President Obama has a situation on his hands where charisma and media support do him no good. He is dealing with a nuclear-armed regime with a history of military attacks, provocations as a means of extortion, and brutality. Now they have announced they are restarting a reactor that produces enough plutonium to make a bomb a year — a reactor that had been shut down before as part of a previous deal in which the North Koreans got things of value in exchange for shuttering it.
Worse yet, the dictatorship is now in the midst of a possible power struggle. Kim Jong Un is a man barely thirty, if that (we don’t really know for sure), advised by his aunt Kim Kyong Hui and her husband, Jang Song Thaek, reportedly taking power from military factions and giving lucrative sources of income, including drugs and counterfeiting, to party factions. Gordon Chang writes:
Every year, Pyongyang makes bombastic threats before the U.S.-South Korea military exercises. Then, the North Koreans go quiet when the drills begin. This year, however, the tantrum has continued and the words have become increasingly dire. This month, for instance, Pyongyang abrogated the armistice ending the Korean War and threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes on the United States. The one-a-day rhetorical blasts suggest something is terribly wrong inside the North Korean regime.
Chang explains what he believes is happening inside the power circles of Pyongyang:
Jang has stripped the military of much of its coveted revenue streams from illicit activities. About 70% of North Korea’s foreign currency business was conducted by the flag officers under Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Un, under Jang’s tutelage, has set about gaining control of that business. The new leader, for instance, shuttered Taepung International Investment Group, which has been described as the military’s conduit for investment abroad.
Jang is also said to have been behind the shutting of the notorious Room 39, the “slush fund” that was the center of disreputable activities, such as drug smuggling, the counterfeiting of U.S. currency, and the making of fake Viagra. This is not to say the Kim regime is exiting illegal activities. As the Korea Times reports, “Experts say the developments may shift responsibility for attracting outside money to the party, which has been refurbished after gathering cobwebs under Kim Jong Il.”
Moreover, Kim and Jang have sacked top flag officers, most notably Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho, the respected chief of the General Staff. Some analysts believe there was a shootout between forces opposing Ri and those loyal to him when he was deposed last July. Whether or not these rumors are true, it has become clear that Kim’s removal of the popular Ri did not sit well with front-line commanders. In a further sign of turmoil, Ri’s successor, Hyon Yong Chol, was subsequently demoted.
It is bad enough that China Is Taking Steps.
Make no mistake: China is not trying to pressure the North Koreans. It is signaling that it will stand by its ally (or at least look like it is doing so). After all, the only formal alliance China has is with its troublesome socialist brother across the Yalu River. China does not want the North to fall, as that would flood it with refugees and raise awkward questions about the fate of the Korean minority on the Chinese side of the Yalu. It considers North Korea the Americans’ problem and does not mind that North Korea ties down a considerable portion of American military assets.
The worry that any serious president has to have is that the North Koreans are “crazy” and could launch a suicidal attack, perhaps carried out by a dissident faction of the military. It cannot be ruled out, because nobody has truly reliable intelligence on the regime.
I am not convinced the NorKs alone could reach Hawaii or our continental west coast to level cities. I think, alone, they have a more possible chance at doing damage with an EMP in those areas. My bigger worry is for our troops/bases and allies in South Korea and possibly Japan should the NorKs try to launch something.
Guess Dennis Rodman didn’t do such a good job as our diplomat to North Korea, huh?
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