Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Korea The Problem

The recent flare-up between the Koreas has me pondering the probability of this being the flashpoint for World War III.
Hyperbolic? Perhaps, but sinking a naval vessel is a pretty outrageous act. China's response, or rather lack of, is interesting and I mean "interesting" in diplomatese: it's disturbing.
We've fought wars by proxy before. Indeed, last century was filled with passive-aggressive conflicts on our part, culminating in the decades-long "Cold War" with the Soviets (and China).
In those conflicts, the Communists were recovering from the brutality of World War II fought on their soil, and were ill-prepared to engage us in actual warfare. Neither had the economic stability of decades of peace behind them.
Those tables are now turned. It is the US which is in dire economic straits battling a war fought on its soil by private armies as well as two wars overseas, and Russia and China are both clicking along, at least better than we are. Neither has real troops on the ground fighting anywhere in the world, too.
The bully has become the victim.
For this and no other reason, for no reasons of world comity or any other diplomatic consideration of diminishing the appearance of American Exceptionalism demonstrated by the previous administration, it is incumbent upon President Obama to engage these two nations in dialogue and cooperation in Iran and North Korea. Forget what the right-wing nimrods who would have us go it alone will tell you: we can't bully anymore. We could conceivably unilaterally wage limited naval war with North Korea, but from a military/domestic standpoint, we can't afford to get into a full-on battle to protect Seoul.
Seoul knows it. Kim knows it. And Hu and Medvedev know it. A war with North Korea would probably engage China in open conflict. So that's off the table.
Add to this that China has deliberately remained a blank slate in its dealings over Korea (as well as Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela, and any number of other nations). This means we can either project the best or the worst of motives on their actions, and behave accordingly. We can infer their intentions as best we can, entice them to reveal more, but at the end of the day, China will remain a cypher (Russia less so).
We can't afford to make mistakes now. Unfortunately, we will.