Monday, February 16, 2009

Evil You Say?

My post last week about the lesser-known evil folks in the world was liberating. Finally, I was able to pull my attention away from the US for a few moments; I was getting a little scared as I was beginning to feel like one of those slack-jawed yokels who stop to stare at an accident hoping to see something dead. Suddenly my attention is free to drift around the world, from another bid by Chavez to eliminate term limits, to Zimbabwe where a new Prime Minister was sworn in, to the Middle East where one heck of a messy election will have to be sorted out in Israel, then pulled inexorably east, past Ahmadinejad in Tehran to that crazy guy with the shock of hair jumping up and down trying to get America's attention. That's right, Kim Jong-Il wants Obama to notice him, and what better way than a birthday celebration, communist dictator style.

What style is that you ask? Well, sure there'll be cake, but it's not just candles that'll be lit if reports turn out to be correct. Looks as though those wacky North Korean's could be ready to test out a long-range missile with the capability of reaching Alaska. Today (Monday), North Koreans will be celebrating the 67th birthday of their "Dear Leader" while the rest of the world watches to see if the reclusive nation is ready to test-launch its Taepodong-2 missile, which failed in its first and only test in 2006. A testing would follow up a series of announcements by the North that have been designed to get the world to pay them some attention - after all they are freezing and starving to death. Last month the North announced it was scrapping peace accords with the South, including a 1991 pact in which it recognised their Yellow Sea border as an interim frontier, threatening a military strike over a disputed Yellow Sea border. The world's longest war could easily be reignited with devastating consequences as there are two million troops lined up against each other on each side of the buffer zone between the two countries.

Kim's tirades are aimed at two people, Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. The former's new administration is still formulating policy, while the latter has taken a hard-line stance against the north, cutting off aid and telling his people "not to worry too much". Here's the thing: while the North may not have the capability to strap them to rockets, they still probably possess 6-12 nuclear devices. With that in mind, Hillary Clinton will be making the rounds this week, but she won't be stopping in Pyonyang. She said, "If North Korea is genuinely prepared to completely and verifiably eliminate their nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration will be willing to normalize bilateral relations, replace the peninsula's long-standing armistice agreements with a permanent peace treaty and assist in meeting the energy and other economic needs of the North Korean people." Thing is, the North isn't interested in normalized relations or a permanent peace treaty. Time and again in the past decade, dictator Kim Jong Il has manufactured a crisis by testing missiles or a nuclear weapon, taking steps to produce bomb-grade plutonium, or expelling international inspectors. In most instances he has been rewarded with diplomatic attention and bribes of food and energy from South Korea, the United States, China and other nations, in exchange for reversing or freezing the actions. The Bush administration took office eight years ago declaring it would not condone such payoffs. It meekly ended, in October, by bribing Mr. Kim to reverse steps toward resuming plutonium reprocessing. As Hillary visits the Asian capitals this week, what better time to get a little attention by test-firing their missile?

As unpredictable as Mr. Kim is, things could be even worse if reports of his health prove correct. Trying to show the world he's still in charge, Kim met with Wang Jiarui, chief of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party, his first with an outside envoy since he reportedly suffered a stroke last August. With no successor lined up, the most likely result of Kim's demise would be the hard line military leaders taking over. While Kim has been able to play the Bush administration like a fiddle for the past 8 years, Obama is showing signs he's not willing to square dance. In fact, administration officials rejected an offer by North Korea to send an emissary to President Obama's inauguration last month. Meanwhile the South's new nominee for unification minister has been called a "a confrontational fanatic and sycophantic traitor" by the North whose communist party newspaper said last weekend "our country, as a member of international society, has a right to enter space and compete for space science technology." The new American administration still hasn't even had time to name a lead negotiator for the six-party talks so negotiations aren't exactly on a fast-track. Just what does Kim have up his sleeve? Well, hopefully the bright moon halo reported by the North Korean press above Kim's birth place is just a natural phenomenon and not a foreshadow of even brighter explosions.