April 30, 2009
The "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" (a.k.a. North Korea) has been jerking the rest of the world around for so long that just about anything it does should be regarded as a publicity stunt. That doesn't mean it is not a threat to friendly countries in northeast Asia, it just means that our reaction to their provocations must be calibrated according to that regime's actual capabilities. Thus, the long-awaited test of North Korea's Taepodong II intercontinental ballistic missile on April 5 had less to do with raising fear or putting a satellite in orbit (as they claimed) as it did with impressing their own miserable but brainwashed people. In that sense, it was very similar to their initial (unsuccessful) test of the Taepodong II in July 2006. This missile launch was a technical failure as well, according to the Pentagon (see the New York Times), but it succeeded in its political objective, demonstrating that the Pyongyong regime can repeatedly thumb its nose at the United States without paying a price. Indeed, they will probably get a new round of "extortion" money as a reward for their misbehavior.
But instead of downplaying North Korea's latest temper tantrum, President Obama used it as an occasion to launch a peace offensive, calling for total nuclear disarmament. (See BBC.) That is probably just what the North Koreans were hoping he would do. The subsequent announcement by North Korea than international inspectors would be ordered out of the country, while the country restarts its nuclear reactor, makes it clear that the Clinton-era policy of appeasement, which the Bush administration did little to alter, has utterly failed.
Obama likewise showed signs of self-delusion when he proposed to call off the U.S. missile defense program in Eastern Europe as long as Russia promised to help resolve the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program. Making a major concession like that, with no concrete assurance of any immediate reciprocity by the other side, makes no strategic sense whatsoever. See Washington Post
President Barack Obama followed through on his campaign pledge to close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Marine Base in Cuba, but it won't take effect until the end of the year. Thus, he won the public relations benefit without having to decide what to do with the "Gitmo" detainees right away. One possibility that was raised in January would be to refurbish the infamous Alcatraz Prison in the San Francisco Bay, and house the detainees there. Political considerations, and the fact that the island is now a tourist attraction, might make that hard to implement, however. See the New York Times. This questions becomes even more pertinent in the wake of the release of the Bush administration's internal memos on interrogation practices.