Saturday, May 30, 2009
Speak Softly and Carry a Big Teleprompter
from The National Review
by Mark Steyn
May 30, 2009
What does a nuclear madman have to do to get America’s attention? On Memorial Day, the North Koreans detonated “an underground atomic device many times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” as my old colleagues at the Irish Times put it. You’d think that’d rate something higher than “World News In Brief,” see foot of page 37. But instead Washington was consumed by the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, who apparently has a “compelling personal story.”
Doesn’t Kim Jong Il have a compelling personal story? Like Sonia, he grew up in a poor neighborhood (North Korea), yet he’s managed to become a nuclear power, shattering the glass ceiling to take his seat at the old nuclear boys’ club. Isn’t that an inspiring narrative? Once upon a time you had to be a great power, one of the Big Five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, to sit at the nuclear table: America, Britain, France, Russia, China, the old sons of power and privilege. But now the mentally unstable scion of an impoverished no-account backwater with a GDP lower than that of Zimbabwe has joined their ranks: Celebrate diversity!
Evidently, some compelling personal stories are more compelling than others. In the Washington Post, Stephen Stromberg argued that Kim’s decision to drop the Big One on a three-day weekend was evidence of his appalling news judgment. Other blasé observers shrug that it’s now an American holiday tradition. It began when Pyongyang staged the first of its holiday provocations on Fourth of July 2006, and, amidst all the other fireworks displays, America barely noticed. No doubt there’ll be another Hiroshima on Labor Day or Thanksgiving. Geez, doesn’t the hick in the presidential palace get it? There’s no point launching nukes when everyone’s barbecuing chicken or watching football.
Well, you never know: Maybe we’re the ones being parochial. If you’re American, it’s natural to assume that the North Korean problem is about North Korea, just like the Iraq War is about Iraq. But they’re not. If you’re starving to death in Pyongyang, North Korea is about North Korea. For everyone else, North Korea and Iraq, and Afghanistan and Iran, are about America: American will, American purpose, American credibility. The rest of the world doesn’t observe Memorial Day. But it understands the crude symbolism of a rogue nuclear test staged on the day to honor American war dead and greeted with only half-hearted pro forma diplomatese from Washington. Pyongyang’s actions were “a matter of . . . ” Drumroll, please! “ . . . grave concern,” declared the president. Furthermore, if North Korea carries on like this, it will — wait for it — “not find international acceptance.” As the comedian Andy Borowitz put it, “President Obama said that the United States was prepared to respond to the threat with ‘the strongest possible adjectives . . . ’ Later in the day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the North Korean nuclear test ‘supercilious and jejune.’ ”
The president’s general line on the geopolitical big picture is: I don’t need this in my life right now. He’s a domestic transformationalist, working overtime — via the banks, the automobile industry, health care, etc. — to advance statism’s death grip on American dynamism. His principal interest in the rest of the world is that he doesn’t want anyone nuking America before he’s finished turning it into a socialist basket-case. This isn’t simply a matter of priorities. A United States government currently borrowing 50 cents for every dollar it spends cannot afford its global role, and thus the Obama cuts to missile defense and other programs have a kind of logic: You can’t be Scandinavia writ large with a U.S.-sized military.
Out there in the chancelleries and presidential palaces, they’re beginning to get the message. The regime in Pyongyang is not merely trying to “provoke” America but demonstrating to potential clients that you can do so with impunity. A black-market economy reliant on exports of heroin, sex slaves, and knock-off Viagra is attempting to supersize its business model and turn itself into a nuclear Wal-Mart. Among the distinguished guests present for North Korea’s October 2006 test were representatives of the Iranian government. President Bush was much mocked for yoking the two nations together in his now all but forgotten “axis of evil” speech, but the Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung reported a few weeks ago that the North Korean–built (and Israeli-bombed) plutonium production facility in Syria was paid for by Tehran. How many other Iranian clients are getting nuclear subsidies? It would be interesting to learn who was on the observation deck for the Memorial Day Hiroshima reenactment, but North Korea is one of the most closed societies on the face of the earth, certainly when compared with the more closely scrutinized corners of the Middle East. In other words, it’s the perfect partner for any state that wants to pursue certain projects under the Western radar screen.
It is remarkable in just five years how the world has adjusted to the inevitability of a nuclear North Korea and a nuclear Iran. Nudge it on another half-decade: Whose nuclear ambitions will be unstoppable by 2015? Syria’s? Sudan’s? Selected fiefdoms in Somalia?
Barack Obama came to power pledging to talk to America’s enemies anywhere anytime. Alas for America’s speak-softly-and-carry-a-big-teleprompter diplomacy, there are no takers for his photo-ops. In the ever more pitiful straw-clutching of the State Department, America is said to be banking on a post-Kim era. He’s apparently had a bad stroke, and might be dead within a decade or three. So what? It’s a safe bet that whoever emerges from a power struggle between the family, the party, and the military is committed to nuclearization as the principal rationale of the state. Likewise in Iran’s imminent election, both “extremists” and “moderates” are pro-nuke. You want an Iranian moderate? Here’s Hashemi Rafsanjani, the moderate guy who lost to that crazy Ahmadinejad last time round: He called Israel “the most hideous occurrence in history” which the Muslim world “will vomit out from its midst” with “a single atomic bomb.” Nuking the Zionist Entity is as bipartisan as motherhood and apple pie.
More to the point, the feeble bleatings from the State Department that there may be internal change down the road emphasize the central feature of the present scene: the absence of meaningful American power. While America laughed at North Korea, Iran used it as a stalking horse, a useful guide as to the parameters of belligerence and quiescence a nuclearizing rogue state could operate within. In what Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post calls “the post-American world,” other nations will follow that model. We are building a world in which the wealthiest nations on the planet, from Norway to New Zealand, are all but defenseless, while bankrupt dysfunctional squats go nuclear. Even with inevitable and generous submissions to nuclear blackmail, how long do you think that arrangement will last? In the formulation of Janet Napolitano, we are on the brink of “man-caused disaster.”
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of America Alone. © 2009 Mark Steyn
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