Free Markets, Free People

North Korea

Has the world fallen out of love with Obama?

Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of US News and World report writes a blistering piece that certainly seems to indicate that’s the case. Zuckerman says the world sees Obama as “incompetent and amateur” and that on the world stage he is “well-intentioned but can’t walk the walk”. That’s a nice way to say he’s a lightweight in an arena where only seasoned heavyweights prosper.

Zuckerman’s opinion is not one to be taken lightly. He was a huge Obama backer. He voted for him. His newspaper, the NY Daily News, endorsed him and was enthusiastic in his support of the Obama candidacy.

Now, 16 months into his presidency, he’s obviously very disappointed in his choice. And, it would appear, has come to understand that which he didn’t know or didn’t bother to find out about Obama at the time – that he has no leadership skills or abilities and is, in fact, more of an academic than a Commander-in-Chief.

Zuckerman is a keen and long time observer of American foreign policy, and as such he has the ability to compare and contrast what American foreign policy has seemed like under different presidents and under this one. He begins his critique of Obama by saying he actually inherited a “great foreign policy legacy enjoyed by every recent US president.”

Of course to hear Obama talk about it you’d think he’d been handed the worst mess in the world. But even assuming that, what has Obama done? Not much – and that’s beginning to become evident to the rest of the world. Says Zuckerman:

Yet, the Iraq war lingers; Afghanistan continues to be immersed in an endless cycle of tribalism, corruption, and Islamist resurgence; Guantánamo remains open; Iran sees how North Korea toys with Obama and continues its programs to develop nuclear weapons and missiles; Cuba spurns America’s offers of a greater opening; and the Palestinians and Israelis find that it is U.S. policy positions that defer serious negotiations, the direct opposite of what the Obama administration hoped for.

So success in the field that is exclusively the President’s has been elusive. Then there’s Obama the “leader”:

The reviews of Obama’s performance have been disappointing. He has seemed uncomfortable in the role of leading other nations, and often seems to suggest there is nothing special about America’s role in the world. The global community was puzzled over the pictures of Obama bowing to some of the world’s leaders and surprised by his gratuitous criticisms of and apologies for America’s foreign policy under the previous administration of George W. Bush. One Middle East authority, Fouad Ajami, pointed out that Obama seems unaware that it is bad form and even a great moral lapse to speak ill of one’s own tribe while in the lands of others.

Seems to be common sense to the rest of us, yet it is hard for anyone, even his most ardent supporters, to deny he’s engaged in more of that than any useful diplomacy.

Zuckerman also notes something I commented on months ago. He has no personal relationship with any of the world’s leaders. And that is critical to success in foreign diplomacy:

In his Cairo speech about America and the Muslim world, Obama managed to sway Arab public opinion but was unable to budge any Arab leader. Even the king of Saudi Arabia, a country that depends on America for its survival, reacted with disappointment and dismay. Obama’s meeting with the king was widely described as a disaster. This is but one example of an absence of the personal chemistry that characterized the relationships that Presidents Clinton and Bush had with world leaders. This is a serious matter because foreign policy entails an understanding of the personal and political circumstances of the leaders as well as the cultural and historical factors of the countries we deal with.

His meeting China was also a disaster and he was treated almost disrespectfully there. And he’s all but deep sixed our “special relationship” with the UK and certainly isn’t much loved by Sarkozy of France. Don’t even begin to talk about Israel.

These sorts of problems and perceptions have an effect in international affairs. A perfect example?

Recent U.S. attempts to introduce more meaningful sanctions against Iran produced a U.N. resolution that is way less than the “crippling” sanctions the administration promised. The United States even failed to achieve the political benefit of a unanimous Security Council vote. Turkey, the Muslim anchor of NATO for almost 60 years, and Brazil, our largest ally in Latin America, voted against our resolution. Could it be that these long-standing U.S. allies, who gave cover to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, have decided that there is no cost in lining up with America’s most serious enemies and no gain in lining up with this administration?

So they go their own way in the absence of US leadership. This week, Russia’s President Medvedev criticized the US for placing additional sanctions on Iran, above and beyond the UN’s rather pitiful ones.

Obama has been a foreign affairs disaster to this point, and as Zuckerman points out, this has sent a very clear message to many of those out there who wish us ill as well as those who count themselves as allies:

America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies. One renowned Asian leader stated recently at a private dinner in the United States, “We in Asia are convinced that Obama is not strong enough to confront his opponents, but we fear that he is not strong enough to support his friends.”

I think at this point, that’s a perfectly defensible and accurate assessment. This is why I continue to say that there are some pretty heavy storm clouds brewing on the international horizon. US leadership is seen as missing or weak – a perfect time for those who take advantage of power vacuums to step forward and make their particular grabs for power.

Don’t be surprised to see it happen soon.

~McQ

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Korea heats up

South Korea has determined it’s ship, the Cheonan, was torpedoed by a North Korean submarine.  46 South Korean sailors died.  In most people’s minds, that was an overt act of war.

Yesterday, NoKo severed all ties with South Korea.  Of course, technically, they’re still in a state of war, but this is a significant step in the wrong direction.  Said NoKo:

“The Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea… formally declares that from now on it will put into force the resolute measures to totally freeze the inter-Korean relations, totally abrogate the agreement on non-aggression between the North and the South and completely halt the inter-Korean cooperation,” KCNA reported.

That certainly ratchets up the tensions between the two countries. It makes you wonder, as if anyone could figure him out, what the Elvis-loving tin pot dictator of NoKo is up too.  As mentioned, these are significant steps in the direction of war, and you have to be wondering what is going on internally in NoKo to drive this sort of provocation.

South Korea and the US will be holding some naval exercises off the coast to emphasize their unified position and status as allies, but other than that, there’s not much that can be done but wait and see what Kim Il Jung has up his sleeve.  In the meantime, this is about all SoKo has available to it:

South Korea has also said it will drop propaganda leaflets into the North to tell people about the sinking, as well as setting up giant electronic billboards to flash messages.

I’m not sure how it intends to drop leaflets, but the giant electronic billboards will only be seen by those NoKo trucks in every morning to work the model farms that can be observed from the DMZ.  South Korea is also resuming propaganda broadcasts to the North and using loudspeakers on the DMZ. 

It has also said it will take its case to the UN Security Council where China has a veto.  Any action (not that long time observers would expect much more than a strongly worded resolution) therefore is dependent on convincing the Chinese to go along with whatever the rest have planned.

Analysts say China’s attitude is key, because it holds a veto in the Security Council and has in the past been reluctant to impose tough measures on Pyongyang.

So – State Department – you mission  is to get China to the table and on the team.  Additionally, seeing that NoKo seems to be on a path to some sort of military action, whatever is decided should be aimed at lessening tensions, not heightening them.  It would be nice if you remembered we have 28,000 American troops there, and their fondest desire is not to be involved in the third simultaneous US war.  And trust me, if NoKo decides “to hell with it” and launches across the South Korean border, we’re not talking about casualty counts trickling in – we’re looking at a flood.

~McQ

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Our politically correct Orwellian national security

First they eliminated the fight against global terrorism and reduced it to collection of “overseas contingency operations”. Terror events are now called “man-made disasters”. We’re no longer confronted with “Islamic extremism”. How do I know this? Because it has been dropped from use as acceptably describing our enemy in the National Security Strategy . So has “jihad” and “Islamic extremism”. We now, apparently, confront “violent extremism”. I would appear that it can just pop up anywhere without any real basis for its being.

Mona Charen reports that the decision has been made to no longer describe rogue nation North Korea as a rogue nation. I have to tell you, if NoKo is a “rogue” nation, there are no rogue nations. NoKo has been a rogue nation since it became a nation. It is a tyrannical kleptocracy – a pirate state – but not “rogue”. Apparently that’s a bit to harsh. And we certainly don’t want to refer to Iran as that.

God forbid we actually call our enemies of the world that which they really are.  That might put them on notice that we’re on to their game and aren’t happy about it.

And there’s really no level to which this foolishness isn’t being extended. Heck even the GITMO inmates apparently need a name change:

The detainees in Guantanamo, too, have had a name change. They will no longer be called “enemy combatants.” The new name hasn’t been chosen yet, though cynics might just use “former clients of Obama Justice Department lawyers.”

Yes political correctness gone mad, but look where it is being applied. At the executive level of the government of the United States. Euphemisms that ignore the specific problem or nation in favor of non-discriminatory (everyone can be a latent “violent extremist” so we don’t have to specifically single out those who are) word salad.

Bottom line: We are fighting Islamic fundamentalist extremists who have had a jihad against us for decades. They are stateless terrorists. They get some of their support from rogue nations.

Why in the world is it so hard to say it like that? Or better yet, what’s the utility in ignoring it?  Why are the specifics of the truth deemed too offensive or antagonistic to state? And what purpose is served by ignoring those specifics in favor of broad categorical words that do very little to define the problem we actually confront?

And, finally, if those words are out of bounds, how does one put a specific strategy together to confront the real security problem facing us vs. some nebulous and useless piece of bureaucratic crap with this “approved” language which ends up doing a one-over-the-world hand-wave and calling itself our “strategy”?

~McQ

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Weird Story Of The Day

If this is true, this is a guy that we most likely should encourage to stay in NoKo:

Saturday’s report by the conservative Dong-A Ilbo daily could not be confirmed independently.

Dong-A Ilbo, quoting an unidentified source, said the American was a 28-year-old man.

He crossed the border near the city of Tumen in northeast China into North Korea’s Onsong County on Monday, the daily said.

“I came here because I did not want to serve as a cannon fodder in the capitalist military. I want to serve in the North Korean army,” the American was quoted as telling North Koreans, according to the daily.

However his identity including his name and occupation remained unknown, the paper said.

Don’t want to be cannon fodder? In an all volunteer force? Don’t join.

Want to join an military that redefines the term “cannon fodder”. Join the NoKo People’s Army.

My guess is this person escaped from the funny farm and found their way to the land of the Funny Farm.

~McQ

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North Korea’s Repeating Pattern

I find it interesting to see what the foreign press has to say about things we do.  It gives a different perspective than one you’re likely to see in the highly partisan atmosphere in this country.  That’s not to say that foreign press reports aren’t biased to some (or to a great) degree.  However, they often have some useful insights.

Pertaining to the NoKo/hostage release situation, the Financial Times is one of those.  Other than the obvious, the release of the hostages, the FT wonders what each side got out of this.  On the NoKo side, it seems everyone agrees it was a propaganda coup for them.  But of what use was it?

The extraordinary photographs showing him flanked by a former US president (doing his best to imitate a sphinx) and several former US officials are a propaganda coup. They will without any doubt be used to shore up his position at home and secure his ability to confer succession upon his third son, Kim Jong-woon, still in his 20s.

So, in effect, the coup primarily benefits internal succession concerns. Is that all? Well, not really. There was more to it than that they say:

Mr Kim has used the arrest of two journalists to secure the bilateral meeting he craved, albeit with the head of a former administration. Next, he will be after money and supplies.

This is the key sentence in the article. And this is what has those who’ve denounced the trip concerned. Kim uses tactics like this to get what he wants, no matter how phony it ends up being. He uses our humanitarian concerns against us. So, in reality, we end up rewarding his bad behavior by doing what he craves – giving him attention at a very high level, even if it is “unofficial”. Which brings us to the second part of this – what did the US gain other than the release of the hostages?

Barack Obama has sought to portray Mr Clinton’s visit as purely private. That is not credible, particularly given the former president’s relationship to Hillary Clinton, secretary of state. In more than three hours of discussions with Mr Kim, Mr Clinton must have strayed beyond idle chit-chat. It can only be hoped he sought to discover what is North Korea’s negotiating bottom line and what, if anything, could persuade it to part company with its nuclear weapons.

This is the story-line that is least credible – “strictly private”. First Kim would never agree to waste an opportunity like this for a “strictly private” settlement. He held all the cards and it is completely unlike him to trade the hostages for a photo. And, if reports are correct, Bill Clinton’s plane wasn’t met but some random diplomatic staffer, but by North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator. So you have to assume that something other than “idle chit-chat” was on the agenda.

So what comes out of all of this. We’ve again set the precedent of giving in to North Korea. I’m not so sure it wasn’t the best move given the situation which left us few choices. However, it does set us up to have to respond in a like manner if a similar situation presents itself. In the meantime, the question is “does that open a channel that will lead to future dialog”?

My guess is no. We’re talking about a criminal enterprise in the guise of a state. They see our humanitarian concerns to be a weakness to be exploited. And exploit them they will. That doesn’t mean what was done was wrong. It just means we have to understand that hoping for a breakthrough based on what we did isn’t very likely. Instead it is just another example of North Korea using us to score a political and propaganda victory before they settle back into their normal criminal routine.

~McQ

NoKo, Bill Clinton And The Hostages

I think the WSJ has the best take on the freeing of the kidnapped journalist situation to this point:

We don’t begrudge the congratulations Bill Clinton deserves for saving the two journalists from what might have been a nightmare 12 years of hard labor; that was the sentence a kangaroo North Korean court imposed for allegedly blundering across its border with China in March. But the important question going forward is whether Mr. Clinton’s visit was merely the down payment Kim extracted from the Obama Administration for a potentially larger set of American concessions.

The point, of course, is this time the hostage negotiations forced by NoKo required, as the WSJ says, “the full prestige of a former US president” to bring the situation to a successful conclusion, i.e. the freeing of the two US journalists.

Instead of assuming we know what transired and condemning it, we need to wait and find out. However, given the level of envoy and the obvious propaganda value NoKo milked from the occasion, the WSJ’s question is valid.

What, if anything, was the cost of getting the two journalists out of there. I’m sure we’ll eventually find out and then can render some sort of judgment as to whether the outcome was beneficial or not to the US. That said, I’m happy to see Clinton got those two out of that hell hole. I just hope we didn’t give away the store to do it.

~McQ

Six months and counting: Team Obama looks pretty pitiful at this point

I have not posted much lately. Busy. Very busy. I don’t see how McQ does it. He’s a machine.

But I have been paying attention, and I must say Obama is as amusing during his first six months as I had hoped, and maybe more. Here’s a brief summary of where he’s at as far as I’m concerned, categorized into various types of success and failures on the political front.

Continue reading

Obama Immediately Slams Honduras

But not Iran.

Hmmm. And even saying anything about Iran could be considered “meddling” in the internal affairs of another country, per the Obama administration, but apparently working actively within Honduras to stop what it characterizes as a “military coup” isn’t meddling.

Confusing foreign policy.

An interesting aspect of the Honduran “coup”, per Fausta is:

-Tuesday last week the Honduran Congress, led by members of his own party, passed a law preventing the holding of referendums or plebiscites 180 days before or after general elections.

– The Honduran Congress, led by members of his own party, named a commission to investigate Zelaya. The Commission found (my translation: If you quote it, please credit me and link to this post)

Zelaya acted against the mandates of legal and electoral laws, the Public Ministry, the National Congress, the Attorney General, and other institutions of the State, which had declared the poll illegal.

Additionally, the court weighed in:

Indeed, Honduras’ La Prensa states that (My translation: If you use this, please credit me and link to this post)

An official statement of the Supreme Court of Justice explained that the Armed Forces acted under lawful grounds when detaining the President of the Republic, and by decommissioning the materials to be used on the illegal poll which aimed to bring forth Executive Power against a judicial order.

Other sources verified that the president of the Congress, Roberto Micheletti, will assume the presidency of the republic in a few hours.

Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was detained this morning by the military in compliance with an order of the courts of law.

I’ve also seen a report that the new president, Roberto Micheletti, is of the same party as Zelaya.

As I said this morning I’m not a Honduran Constitutional expert – but our Constitutional expert-in-chief seems to have it all figured out. I think the “why” should be obvious:

Analysts said quick criticism of the coup by Obama and Clinton on Sunday pleased Latin American countries bitter about the long history of U.S. intervention in the region.

Despite Obama’s claim that this would set a “terrible precedent”, the State Department still hasn’t yet made a determination that an actual “military coup” has actually taken place:

Despite Obama’s comments, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the administration was not formally designating the ouster as a military coup for now.

Such a designation could force the U.S. leader to cut off most aid to Honduras. Under U.S. legislation, no aid — other than for the promotion of democracy — may be provided to a country whose elected head of government has been toppled in a military coup.

“We do think that this has evolved into a coup,” Clinton told reporters, adding the administration was “withholding” that determination for now.

The stated reason is they want to leave room for negotiations with “the goal of restoring democratic order in Honduras”.

What isn’t clear, however, is whether or not what happened wasn’t a result of “democratic order” and legal. For instance:

Jason Steck, writing at Real Clear World Blog, explains

what is happening in Honduras may be an example of a coup that is not only legal, but mandatory

because, in Honduras’s case, the military has been endowed with a role in maintaining democratic governance; this time their task was to delivery Zelaya safely out of office and into the airplane to Costa Rica.

If this all ends up being constituitonally legal,  it will be interesting to see how Obama backs off his previous statements or whether, instead, he continues to characterize the arrest of Zelaya as a “coup” to play to the leftist crowd now “pleased” with his initial reaction.

Regardless, I’m less than impressed with Obama’s reaction to world events in Iran, North Korea and now Honduras.

~McQ

Questions and Observations #2

For new readers the title is that for which the shortened “QandO” stands. This is the second in a series of questions and observations.

  • In the “you can’t make this up” department, China will block the sale of Hummer for “environmental concerns”.  I guess that’s their nod to the rest of the world after flatly refusing cut CO2 emissions in the future.
  • Ezra Klein is suddenly for smaller government, specifically the elimination of the Agriculture Committee. Of course the only reason he’d like to see it given the deep 6 is because it has, in Klein’s opinion, badly weakened cap-and-trade by extracting “a truly mind-boggling array of tax breaks, exemptions, and straight subsidies”. I guess Klein would like to temporarily make government smaller to make it larger.
  • Yes, Michael Jackson is dead – but for heaven sake, do we have to devote every minute of the news day to running “Thriller” vid and spreading rumors about the possible cause of his death? Is this what “news” organizations have become?
  • Apparently we’re still stalking the North Korean ship enroute to either Singapore or Burma. For those who are waiting for us to confront it and board it, that’s not going to happen. The “tough” UN resolution only provides for boarding if the North Koreans agree. And, while we can demand that they then go to the nearest port for inspection, the North Koreans can refuse that as well. The plan, it seems, is to convince the refueling port the NoKos pull into to refuse to refuel the ship. Then, when the NoKo ship runs out of fuel, put it under tow and then inspect it. As I understand it – they can then inspect it legitimately. Amazing.
  • Waxman-Markey, aka cap-and-trade, survived an earlier test vote that moved the bill to the floor for a 5pm vote. As I recall the margin was 5 votes. It is a job destroyer in the middle of a recession. The Center for Data Analysis of the Heritage Foundation figures it will cost 50,000 jobs in the transportation equipment sector alone. Their data for other sectors is available here.
  • House liberals have staked out a bit of ground on the health care bill saying they will not vote for it if it doesn’t include a public option – period. That is actually good news as the public option does seem to be in trouble. Any bill showing up without it will most likely not get the 80 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to vote for it. Add in the Republicans and the Blue Dogs, and it may be in very serious trouble without just the sticker shock of 1 to 3 trillion dollars of cost.
  • Mark Sanford? He should resign. The affair is between he and his family. He should resign because he was derelict in his duty and he misappropriated government funds to pay for his trip to Argentina.  Kinda like Bill Clinton should have resigned, not for the affair, but for lying under oath to a grand jury and attempting to obstruct justice.

~McQ

Well “Duh”!

I guess this just wasn’t considered true until the boys at al Qaeda said it was true, huh?

If it were in a position to do so, Al Qaeda would use Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in its fight against the United States, a top leader of the group said in remarks aired Sunday.

Not only would it use Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, it would use Iran’s, North Korea’s, Russia’s or anyone else’s they could get their hands on.

And that says what? That we have every reason to consider it a national security priority to ensure a) they (AQ) don’t get their hands on such weapons and b) those nations most likely to develop them and hand them over to AQ don’t get the opportunity to do so.

Anyone – what would be an indicator that a regime might hand that sort of weapon over to AQ?

Answer? If the regime already actively supports terrorists and supplies them with weaponry .

I’ll leave it to you to figure out which country that is and why now is a perfect time to be taking a much stronger stand in support of dissenters there. If you’re still in the dark, read this interview, especially the last few paragraphs.  If what the interviewee says is true, we’re talking sea change, folks.

~McQ