Korea: Verbose Silence, Interpolation

posted at 2:15 pm on November 29, 2010 by J.E. Dyer

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 The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions” and as The Optimistic Conservative.  She writes a weekly column for Patheos.

This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
To see the comments on the original post, look here.


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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.

great point, JE.

ted c on November 29, 2010 at 2:25 PM

teh one, is, all on his own a foreign relations disaster. However, the US has a long standing habit of blinking out of either inattention or desire not to provoke that often leads us to conflict.

See: Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Gulf War 1 and 2, Afghanistan, Somalia, etc, etc.

WitchDoctor on November 29, 2010 at 2:28 PM

China is trying to push the US out of SE Asia and Obama wants to pretend to be playing in the NBA.

Skandia Recluse on November 29, 2010 at 2:33 PM

This is all fine and dandy…

… until you realize that Obowma has absolutely no clue what he is doing and many people may soon die a horrible death.

Seven Percent Solution on November 29, 2010 at 2:39 PM

Voting: Present!

~ PBHO

Joe Mama on November 29, 2010 at 2:50 PM

But the naval exercise the carrier group is heading for has been scheduled for months.

Then the shelling of the South Korean island was actually an aggressive attempt by the Norks or maybe China included to try and prevent the CSG from training in the Yellow Sea. It seems to me China and or N. Korea want an altercation or an excuse for creating a crisis.

fourdeucer on November 29, 2010 at 2:57 PM

China figured out the options in North Korea a long time ago. They don’t want unification, and they dread a collapse in North Korea. They like having NK be a thorn in the side of the US, Japan, and South Korea. Any change in NK is bad for China, and they understand that completely.

In short, we have no leverage at all through China. If they have NK on any kind of a leash, they’re probably telling Kim that he can do anything he wants as long as he doesn’t actually start a war.

The only things that can possibly budge China would be either a shooting war, or the presence of nuclear weapons in either South Korea or Japan. The problem is that if China does move, we really have no clue what direction they will go.

NeighborhoodCatLady on November 29, 2010 at 3:04 PM

Allah hit it on the head…war weariness…when he said last week the NORK threds got a few dozen hits and the DWTS threds got hundreds.

We don’t care. Not as a nation. We read it like we read the electric bill….and pretend it will just go away.

Limerick on November 29, 2010 at 3:22 PM

If the George Washington exercises were planned weeks ago, then the shelling of SK was planned as soon as word got out.

So it’s silly to say that the two events were unrelated.

Akzed on November 29, 2010 at 3:32 PM

I too was concerned earlier this year when the George Washington CSG twice backed away from their previously scheduled exercises with ROK forces in the Yellow sea.

Obama is proving himself to be the anti-Reagan once again, reacting in the opposite way than when Quaddafi loudly proclaimed the “line of death” in the gulf of Sidra.

It reveals a larger deficiency in modern Democrat Presidents; their view that the US Military is analogous to a Daisy “Rough-Rider” bb gun. And that it can be waved about when posturing dictates, and discarded as well as disregarded as so much trash when the posturing is over.

Although I’m a bit hawkish, it occurred to me that the Norks recent agression was the perfect opportunity to have the B-2s from Whiteman execute a precision strike on Kim’s nuclear development facilities and missile installations, augemented by the CSG and the SSBNs and SSGN’s that are no doubt nearby.

I’ll bet that might have motivated the Chinese to reign in their rabid dog…

RocketmanBob on November 29, 2010 at 3:34 PM

Revolutions are always verbose.
- Leon Trotsky

Especially when you’re a useful idiot to begin with.

Speakup on November 29, 2010 at 4:02 PM

teh one, is, all on his own a foreign relations disaster. However, the US has a long standing habit of blinking out of either inattention or desire not to provoke that often leads us to conflict.

Obumbler didn’t help matters by trying to re-negotiate what was essentially a done-deal trade treaty with South Korea handed to him on a silver platter by the Bush Administration, in order to coddle his union buddies. So, after throwing South Korean businesses under the bus, now Obama has to persuade the South Korean government that he’s serious about defending them.

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;

China could perceive the presence of a carrier group in the Yellow Sea as a threat to China, but that’s where the island was attacked by the Norks. The island is in a particularly vulnerable area, much closer to the North Korean mainland to the north than the South Korean mainland to the east. A carrier group near either coast of North Korea would make them less likely to launch another attack against South Korea, since the planes would be within easy range to bomb any artillery pieces firing on the South.

Military exercises off the east coast of the Koreas would be less of a threat to China, since any plane taking off from a carrier there would have to cross over Korean airspace before reaching China, and the Chinese probably don’t seriously believe we would dare attack Chinese territory.

Even after the military exercises are over, the United States should keep a carrier group stationed off the east coast of the Korean peninsula, out of range of artillery fire, but close enough to launch quick air-strikes against the Nork artillery should they dare attack Seoul.

China figured out the options in North Korea a long time ago. They don’t want unification, and they dread a collapse in North Korea. They like having NK be a thorn in the side of the US, Japan, and South Korea. Any change in NK is bad for China, and they understand that completely.

This is probably correct, although the Chinese “dread” a collapse of NK because they would have to accommodate millions of poor refugees, plus the “power vacuum” would create an unstable situation where both South Korea and China would want to take over the North.

One way of exerting pressure on China would be to cut off all shipments of food and fuel from South Korea and allied nations, including the United States, until the nuclear reactors in North Korea are dismantled, under inspection of the United Nations. The Chinese would never agree to trade sanctions against the North, but the US could tell the Chinese that they are welcome to supply the North Koreans if THEY want to pay the bills. If North Korea became a thorn in China’s side as well as our own, China might be persuaded to help ease Kim out of power.

But this would require an American President with cojones, which have been sadly lacking since January 2009.

Steve Z on November 29, 2010 at 4:03 PM

RocketmanBob on November 29, 2010 at 3:34 PM

It might have resulted in 1,500 artillery rounds landing on Seoul, too.

Akzed on November 29, 2010 at 4:46 PM

This is all fine and dandy…

… until you realize that Obowma has absolutely no clue what he is doing and many people may soon die a horrible death.

Seven Percent Solution on November 29, 2010 at 2:39 PM

This is a true statement but it doesn’t work with the voters that put Obama in office due to their pride. (Surely they didn’t vote for an ignoramus!) We have to learn to speak at least some of their language to get them to change course. Question is, what is that language?

scotash on November 29, 2010 at 5:29 PM

NeighborhoodCatLady

China figured out the options in North Korea a long time ago. They don’t want unification, and they dread a collapse in North Korea.

Not really. The Chinese don’t want either of those two things to happen NOW.

China’s objection is that they don’t want the government of South Korea expanding its influence to the North and to China’s border while the South is still an American ally hosting US military.

As China’s trade ties with the South further increase, China’s policies will undergo re-evaluation.

audiculous on November 29, 2010 at 5:33 PM

J.E. – Thanks for the great read.

Allahpundit and Ed,

Thanks for promoting this piece to the main section. There have been comments how Korean posts haven’t been getting as many comments as silly things like “Dancing with the Stars” and other posts.

I plan on going back to South Korea next year and plan on living there. On my wall in front of me are many pictures of my Korean friends from my church. I’m in constant contact with them and many are worried. I don’t know what to post on these threads other than that I somehow hope North Korea surprisingly collapses like the USSR.

But I do appreciate the South Korean posts. That’s why this is my favourite news websites.

Thanks.

Canadian Infidel on November 29, 2010 at 6:08 PM

I live in South Korea. My husband is in the US Army and is a subject matter expert on religious leader engagement (as in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now on North Korea). N. Korea isn’t communist per se; it is a religious cult with the Il’s as the deity.

The US and ROK (Republic of Korea), or USFK (USForcesKorea), plans defensive exercises well in advance and notifies the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, aka, N. Korea) so there will be no misunderstanding.

We have two annual peninsula wide exercises and every April and August Kim Jung Il threatens ROK and USFK with open war saying our defensive, pre-planned exercises are an act of hostility. In fact it was one of these exercises that Kim Jung Il used as an excuse to end the armistice.

What’s happening now is that Kim Jung Il has become more bold in his brazen attacks against ROK because 1) the DRPK is never punished for its actions and 2) Barack Obama is the Commander and Chief of US Forces in Korea.

And Kim Jung Il’s failing health and impending glorious death, which cannot come soon enough, will probably cause the collapse of Pyongyang. The people in the North are finally fed up with the tyrannical dynasty and are questioning and even better CONFRONTING the powers in the DPRK. You may have seen the You Tube video of a north korean woman yelling at the police, formerly unheard of. The people of the North are beginning to slowly reject and resist the government.

That said, I was in Seoul this weekend when the massive demonstrations by South Koreans burned the Ils in effigy. Finally the protests are against the NORTH and not the US.. as the North Korean symapthizers are finding less support in the South. But as with the Democratic party, there are anti-American advocates who promote their own enemies even in the ROK. It comes with Democracy.

I can only hope we’re still here when Pyongyang falls. This may be easier than previously anticipated because finally the people are boldly rising up against the regime.

My husband had the opportunity to meet with 3 North Korean escapees (I’ll call them) through a friend and he talked with them for about an hour. This was their first meeting with an American ever and they were scared to death because they have been indoctrinated to hate America and taught that Americans are evil. They were pleasantly surprised. These are a good people who have a lot to overcome but I would ask those of you who have faith to pray 1) for the fall of the DPRK and 2) for the vindication of the people of the DPRK.

Amy Proctor on November 29, 2010 at 7:39 PM

Excellent post Amy. Thanks so much.
And, yes, I’ll pray.

Canadian Infidel on November 29, 2010 at 8:34 PM