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Sabre Rattling

I know it is fashionable to make fun of Kim Jong-Un of North Korea as a crazy spoiled brat, but just think for a moment what is driving him.

We are pressuring North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons program. However, we don’t have a very good track record of how we treat foreign leaders we don’t like, especially when they bend to our will.

In 2003, Muammar Qaddafi of Libya (at our insistence) agreed to get rid of his nuclear weapons. Eight short years later, NATO helped overthrow and murder him. And that wasn’t the first time. We supported Saddam Hussein of Iraq for a while, then we didn’t. Dead. We supported Manuel Noriega of Panama for a while, then we toppled him. And the list isn’t limited to brutal dictators. We supported the democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran, until 1953 when we got rid of him and installed the despised Shah of Iran in order to increase our profits on Iran’s oil. And there are others.

Kim Jong-Un would have to be beyond stupid to not see the writing on the wall. As long as he holds his nuclear trump card (brandishing it noisily) we are less likely to quietly get rid of him.

Every experienced observer in the world notes that North Korea’s erratic behavior is mainly an attempt to be heard, acknowledged, and respected. As Kim Jong-un told basketball star Dennis Rodman, he simply wants Obama to call him, “because if we can talk, we can work this out.”

But we continue to insist that we will not talk to him until he surrenders the one thing that is likely keeping him alive and in power. So why are we surprised when he acts like a cornered animal?

Do you know who said this?

And above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. To adopt that kind of course in the nuclear age would be evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy — or of a collective death-wish for the world.

It was JFK, back in the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the heat of the cold war. It is time to listen to our own advice.



  1. Richard wrote:

    Well said. Let’s see what we do in Venezuela…

    Listen to Mark Weisbrot, he makes some amazing points similar to those you’re making above and makes Ray Suarez squirm.

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 5:06 am | Permalink
  2. Iron Knee wrote:

    Thanks for adding that. I was thinking about Venezuela as well when I wrote that post, but decided to relegate it to “And there are others”.

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink
  3. wildwood wrote:

    I find a great deal of the world’s problems could be solved or eased if more people could put themselves in the minds of others. It happens at all levels of life and so often causes problems.

    We can’t seem to see where others are coming from and for the most part don’t even try.

    I simply don’t understand why Obama can’t talk to Kim Jong-Un. What does he lose by talking?

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink
  4. Michael wrote:

    I had an interesting discussion with an Indian friend one time about Kashmir. His observation (entirely of the Indian side, of course) was that no one wanted a war with Pakistan. However, any politician that expresses a willingness to compromise over the region is perceived as weak and loses power. This type of posturing, sabre rattling, and outright stubbornness is, in essence, mandatory for success as a politician.

    One could argue that Obama, who will never have to face re-election, should be immune. However, he has to deal with questions of his legacy. And with people on the right already bashing him for not uttering the word “terror” on every possible occasion, calling Kim would add more fuel to the “he’s weak” fire.

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink
  5. Diogenes wrote:

    There are many allegations that Kim is losing the vital support of his generals and is trying to fire up the nation even more than usual to keep himself as the top dog in the DPRK, many different things are claimed like high-ranking officials fleeing to China and Kim-Jong Un paying bonuses to his military elite, whether this is true or not is debatable but Kim doesnt have as many friends around him as his father did and there is a lot of domestic and international pressure that leads him to brinkmanship as stated earlier.

    One possible benefit of this escalation of tensions is that the territorial disputes in the South China Sea are being but on the back burner for now, however a Sino-Japanese conflict still looms in the future.

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink
  6. ThatGuy wrote:

    While I don’t think diplomacy can ever be completely ignored, I’d say the main problem any world leader faces if they choose to treat with North Korea now is that they set a precedent. If Obama backs away from sanctions in favor of direct diplomacy, his administration is saying that if you act erratic or hostile enough, the United States will decide to hear you out.

    Keep in mind, this is a country which HAS committed acts of war against South Korea over the past few years, shelling one of their bases and torpedoing a warship. To speak with them as they threaten nuclear war (of which they may or may not be capable) could reinforce this behavior in the future.

    Also, IK, I would suggest that the US is perfectly amenable to dictators or democratically elected leaders elsewhere in the world provided they do thing the US supports. As far as I can tell, in each case you listed, it was something those leaders decided to do that put them in the sights of the US. Either brutally repressing an uprising, invading a neighbor, nationalizing their oil industry, or whatever it may be.

    In the case of North Korea, I agree with other posters that Kim is trying to keep his generals in line behind him, and the international response thus far just seems to help him. Unfortunately, it would be irresponsible of any leader to simply ignore him.

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink
  7. Duckman wrote:

    Pretty poor comparisions imo. We all know Kim wouldn’t be invaded simply because of his chinese relations.

    @Michael: Same could be said with Iran and Israel. The people of both countries still like each other and don’t want to fight, it is the government.

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Permalink
  8. Mountain Man wrote:

    Wildwood asks what harm there can be in talking to someone who is making explicit threats to harm you. None – necessarily BUT this was tried in Munich when the threatener was Adolph Hitler. Neville Chamberlain came back with a piece of paper signed by Hitler saying he wouldn’t invade Czechoslovakia and proclaimed his negotiations meant “Peace in our time.” We all know what came next. Now the ante’s been upped. The North Koreans do have nuclear weapons and either do or soon will have systems capable of “delivering” them to others. I don’t know what the answer is but I sure feel that the world’s best bet in the long run is for China and the US to cooperate and act on shared best interests. I doubt that North Korea would try to call a hand held jointly by the US and China. We certainly can’t just give in, but we also don’t want to start a nuclear war – even a “limited” one!

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 8:23 pm | Permalink
  9. ebdoug wrote:

    Back to gun control: Statistics show that owning a gun increases the chance of getting shot. What if we, like cars, make a law as in New York State that each gun must be covered by insurance and accounted for? No gun store or Internet seller could sell a gun without proof of insurance. Then the insurance dealers would be ones doing the check. They would be required to inform the Police if the insurance lapsed (yes, I’m talking about the less affluent who can’t afford the insurance) A gun safety course would be required. And if the gun was transferred, that person would have to show proof of insurance or the original owner would be liable. Problem solved.

    Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink
  10. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Ebdoug, I said that before in a much earlier post. Let the insurance dogs reign in the loonies.

    On this post I just found this recent quote by the President:

    “Since I came into office, the one thing I was clear about was, we’re not going to reward this kind of provocative behavior. You don’t get to bang your spoon on the table and somehow you get your way,”

    Thats priceless and exactly correct IMO

    source -

    Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 10:54 am | Permalink