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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

What if we pre-empt the Korean missile?

As the Iran Monologues drone on, North Korea has recently reminded the world it exists by preparing to test their shiny new long-range ballistic missile: the Taepodong-2. And since "long-range" means "long enough to reach non-Alaskan US soil," this has raising significant cause for alarm in our little hemisphere. As Bush stated (with surprising eloquence), you don't want "non-transparent regimes, who have announced they have nuclear warheads, firing missiles."

So while Europe, China, Russia and South Korea are all politely asking the North to ease off this test launch, Bush is presented with a different set of options. He can try to employ diplomacy to belay the launch (the current public line, though "diplomacy" is a vague term that often has vague consequences); he can pre-empt the destuction of the launch site before the missile goes up (at the suggestion of two former Pentagon officials under the Clinton administration); or he can attempt to shoot the missile out of the sky with our not-quite-ready missile defense system.

Now, the Vegas line must be around 100-to-1 against America doing anything drastic. But since diplomacy is slow and rarely yields any decisive conclusions, let's play a little "What If?" with some more action-packed alternatives.


What if the United States takes out their launch site before the missile goes up?

According to a recent poll conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center, most Europeans believe the United States poses a greater threat to global security than does North Korea or Iran. So with the world already on edge about our pre-emptive policies, we can't exactly expect a round of applause. Without that missile ever becoming airborne, most of our allies and critics will question whether America jumped the gun when another round of talks would have sufficed (sound familiar?). And while most governments will be secretly breathing a sigh of relief (much as they did when Israel took our Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981), the streets of Seoul, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East will be chanting for Bush's head.

At the same time, China (still an official ally of North Korea) will know they have a get-out-of-jail-free card for any equivalent exercise, possibly in the form of some limited aggression in Taiwan. The six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme will likely dissolve almost instantly in favor of China--who comes off as the gentle giant--and North Korea itself, which will play the role of the victim to perfection.

And let's not forget that Iran will be watching closely. When the smoke clears, Iran will be back to Square One, ignoring the E3 and Security Council completely and getting right back to work. Granted, they've never stopped in the first place, but suddenly they'll have sympathy on their side; and in an all-talk world where we can't consider invading Iran, global sympathy (however misguided) goes a long way.

Ridiculous as it may seem, around 75% of the world will see America as the villain in this North Korean nuclear saga, which ties our hands in the future (we have considerably more room to maneuver in a world that sees America as the good guys). All so we could take out one long-range missile--not their short-range arsenal or nuclear capabilties as a whole. Big price to pay for such a small reward.


What if the United States shoots down the missile mid-flight?

Now here's a more interesting option. With the impressive heroics of a cowboy who shoots second and still wins the duel, America can flex its defensive muscles while quieting all criticism that we didn't try diplomacy first. That's how Americans, Japan and parts of Europe will see it, anyway. But there will undoubtedly be large populations who criticize America for any act of force, even one we view as self-defense. Critics will claim that because the missile was not aimed at America, we have no right to respond.

That's what they'll say on the street, anyway--but governments will view such action in an entirely different light. Our allies will be happy to see that the United States is still willing to take a bullet for them. Our enemies will talk big about American aggression (as always), but may suddenly find themselves in a position where obtaining nuclear arms is no longer an end in itself--after all, what good is an all-powerful weapon if it can be stopped short?

Two world players who will take particular notice are Iran and China. Iran may find itself rethinking their whole nuclear gamble; they likely won't stop what they're doing, but they may slow down a little, or at least consider a few carrots. China, on the other hand, will have to publicly denounce the action as cheap bullying, but in the backrooms of power they'll be recharting their plans for next two decades. While not nearly on the same scale of destruction or significance, shooting down the Taepodong-2 will send a message to China much as Nagasaki was a message to the USSR: like it or not, this is still our game, and we still make the rules.

In the end, we'll be a bigger hero to some, a bigger bully to others, and an all-around force to be reckoned with. We just have to remember that American power today is considerably more feared than loved, and any action against North Korea--even in perceived self-defense--will showcase that power for all to see.


What if the United States attempts to shoot down the missile, but misses?

This is the nightmare scenario.

On top of all negative global reaction covered above, missing our target makes America come off as weak and incapable. North Korea will escalate their activity, possibly now with secret funding from the Chinese in a move of Machiavellian sophistication. Iran will step away from the E3, whose American muscle is now stripped of considerable status. Japan will follow through with its talk of removing all pacifist restrictions written into its constitution and rearm, while Taiwan (an American Protectorate in nearly every sense of the word) may find itself in a state of emergency. And amidst the noise and panic, Israel may plan to do something drastic against Iran before that window of opportunity completely slips away.

Back home, Bush will watch his approval rating plummet to the mid-twenties, and the strong-on-defense Republicans will be out for blood from their broken leader at the insistence of their constituency. With only a few months to go before mid-term elections, Bush will have to do something drastic to show America's strength in the world--he'll owe it to his allies and to the American people. But what could he possibly do? Bomb North Korea? Invade it from the South? Or find a new enemy that's easy to take out in a few months time, like Syria or Venezuela?


Interesting as they may be, not one of these scenarios is likely. Still, it's fun to play the "What If?" game, knowing full well our world leaders do the same thing every day. What do you think they've concluded?

6 Comments:

Blogger Chance-86 said...

This whole mess in North Korea is exactly the kind of shit that Dub-ya will lose even his closest supporters over. He took a HUGE leap of faith that the American people would look at Iraq with gracious pragmatism when the WMD came pouring out in droves. Then, when the threat ended up being just a smidge less than He (and a few world leaders who have the balls to admit it) believed it was, his hopes of being the world hero collapsed around him. This action has limited his ability to do anything in North Korea. Had he chosen to use the strong hand of the US to force the re-entry of the UN...or even to gently push our allies to strengthen sanctions against Iraq, then the US would be perceived in a very different light. Unfortunately, we have become the land-o-preemption and bullyism in the eyes of 90% of the world.
All I can say is that I wouldn't want to be anywhere near Dub-ya's shoes right now. There is no possible way for him to make a good choice (and let's face it, that's a struggle for him, even when the odds are stacked in his favour..shall we force yet ANOTHER vote on banning gay marriage??). The question that I have to ask is: What if? If you believe that you have knowledge that can save your country, would you be willing to act on that information, even if you ended up living (or dying) as a fool in the eyes of your friends, family, world leaders, and patriots? Well, if you're any kind of leader at all, then the answer is "yes." What if you held the knowledge of Japan's master scheme on December 6th, 1941? What if you also held the power to stop it? Do you do it, knowing that the rest of the world will believe that you attacked what Japan will undoubtedly call a training exercise? Funny, hindsight makes the answer so easy. What if Dub-ya had found a huge stock-pile of WMD along with detailed plans on how they were going to use them on France the next week...do you think France would be running their spine-less mouths right now? I think not.
the problem is that Dub-ya is a lousy politician. Let's face it, every war and or conflict that we've been in this (or the last, for that matter) century has been pre-emptive on our part. Iraq I & II...Boznia, Viet Nam, Korea, WWII (keep in mind that we were attacked by Japan, but we entered the war by attacking Germany, who had NOT attacked us)...WWI...these, with the exception of Viet Nam ended up making us look good, simply because we knew how to spin the information through the media and come out on top.
I say, the world already hates us, Nuke the fuckin launch pad and go to DefCon 4.

Blogger Gordon the Gnome said...

Can you imagine the media fallout from a nuclear pre-emptive attack, even one on North Korea? I'm thinking it's far more likely for Pyongyang to end up like Dresden than like Hiroshima, but either way, there's just no way Bush is pulling the trigger for a test missile.

You're right that nobody's in a worse spot than Bush in this situation. With his international reputation shot and elections coming up, he's painted himself into a corner.

For the record, I think if FDR knew about Pearl Harbor ahead of time, he still would have let it go through. And I don't think that's a bad thing. But that's another article altogether!

Blogger Chance-86 said...

I think that you are probably right on all accounts. Dub-ya needs to think about the next generation of politics. It will be interesting to see who both parties nominate in '08. I'm seeing Guilianni and O'Bama.

Anyway, the seed that I loved was the FDR comment. I have always wondered. I personally have always believed that FDR and/or our Government wanted to get involved, but didn't think they could persuade the American people (sound familiar to 5 years ago??). Pearl outraged the public so much that they not only wanted to get involved, but enlisted. Begs a very pregnant question about knowledge....

Blogger Buck B. said...

I meant to reply about this earlier...

How much would a attempted shoot-down of the missile really have on other countries' nuke plans, whether it's successful or not? Iran is almost certainly thinking about tactical nuclear weapons, not ICBMs.

I'm a lot more worried about suitcase nukes than I am about long-range missiles. That's why continuing to dump so much money into missile defense strikes me as incredibly dumb, the way geo-politics are progressing.

Blogger Gordon the Gnome said...

Iran may not be in a mindset of firing off missiles quite yet, but a successful takedown of a missile on the part of the United States shifts the overall balance and mindset. Keep in mind that Iran does not act entirely alone—they have a few friends on the UN Security Council (Russia and China) who would definitely take notice of any significant demonstration of American defense capabilities. Iran may even assume that any American technology capable of destroying a nuclear warhead mid-flight would pass down to the Israelis.

And the end result? Maybe Iran will slow down. Maybe Iran will speed up. Or maybe nothing will happen besides a flurry of enhanced rhetoric. Either way, its an American statement to the world: others may enter the nuclear game, but we're always a step ahead.

Anonymous Adam said...

Striking first is out and I hear your arguments for successful shooting-down of the missile.

But I personally view this issue as rather small.

- I don't place as much stock in a show of force, even if our Star Wars system works. You'd think what we did in Iraq was a show of force, but that hasn't really dissuaded anyone from (rightly) pissing in G-Dub's face.

- I agree that nuclear bombs of the suitcase variety are probably a greater threat. It seems N.K. is wasting a lot of money to be a quasi-thorn in everyone's side. And we legitimize them by making it a political issue.

- We'll face what ever kind of WMD (nuke, bug, Lysol, other chemical) someone can come up with. If we concentrate on the nuclear issue, someone will in the meantime figure out how to turn a jumbo-jet into a weapon. Er...too late.

-- Global economics will, I believe, make all of this moot soon. Beijing, Tehran, Damascus, Caracas, et al don't need to know whether we're superior militarily, because the age of gunpowder and TNT is nearly over. Think dollar vs. yen, not F-15 vs. MiG. Or maybe yen vs. rupee, with the dollar and the pound sitting in the old folk's home.

Ultimately, the above points make me think this is in part political for G-Dub. Well, he and a few others might really fear this particular prong of the axis, but the conspiracy theorist in me says some others, *coughRovecough*, see this purely as an opportunity to hype the politics of fear.

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