May 30, 2009

Kim Jong Il, the Second?

North Korea has been a minor obsession of mine for some time, but I’ve paid less attention to its foreign policy than to the psychotic slave state Kim Il Sung built at home. Even so, his son Kim Jong Il seems to be acting more recklessly than at any time I can recall.

So Tom Ricks sure got my attention when he quoted U.S. intelligence analyst John McCreary on his Foreign Policy blog:

“During the past 40 years North Korean leaders have been blustery but fundamentally risk averse. They have done nothing that would risk the total destruction of their state -- which means Pyongyang for all practical and symbolic purposes -- until now.... The actions in the past two days represent risk accepting behavior, defiance bordering on recklessness. This behavior began shortly after Kim Chong-il's stroke in August 2008. If Kim is ordering these actions, he has had a personality change, which can occur if dementia follows a stroke, according to medical authorities.”
Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 30, 2009 11:59 AM

Do you know if it was a left or right cerebral hemisphere CVA? Right brain damage can dramatically alter personality -- paranoia, inability to truly grasp likely consequences of behavior or the bigger picture outside their interest of the moment, and incredibly demanding behavior with a sense of entitlement that can become grandiosity. These are the people who call 9-1-1 when they run out of toilet paper. They can often put on a good veneer for superficial contact, but they are really difficult, and it's an organic personality disorder. Left CVA patients tend to be more depressed and apathetic.

Posted by: AZZenny Author Profile Page at May 30, 2009 12:39 PM

Richardson at DPRK Studies posited a number of reasons for North Korea's recent behavior that's worth checking out -- putting the nuclear test into perspective, while explaining the relative unimportance of the missile tests. As far as reasons go, Kim Jong Il losing his mind didn't make the cut.

That said, it probably wouldn't hurt to keep McCreary's thoughts on the mind. Wars have been started for a lot less. Dictators, states, etc. sometimes do things that are hard to explain except to say they've gone completely mad.

Posted by: Robert Kelly Author Profile Page at May 30, 2009 1:01 PM

There's a good chance that the USA, along with the UN, will do nothing at all. So, as psychotic as the behaviors can seem; Obama, for one, will not want to "destroy North Korea in detail."

One of the things that beset Lincoln was in trying to execute the Civil War, his generals were not interested in chasing enemies! They preferred to march around. And, obtain supplies, more troops, more horses. There really was a bag full of excuses which forced Lincoln to learn military strategy. And, even then, he couldn't get his generals to budge.

Maybe, we have the same problem? Americans see a big military. we certainly pay for one. But it doesn't really have effective modes to respond quickly.

To be a leader, by definition, means you can't be risk adverse. North Korea is SELLING this technology. And, when things fly? They are advertising.

You think Obama wants to be known as the man who "pushed the red button?" I don't think so. I'll bet (and in betting I am risk averse), that we will not be going to war with North Korea! Nor will we do anything more than call for more sanctions. The media gets tired. This story won't gain traction. It will disappear.

Posted by: Carol_Herman Author Profile Page at May 30, 2009 9:38 PM

I'll bet (and in betting I am risk averse), that we will not be going to war with North Korea!

That's a no-brainer, Carol. Right up until the moment North Korea does something to provoke a war. North Korea has always played on the brink, so the only thing new about this is the nuclear weapons. And that raises the stakes quite a bit. I don't know how far NK can go, while in possession of nukes. There was a time in the past that ICBM launches from the Soviet Union would have triggered a nuclear response from the US, and vice versa. There's absolutely no way to tell when a missile is launched whether it has a nuclear warhead on it until it detonates. If he's just launching this missiles as a marketing strategy he's at least retarded, if not brain damaged, because he's gonna end up radioactive and glowing in the dark that way. And he might just be crazy enough he thinks that'd be cool.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 30, 2009 10:36 PM

This looks to me as a combination of Obama's weak foreign policy and Kim's delusions. He may see weakness and assume the correlation of forces, to use a term the Soviets used to use, is different from what it really is. Khrushchev misunderstood Kennedy's weakness in Vienna as a green light for aggressive behavior in Cuba. The result was the 1962 standoff, which was ended by the Russian army who feared a US coup de etat. There was no chance of that but they were seeing us through their own prism. Kim is not as rational as the Soviets were and there may not be a conservative group in NoKo like the Russian army. The result may be ugly.

Posted by: Mike K Author Profile Page at May 30, 2009 11:11 PM

I'm not very impressed by the psychobabble that McCreary posits.

A much better post about BHO and NK is from Ralph Peters at the NYP:

NK has never had nukes before; why be surprised that they are more aggressive (or reckless if you prefer) now?

The only country that can influence NK (presuming that it is still possible) is China. China provides some 90% of NK's oil, 50% of their food.

Ricks comment that he was going to ignore NK is IMO asinine. I respect Ricks a lot; on this topic I think he is dead wrong. I would wager that SEA, SK and Japan are not ignoring NK.

BHO doing something about NK? Please. UN? Worse than useless as too many people think that the UN can actually do something about NK.

I most sincerely hope that Israel bombs Iran before they get nukes. Though BHO seems to be doing his best to prevent Israel from doing so. I rather doubt that Israel is willing to bet the continued existence of their country on BHO (who is soon going to bow kiss the hands of Muslim leaders in Egypt and SA, while not making the time to visit Israel). Thats our Great Leader for you.

Posted by: Ron Snyder Author Profile Page at May 31, 2009 4:32 PM

AZZenny -

Unfortunately, afaik no one outside of North Korea knows any details about the stroke. It's not even completely confirmed that it took place. The official word from North Korea is that there isn't any official word, and the extent of knowledge regarding it outside the country is completely based on some odd incidents last year and the rumors that have slipped out of the country since then.

I had someone who used to serve on the DMZ tell me earlier today that chances are that we won't do anything until a nuke that can be tied to North Korea has already gone off. According to him, US policy for the troops on the border basically amounts to, "If you're fired on by NK guards and they're on the NK side of the border, don't shoot back because they'll use the bullet holes to claim that we fired first." Or in other words, policy and actions with regards to the North Koreans are seemingly built around the idea that unless there is absolutely damning evidence of North Korean perfidity, the entire world will believe NK over the US and actions should be taken with that in mind.

Further compounding the issue is that the entire city of Seoul is basically held hostage by the North Korean army as the city is within range of the artillery that the Norks have on the border.

North Korea is such a screwed up place that if it were in a work of fiction instead of the real world, people would complain that the writer simply wasn't believable.

Posted by: junior Author Profile Page at June 1, 2009 4:31 PM

Forced to speculate from outside NK, what indicators do we have beyond the substance of their past patterns?

Results from (more and more) six-party talks don't go unnoticed in Tehran: "It's time for the Obama administration to finally put down Kim Jong Il's script. If not, we better get ready for Iran--and others--to go nuclear." (John Bolton: " Get Ready for Another North Korean Nuke Test", Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2009.)

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at June 1, 2009 10:30 PM
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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