No nukes please, it’s a hol­i­day

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

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 would rate some­thing higher than “World News in Brief, see foot of Page 37.” But in­stead, Wash­ing­ton was con­sumed by the Supreme Court nom­i­na­tion of Judge So­nia So­tomayor, who ap­par­ently has a “com­pelling per­sonal story.”

Doesn’t Kim Jong-il have a com­pelling per­sonal story? Like Judge So­tomayor, he grew up in a poor neigh­bor­hood (North Korea), yet he has man­aged to be­come a nu­clear power, shat­ter­ing the glass ceil­ing to take his seat at the old nu­clear boys club.

Ev­i­dently, some com­pelling per­sonal sto­ries are more com­pelling than oth­ers. In The Wash­ing­ton Post, Stephen Stromberg ar­gued that Mr. Kim’s de­ci­sion to drop the Big One on a three-day week­end was ev­i­dence of his ap­palling news judg­ment.

Other blase ob­servers shrug that it’s be­come an Amer­i­can hol­i­day tra­di­tion. It be­gan when Py­ongyang staged the first of its hol­i­day provo­ca­tions on the Fourth of July 2006, and, amidst all the other fire­works dis­plays, Amer­ica barely no­ticed.

If you’re Amer­i­can, it’s nat­u­ral to as­sume 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 des­ig­nated 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,” the pres­i­dent de­clared. 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 U.S. 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 knock­off 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 rep­re­sen- tatives of the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment. For­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. 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 re-en­act­ment, 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 how the world has ad­justed in just five years 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? Those of se­lected fief­doms in So­ma­lia?

Mr. Obama came to power pledg­ing to talk to Amer­ica’s en­e­mies any­where, any­time. Alas for Amer­ica’s speak-softly-andcarry-a-big-teleprompter diplo­macy, there are no tak­ers for his photo-ops.

In the ever-more-piti­ful straw­clutch­ing of the State Depart­ment, Amer­ica is said to be bank- ing on a post-Kim era. He ap­par­ently has 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. 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 within which a nu­cle­ariz­ing rogue state could op­er­ate.

In what Caro­line Glick of the Jerusalem Post calls “the postAmer­i­can 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 Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano, we are on the brink of “man-caused dis­as­ter.”

Mark Steyn is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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