter the country legally. It appeared to do more to channel in an orderly fashion the expected inflow of immigrants than to reduce the inflow overall. The House bill on the other hand was considered much more harsh in that it emphasized the role of enforcement of current immigration law, making employers responsible for maintaining a documented workforce. It seeks to clamp down on illegal immigration though increased border security coupled with the aforementioned increase in enforcement in the workplace.

Much debate ensued on Capitol Hill and in the media. Was the House bill too harsh? Was the Senate bill too lenient? And then, it all sort of faded away as gridlock ensued between the two houses of congress. Suddenly, congressional Republicans realized that they sat at the nexus of two very unsettling realities—the imminence of fall elections and the very low poll numbers that hung over their heads. The campaigns needed a serious jump start, and as was addressed last month in this blog, the Republicans undertook to do so by rolling out the well-worn components of the social conservative agenda. Cheaply they trotted out gay marriage, flag-burning, pledge of allegiance bills.
This instant jump start strategy may in the end prove costly. The congress have but three weeks to come to a consensus on several major issues, none perhaps more serious than immigration. And yet very little progress has been made since the issue was first brought to the nation’s conscience earlier this year. The rallies have since died down for the most part, but it may be only that immigration rights activists are patiently awaiting the official response from Washington. Unless the Congress can come to an accord on the issue, Republicans this fall should cross their fingers in hopes that the rallies will not resume at an inopportune time in late October.

There is, of course, the chance that House Republicans this fall can go back to their districts and brag that they are standing tough on immigration and in doing so assuage the impatience among the constituency. In the meantime, the problem persists in absence of a solution. The spectre of the do-nothing moniker rests heavy on the congress. It has precious little time to earn its keep.

“I’m Not Sure What This Congress Has Accomplished.”

That was the former Republican Congressman from Texas Dick Armey talking about the current congress. Indeed, looking at the slate of issues that still have yet to be settled, one sees much work and precious little time. It is the same story we’ve seen for months now—a Republican Congress with so much potential doing everything in its power to squander it. Most shameful is that they do not appear to even have the political acumen to at least appear that they are doing meaningful things for the American people. But alas, Republicans themselves are at odds with each other, the House is at odds with the Senate, and both are at odds with the White House. A sad state of affairs it is for the GOP, the effect of its self-destructive nature mitigated only by the endless bumbling of the disaster that is Howard Dean’s Democratic Party.

One of the messiest pies on the Congress’ face is the issue of corruption. In January, they determined to end the untoward relationships between Capitol Hill and the K Street lobbyists. As Andy Sullivan so aptly put in his piece for Reuters, “A free Rolls-Royce, expensive trips to a storied Scottish golf resort, even a freezer stuffed with $90,000 in cash have so far failed to move the U.S. Congress to clean up Capitol Hill.” The campaign recess rapidly approaches, yet action on corruption reform appears lethargic at best. It would be one thing if it was as of the Congress finally decided to take care of the issue, but it is another thing entirely when ongoing investigations hang over several current and former congressmen. Here is a chance for congressional Republicans to stand up and denounce corruption, even if it means doing so to the detriment of some of their colleagues—a real chance to show the voters that principle comes before politics.

Worse still, is that like so many other issues facing the congress, they have been unable to even create the illusion that progress is being made, or even to pass at least a feel-good resolution to get started. In the meantime, former Republican Duke Cunningham from California is pleading guilty to receiving $2.4 million in bribes last year, while federal investigators are finding $90,000 in payoffs in Louisiana Democrat William Jefferson’s freezer. One thing about these congressmen, they could use a few lessons from Bill Clinton, the consummate politician, able to do nothing and make it appear as if he had saved the world. As I’ve said so many times before, the fecklessness of the Republican Congress is matched only by the same quality in the Democrats. That’s why the GOP still has a fighting chance this November.

Judging by the Color of Their Skin (Not by the Content of Their Character)

I came across a striking article on msnbc.com that I strongly urge you to read. I’ll try to summarize in the following paragraph, but please click the hyperlink above to read the story. My own commentary follows the summary.

The story centers on the race for the congressional seat in the 11th District of New York to highlight the evolvement of representation dynamics in traditionally minority-controlled congressional districts. It no longer is a given that all the candidates in such a district will reflect the majority ethnicity in the district, according to the article by the Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray. In the New York contest, candidate David Yassky is running against three African-Americans in the primary in this predominantly African-American district. Yassky’s politics are popular with his audience, but he suffers from a case of being Caucasian. This has drawn some very un-comlimentary remarks from Black Democratic Leadership. The retiring incumbent has called Yassky a “colonizer,” while the erstwhile White House aspirant Al Sharpton has urged White Democrats to oppose Yassky’s candidacy.

End of summary; enter the People’s Champ. Why, pray tell, must we concern ourselves with the skin color of our aspirants to public office? We see these minority districts created in the past to encourage minority representation, and they have done their job. According to Murray’s piece, “in the past 3 1/2 decades, the number of black-held House seats has increased fourfold, from 10 in 1970 to 40 today.” That’s fantastic. But what happens when demographic changes in these districts come to, in Murray’s words again, “spark racially polarized politics, pitting blacks against other minorities and whites…?” Party lines are bisected by ethnic lines, and the issue thus becomes muddy.

But whether the district is majority-black as in New York’s 11th district, or majority Hispanic with strong White and Asian minorities–who cares? I thought that we were supposed to judge people by the content of their character, as Dr. King implored us. “Don’t judge me by my race but by my record,” said Stephen Cohen, a Tennessee candidate in a situation almost identical to Yassky’s. As our nation struggles some fifty years after the onset of the civil rights movement to erase discrimination, it does nothing to further Dr. King’s noble goal when Democratic leaders like Sharpton and others condemn candidates who share ideologies but not skin color.

I may have missed something along the way, but it seems all too simple here. Vote for the best man or woman for the job. If you honestly doubt that he or she can relate to your needs because they are of a different ethnicity, then vote accordingly. You do not need a Democratic Party leader to tell you not to vote for a member of their own party simply because he or she is not of your race. That is irresponsible and serves no purpose other than to aggravate racial tensions.

I don’t care what color your skin is. If I like your politics, you have my vote.

An Old Friend: The Specter of Nuclear War

On Tuesday as Americans were celebrating the successful launch of the space shuttle Discovery and their nation’s birthday, that reclusive, despotic, and ultimately belligerent nation of North Korea determined to flex its muscle by at last launching a number of missiles it had poised in launch configuration since mid-May. Of most concern since the threat of the test launches arose has been the maiden shot of the Taepodong-2, an intercontinental ballistic missile purportedly capable of reaching the continental US. It malfunctioned approximately 40 seconds into its flight, however. The weeks leading up the tests have been marked by strong rhetoric from both sides. US, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and South Korean officials have urged North Korea to refrain from such provocation, while North Korea stiffly asserted it right to fire such missiles and that it would respond to preemption with nuclear war.
Now that North Korea has gone ahead with the tests, the international community has responded with remarkable unanimity in opposition to the tests, to the extent that it prompted chief US negotiator Christopher Hill to comment that “it’s really quite unprecedented the degree to which everybody lined up opposed to these launches…”.
Japan took the lead in urging for a quick response, taking their proposal for a resolution before the United Nations early Wednesday. Japan’s proposed resolution would impose harsh sanctions on North Korea and demand a halt to missile programs there.
While the international community was discussing the appropriate response, analysts began taking to the airwaves and cyberspace atwitter with their evaluations of the North Korean aggression. The “experts” debated the significance on the choosing of July 4 for the tests, and how many missiles indeed were fired, and how much of a threat they posed. Most, however, agree that it showed that the threat posed to the US by North Korea’s Taepodong-2 is minimal at best. CBSNews.com quoted Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute, saying that “the failure of the first stage of the Taepodong-2 missile, after working in 1998, could underscore that North Korea ‘hadn’t done much with this missile in 10 years’.”
Indeed, the failure of the vaunted but not so well respected Taepodong underlines the apparent fecklessness of the North Koreans in attempting to threaten the continental US with a nuclear weapon. However, while North Korea at this time does not pose a serious security risk to US soil, it does pose a very serious risk in that it does have the capability to strike South Korea and Japan with lesser missiles. And the US has very vital interests in both countries. A look at the numbers spells out clearly the threat we face.
The US has maintained a strong military presence in South Korea since the Korean War, and currently has over 30,000 troops stationed in South Korea. North Korea has reported 600 or more tried-and-true Scud missiles that can easily reach South Korea, a clear threat to US interests there, not to mention to the South Koreans and an economy that did over 80 billion dollars in trade with the US last year.
Japan’s leadership in the forming a response to the North Korean threat is none too surprising. Japan’s position in the international economic community is unquestioned; it did almost 200 billion dollars in trade with the US alone last year. Japan with its over 127 million people is within range of the reportedly up to 200 Rodong missiles in North Korea’s arsenal.
So it is clear that even if US soil is unreachable by North Korea’s archaic missiles, some of its very close economic and diplomatic partners are. And that means the US is inextricably linked to the region and thus has an enormous stake in how the Korean Missile Crisis shakes out. It is important for US to realize that there really is no silver lining in this cloud; the threat is real, it is now, and it must be the focus of US foreign policy at this point.