What does a nuclear madman have to do to get Americaâ€™s attention? On Memorial Day, the North Koreans detonated â€œan underground atomic device many times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki,â€ as my old colleagues at the Irish Times put it. Youâ€™d think thatâ€™d rate something higher than â€œWorld News In Brief,â€ see foot of page 37. But instead Washington was consumed by the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, who apparently has a â€œcompelling personal story.â€
Doesnâ€™t Kim Jong Il have a compelling personal story? Like Sonia, he grew up in a poor neighborhood (North Korea), yet heâ€™s managed to become a nuclear power, shattering the glass ceiling to take his seat at the old nuclear boysâ€™ club. Isnâ€™t that an inspiring narrative? Once upon a time you had to be a great power, one of the Big Five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, to sit at the nuclear table: America, Britain, France, Russia, China, the old sons of power and privilege. But now the mentally unstable scion of an impoverished no-account backwater with a GDP lower than that of Zimbabwe has joined their ranks: Celebrate diversity!
Steyn is certainly aware that in the American academic world, where no pro-American view goes unpunished, that there are “professors” who actually think like that.
Well, you never know: Maybe weâ€™re the ones being parochial. If youâ€™re American, itâ€™s natural to assume that the North Korean problem is about North Korea, just like the Iraq War is about Iraq. But theyâ€™re not. If youâ€™re starving to death in Pyongyang, North Korea is about North Korea. For everyone else, North Korea and Iraq, and Afghanistan and Iran, are about America: American will, American purpose, American credibility. The rest of the world doesnâ€™t observe Memorial Day. But it understands the crude symbolism of a rogue nuclear test staged on the day to honor American war dead and greeted with only half-hearted pro forma diplomatese from Washington. Pyongyangâ€™s actions were â€œa matter of . . . â€ Drumroll, please! â€œ . . . grave concern,â€ declared the president. Furthermore, if North Korea carries on like this, it will â€” wait for it â€” â€œnot find international acceptance.â€ As the comedian Andy Borowitz put it, â€œPresident Obama said that the United States was prepared to respond to the threat with â€˜the strongest possible adjectives . . . â€™ Later in the day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the North Korean nuclear test â€˜supercilious and jejune.â€™ â€
The presidentâ€™s general line on the geopolitical big picture is: I donâ€™t need this in my life right now. Heâ€™s a domestic transformationalist, working overtime â€” via the banks, the automobile industry, health care, etc. â€” to advance statismâ€™s death grip on American dynamism. His principal interest in the rest of the world is that he doesnâ€™t want anyone nuking America before heâ€™s finished turning it into a socialist basket-case. This isnâ€™t simply a matter of priorities. A United States government currently borrowing 50 cents for every dollar it spends cannot afford its global role, and thus the Obama cuts to missile defense and other programs have a kind of logic: You canâ€™t be Scandinavia writ large with a U.S.-sized military.
Steyn’s only mistake here is to assume that Obama would have any serious interest in American exceptionalism in the world. As far as Obama is concerned, what is exceptional about America is Obama.
Paraphrasing Mao, the North Koreans might say of that, “let a thousand tractor-trailer trucks drive right through it.”
Don’t blame Kim Jong Il, though. This is a Fort Marcy Park job on American foreign policy. “No one saw foreign policy leave the White House that day before it was found dead by self-inflicted gunshot in a fuzzy jurisdiction.”