Korea: Verbose Silence, Interpolation

Not blinking, just looking away.

One of the most worrisome aspects of the Obama administration’s foreign policy is the effective inconsistency of its “information” posture. The crisis on the Korean peninsula is a case in point. Most Americans are probably under the impression that the USS George Washington carrier group is being sent as a show of force in response to North Korea’s provocative shelling incident on 23 November. But the naval exercise the carrier group is heading for has been scheduled for months.

Following the sinking of the frigate Cheonan in March, the US and South Korea agreed to an intensified slate of military exercises. The first of the newly planned drills took place in July. George Washington is now heading for another of those additional drills, scheduled to run from 28 November to 1 December. According to Stars and Stripes, the spokesman for the US Forces Korea (USFK) command, speaking on Wednesday, was careful to downplay the timing:

USFK said in a news release that the exercise was “defensive in nature and planned well before yesterday’s unprovoked military attack.”

“These (exercises) are not a direct reaction,” USFK spokesman David Oten said. “Basically, they’re unrelated.”

Speaking the same day, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley split the difference between that bald statement from the military and the narrative the media are running with:

…we believe we have a strategy that involves continuing to cooperate with and protect our allies, whether it’s South Korea or Japan or others. We continue to look for ways of bolstering the capabilities so that we can address any provocations that North Korea may continue to do. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve had a series of military exercises with South Korea this year. It’s why the Pentagon announced – the President announced yesterday that the George Washington will be teaming up with South Korean military forces for an exercise coming up in the next few days.

This peculiar ambiguity is heightened by the fact that a maritime exercise is not the most pertinent kind to advertise as a show of force, given the immediate military problem. Missile-defense drills, artillery training, and strike training by the US and South Korean air forces would be more relevant. There has been no announcement of such drills. It appears that the Obama administration is simply content to have the previously scheduled George Washington deployment interpreted as a show of force, probably viewing it as calibrated to be non-provocative in light of its lesser relevance to the most recent flare-up.

A carrier group is a lot of firepower to sling around in this ambiguous manner. China continues to object to a carrier deployment in the Yellow Sea; on both of the previous occasions when the US had such deployments planned this year, we backed off and kept George Washington out of the area (see here and here). Perhaps Team Obama is now using the Yellow Sea threat as leverage with the Chinese to get them to rein in Kim Jong-Il. That isn’t as clever as it might look: we should never use our policy on maritime claims and freedom of the seas as a bargaining chip. If you’re willing to bargain it away, it isn’t principle – and everyone knows it.

Overly clever, seemingly calculated ambiguities like the ones in the present posture on Korea are a big part of the Obama administration’s image problem with its counterparts abroad. The unfortunate impression is of a toddler being devious: his every move obvious to the adult observer, but the toddler himself unaware of being under knowledgeable surveillance.

It’s worth paying attention to the methods and the development of events here, because this is how it happens. The responsible, order-keeping powers never announce a policy of behaving foolishly or inviting challenges and chaos. They manage to interpolate and calculate justifications for everything they do, without apparently breaking with the policies of the past. But through ambivalence, temporizing, grandstanding, and prioritizing their usually-unwarranted fears of “being provocative” over everything else, they undermine the stability of situations that have long required maintaining a steady strain on the lines.

In a metaphorical sense, Obama is giving the lines of Far Eastern security an unpredictable jerk now and then – and letting them go slack at other times. It’s the blank fact of the US troop presence, conferred on Obama by his predecessors, that is holding Kim Jong-Il in check at the moment. Consider this final proposition as well: if China has the power to rein in Kim, and if she actually wants to, wouldn’t she have done so already? Why would it take US bargaining (or pressure) to induce China to do something she wants to do anyway?

J.E. Dyer blogs at Hot Air’s Green Room and Commentary’s “contentions.”  She writes a weekly column for Patheos.


41 thoughts on “Korea: Verbose Silence, Interpolation”

  1. pul-lease, opticon, puh-lease!!!

    “It’s the blank fact of the US troop presence, conferred on Obama by his predecessors, that is holding Kim Jong-Il in check at the moment.”

    you don’t have any more of a clue as to what is moving Kim or holding him “in check” than anyone else.

        1. As was I by your brilliant riposte, grenouille. I saw your query at the About page, but I’m afraid I don’t know what disappearance you refer to. There’s nothing from you in the spam queue (sometimes things go there for random non-reasons). If you typed a comment that simply disappeared, I say we all shoot a raspberry to WordPress and TP their pathetic homes.

  2. Mister Peanut play acts at being CIC. Everybody knows it’s all a masquerade, while he hopes they don’t.

    You are right, JED, what holds our enemies back, is our tradition of honor and sacrifice, which even our slight and ghostly President must at least appear to uphold.

  3. Maybe since the CINCPAC, Admiral Willard, is a former Navy flier, who was frankly embarrassed by Hank Johnson’s Guam idiocy, and he was the MIG pilot who flew ‘inverted’ in Top Gun, that might explain it. Obama was in Korea a week ago, didn’t he discuss this with President Roh

  4. Funny Dear Optimist,

    I was lately reading a paper of the Cato Institute about carriers of the Cold War Era, in which it was clear that they were deployed has shows of US lack of force and high sea carnival. Looks like Carter sent the USS Coral Sea to Iran during the hostage crisis … to no effect.

  5. He is out of his league in dealing with this. Essentially we could just tell China, deal with it or we will. China is not the be all and end all. They are still developing both their military and economic power and both have serious gaps which could be easily exploited. Much of what they make is still junk, their environment is worse than ours ever was, and they have a significant national hubris which is not matched by reality.

    They want to be a big boy and play in the big boy’s sandbox – here is the chance. Fix it now or we destroy every site we “think” is nuclear related in North Korea. This has two benefits. One, it reminds China they need us more than we need them. Two, it reminds Iran they can be next.

      1. Not much, because there isn’t much they can. Cross the demilitarized zone? We could only be so lucky – it would be a shooting gallery.

        1. JEM, they can’t sustain a war, but the first day or two would not be very funny for our troops or for Seoul.

          1. Indeed it would not be pleasant one bit. I guess the bigger question is this – at what point do we feel that NK is too big a problem to continue to allow them to act in this manner. And at that point why don’t we pull our people into safer positions and let SK realize we are done being NK’s dance partner.

            SK realizes they can continue to be apologists for their northern neighbors and allow this situation to fester because we don’t want to put our troops indiscriminantly into harms way. But if our soldiers allow NK to work on their nuke program, because we don’t want them to be subject to attack, maybe we need to try a different strategy.

            I believe NKs nuke trafficking is a bigger risk. If we can use this incident as a means to just manage a pin pricks – blow up a few outlying defense installations, nothing serious – with a message to China that if they don’t take care of the problem – we will, we might find a pleasing result.

  6. South Korea – $904 Billion GDP and 48 million population
    North Korea – $13 Billion GDP and 24 million population

    Not to beat a tattered old drum; but war between the two shouldn’t even be a contest unless the people of South Korea are totally sunk in decadence and at base completely unwilling to defend themselves.

    Our role as an ally and interested party, which should have been plainly communicated to the South Korean government and people long ago, should be as a counterbalance to China.

    1. North Korea couldn’t sustain a war, Sully, but it could open the contest by delivering a fair pounding to Seoul.

      China’s not interested in helping North Korea engage in any war with the South thee days, so not much of a counterbalance is needed. China isn;t making any money dealing with the North, but it rakes in quite a bit from the South.

      1. And why is the fact that NK can open a war with a pounding of Seoul our problem 60 years after SK has been well aware of that fact and 30 years after SK became quite rich enough to invest on its own in countermeasures?

        Duh If you persist in keeping a major pop center within enemy artillery range the most important function of your government is building sufficient shelters and fielding sufficient counterbattery artillery to minimize the threat. Along with sufficient long range attack forces to ensure your enemy knows that

        1. It’s not at all our problem Sully, so why should we care if the North Koreans decided to blow up some of the Southerners last week?
          Why should we send a carrier group over there?
          Why do we have troops in standing between the North and South?
          Why are we demanding China do something?

          1. “Why do we have troops in standing between the North and South?”

            In my opinion it’s because virtually every government program and/or commitment that acquires staff and spends public money evolves as necessary to continue consuming resources until the end of a regime regardless of need or common sense.

            1. either that or we think that it’s a good idea to have troops and weapons positioned right close to the border of a large asian nation or two.

        1. until you come clear about whether you mean Obama’s regime or the Kim family circus, I’m not gonna love your laptop either.

  7. Meanwhile

    Has us all peeking
    At the prose of those,
    Who strike our pose.
    Is it bad, or is it sad,
    That all have learned,
    Cause we’ve been burned,
    That consent is shot,
    Among the Rus,
    And Khadafi’s got,
    Such a needled puss,
    He can hardly lear,
    At his blondy’s rear?

  8. Another thing about this wikileaks thing. Fifteen years ago I worked for a corp that had security to prevent large downloads. Periodically I would have to get special permission (each time) to print a not very big spreadsheet because it contained some privileged HR info.

    How is it possible that the govt in 2010 has a system from which a private can download thousands of secret cables without generating a reat time red flag?

    Rhetorical question. I recently visited the Enterprise for a former crewman tour. The ship put out a little buffet for us on the hangar deck. Enough of the disposable coffee cups leaked to cause virttually everyone to get a second cup for insurance after the problem surfaced.

    1. Is the Enterprise the carrier Mister Peanut plans to give to North Korea?

      Seriously, I would like JED’s take on my take away from the Wickileaks:

      Since the Saudis are our very best frems (so good, GWB let an entire planeload of them fly away after 9/11 when all other planes were grounded), and since their princes have attended some of our most prestigious universities which they then proceeded to buy with huge grants and endowments, and since they have funded terrorism more than anyone else, and since they want us to attack Iran, I would send Biden to S Arabia to tell them our plan of attack:

      They go first. We take and train 500 of their highest ranking princes between the ages of 17 and 35, and they are the first to parachute in, the first to hit the beaches and the first commandos to be helicoptered in to blow up the nuclear plants. OK?

      1. On the surface your plan sounded appealing but then I realized we’re in this current global war for so long in part because Reagan made the short sighted mistake of allying us with, supplying and training the loyalists and associates of a certain Saudi in Afghanistan.

      2. Brilliant! You are SS. I hope JED will have some time to consider the possibilities of an all Saudi all Royal commando corps. What a tough act to follow that would be.

        Russian Peace Corps?

  9. So we can not trust the men in robes with any planning but should spill our blood and treasure for them anyway, because they own us. OK.

    1. Your misreading me if you think I have any interest in having our military fight for the Saudi Arabians.

      But it could be in our interests to fight for Saudi Arabia, or to keep it from passing into even more inconvenient hands.

      As to treasure, I’ve long believed that the decision to engage in any war that benefits the oil arabs in any way should hinge as a first principal on them paying for it in direct proportion to how they benefit.

      If we are to act as their master and protector (as I would prefer) we should simply direct them to pay. If we are their hired dog they should certainly provide the kibble.

  10. Actually Zbigniew Brezinski, established the pattern, that had the ISI and General Intelligence, pick who they wanted as the favored mujahadeen proxies; Raisul Sayyaf, Haqquani, Younis Khalis (the father of the Taliban) Hekmatyar, et al, and slighting Massoud and many other factionst that did the fighting. Now this in part, was motivated by an anti Iranian alliance, that was predominantly Sunni

    1. How the heck can say that we “established the pattern”?

      Pakistan didn’t get to have control of the operations they were running and originating in their territory?

      Do you have some idea that the US could have selected their own people, maybe from New Jersey, and brought them into the area to conduct a large, guerilla campaign?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: