A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I’m not going to turn this space into a political rant, but it bugs me — big time — when people’s World View IQ is lower than room temperature. Last week, there was a lot of media ink spilled over North Korea, the USA and the impending nuclear holocaust. Now that the rhetoric has died down and we’re unknotting our knickers, it’s time to remember George Santayana who wrote, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” I wrote these two pieces four years ago.
North Korea: Time To Get Serious (April 3, 2013)
Could we just hit “Pause” for a second and think about this thing? Maybe stand down the Stealth Bombers, unlock the lock and load and tone down the rhetoric? I realize that when a punk like Kim Jong whatever-he’s-calling-himself-this-week is kicking sand in your face, it’s difficult to calm down – but let’s give it a try. We need to remember a few things before somebody forgets what we’re dealing with and all hell breaks loose.
Okay, folks! All aboard the reality train.
First of all, don’t let the tough talk fool you. Ever since Dougie MacArthur, Truman’s ten-star general, threatened to turn Pyongyang into a mud puddle, the Kim boys of North Korea have been yipping a good fight without ever throwing down. That’s not to say they won’t, but history has shown us that, like the elementary school bully, these guys are professional bum biters. They pick their spots and never do anything serious enough to risk major retaliation. They might talk like hard men and take a few cheap shots, but grandfather, father — and now, son — are smart enough to know just how far they can push it. They realize that, if they ever did take a real run at the United States or any of her allies, they’d be out of a job by close of business Tuesday. Cold War stalemates may have been all the rage in the 50s, but they’re pretty much passé these days.
Secondly, anybody who thinks Kim Jong-un is running the show north of the 38th parallel has got another think coming. Yes, he’s the current Glorious Leader and latest member of the Kim dynasty that Stalin put on the throne back in the 40s — but that doesn’t mean much. There’s an entrenched state apparatus in North Korea that’s been calling the shots for over sixty years. These folks are the descendents of Kim il-Sung’s (Un’s grandpa) original band of gangsters revolutionaries. They keep everything that’s worth controlling firmly in their grasp, and they’re not about to lighten up on that grip of steel any time soon. In short, Kims may come and Kims may go, but the high-end folks of the Hermit Kingdom have a pretty good gig, and they’re not going to jeopardize it by taking a flyer on this kid’s nuclear adventuring.
Finally, and most importantly, North Korea is a “sovereign state” in name only. It might have a flag and a national anthem, but in practical terms, it’s about as independent as Nebraska. I doubt very much if the powers that be in Pyongyang go to the toilet without telling Beijing what they’re up to. Unless you flunked history, economics and current events in high school, you realize that North Korea is China’s surrogate. It is North Korea’s only serious trading partner, and, as such, controls over 70% of its economy – such as it is. Besides, it’s not even close to plausible that the Chinese would allow a nuclear arsenal within spitting distance of the Dragon Throne if they didn’t have it on a leash. And speaking of nuclear weapons, how does a “nation” without enough hard currency to buy a Happy Meal™ get its mitts on weapons-grade plutonium, never mind build the facilities it takes to make it work? It’s obvious that China is pulling the strings south of the Yalu River. This latest bit of sabre rattling may be nothing more than a no-consequence test of American resolve in the area. Personally, I think it’s more than that (remember: China just launched its first aircraft carrier into the South China Sea.) But then I’m not getting the big bucks from the State Department for my opinion.
However, if I were, I’d mention that this new kid in the Petty Little Dictator Club is trying to impress the neighbours and make a name for himself with the locals. He’s talking a good fight, but like his daddy, he isn’t likely to launch anything more than his mouth — if he does, China spank. We need to let him know, in no uncertain terms, he should back off before somebody (mostly he) gets hurt. However, we also need to take our fingers off the trigger just in case somebody gets twitchy and this whole thing blows up – by accident.
John Kerry And The Dragon Throne (April 29th, 2013)
Do you ever wonder what happened to Kim Jong-un? He’s that North Korean guy with all the nuclear weapons. Believe it or not, it was just three weeks ago that he was striding around, threatening to rain fire and hell on anything and anybody from Seoul to Guam (and all points beyond) unless he got what he wanted — which, BTW, was never made clear. It actually got so serious that President Obama sent in some military ordinance — with real people inside. So what happened? Did he just take his finger off the trigger and go further out to lunch? Maybe — but I don’t think so. Even though I don’t have a direct line to the inner workings of American foreign policy (who does?) this is what I figure happened.
Okay, you do remember John Kerry? He’s the guy who took Hillary’s job at the US State Department so she could run for President. John’s been kicking around politics since the 70s and around Washington since the mid 80s. He was never what you’d call a go-to guy, though. After all, when it came to the biggest political decision of his career (Who’s going to be my Vice President?) he chose John Edwards! Clearly, Kerry’s not exactly a fellow who does his homework. Anyway, John’s job description comes with a couple of pages on nuclear crisis, so when Kim Jong Whoever started cutting up rough, he packed his suitcase and headed for Asia. After a couple of whistle stops in Korea and Japan (to reassure the locals that America would kick the snot out of Kimmie if it came to it) John went to China. This is where it gets tricky. Nobody in their right mind would suggest that the Secretary of State of the United States of America (President Obama’s personal representative on Earth) had been summoned to appear before the Dragon Throne. However, a couple of Saturdays ago, there John Kerry was — all smiles and hairdo — standing around Beijing, diplomatic hat in hand. Ostensibly, John was there to discuss the Korean problem with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi. Sounds legit, right? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Personally, I think the Chinese wanted something. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have let Kim Jong-un shoot his mouth off in the first place. Secretary Kerry was there to find out what.
From here, nobody but John Kerry, Yang Jiechi and Wikileaks will ever actually know what went on — secret private talks are, after all, secret private. However, unless you flunked history in high school (twice) you do understand that, despite a century of assurances to the contrary, secret protocols between nations do happen — with surprising regularity. So it’s interesting to note that a couple of curious things have occurred since John and Jiechi put their heads together in the Forbidden City. First, the Chinese government has suddenly jumped on the environmental protection bandwagon — which is totally odd because, less than a month ago, their official Party line was Climate Change was something the West had made up to piss them off. Remember these are the folks who spray-painted the Beijing grass green to impress the IOC. Secondly, and most curious of all, Kim Jong-un, who, two weeks ago, was mad enough to nuke a basket of puppies, has fallen off the radar entirely. He doesn’t seem to want to vaporize his neighbours anymore, kill Imperialists, play with his warheads or even test his missiles. In fact, aside from chillin’ with Dennis Rodman, nobody’s heard from the guy.
So what caused these momentous events? There are three possibilities. One, John Kerry is the greatest diplomat since Coenus the Weary convinced Alexander the Great to give it up at the Ganges River, turn around and go home. That’s a nice idea, but I don’t think so (given John’s track record.) Two, the Chinese suddenly discovered their Inner Altruist and couldn’t wait to share it with the world. Again, a nice thought but… Or, finally, three, the Chinese (who, as you know, play puppeteer to Kim Jong-un’s marionette) got what they wanted. Then, happy as a clam, they told Kim to sit down and shut up, tossed Kerry some Climate Change rhetoric to take home and called it a day. If you go with Door #3 on this one, I don’t know what you bet — but I think you won.
But the most curious thing of all is, even with a multibillion-dollar budget, it appears as if the folks down at Foggy Bottom have never seen fit to buy a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War — and if they have, they sure as hell have never read it.
Plus ça change …!