When Silence Is Golden

As more and more time passes, it becomes clearer and clearer that Barack Obama, as so many of us feared, simply isn’t ready for prime time. He not only does not grasp so many fundamentals about being president, but refuses to acknowledge it and has surrounded himself with sycophants who can’t or won’t tell him when he’s wrong.

One of his flaws that keeps getting him in trouble is how he’s in love with his own voice, and is convinced that he can get his way on any subject if he can just talk enough about it. That, I am convinced, is at the core of two of his bigger blunders of late.

First up, his placing of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a Taliban leader and an American citizen, on a “hit list” went public. Now, I have no problems with Al-Awlaki’s getting sent to his divine reward, but I am uncomfortable with our government deciding that it has the right to kill an American citizen — even one as openly traitorous as Al-Awlaki — without any legal due process.

In the past, this sort of thing was handled sub rosa — a quiet order was given and carried out, and something bad would just happen to the person or persons in question. Oh, there would be all kinds of rumors and speculations, but nothing official. A textbook example was the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his hotel room in Dubai. Most of the world is convinced that Israel carried it out (they certainly had the motive, and the efficiency of the hit certainly points towards them), but there are enough muddy details to allow plausible doubt — and Israel has refused to say one way or another, citing a long-term policy of not commenting on what the Mossad does.

Most Americans are OK with that. We understand that every now and then, on very rare occasions, our government has to bend the laws in the name of our national security. We watch for signs when it goes too far, and raise holy hell when we think it does, but as long as it’s done with exceptional restraint and only against exceptionally dangerous individuals, we’re willing to let those rare exceptions slide.

Such as in the case of Al-Awlaki. If he were to get killed in an attack, along with a bunch of his followers, there would be at worst, a collective shrug saying “he laid down with dogs, he got blown up with the fleas.” No great loss.

But to have him on a “hit list,” and to have our government say openly that it intends to kill an American citizen without benefit of trial… that’s a little scary.

In a similar vein, Obama’s showing his amateurness with how the crisis on the Korean peninsula is unfolding. Right now, the best analysts are saying that the first real step in the current tensions was last year, when a North Korean warship intruded into South Korean orders and ignored warnings and warning shots. The South Koreans ended up shooting the hell out of that ship, sending it limping home barely afloat.

Then, this year, the North Koreans apparently struck back, with one of their subs sinking a South Korean corvette, killing 46 sailors.

Now, the traditional way of dealing with this is again sub rosa. A quiet tit-for-tat game would play out — a North Korean submarine would simply fail to return to port, and South Korean or American anti-sub weapon inventories would be juggled to conceal a shortage. Or a North Korean military facility would suffer a rather spectacular “work accident,” and we (the US and South Korea) would offer our sympathies in an exceptionally timely fashion.

But no. Obama (after consultations with the South Koreans, and I strongly suspect who was taking the lead on that — Obama is exceptionally tough on our allies, while downright obsequious to our foes) decided to make the whole thing public, to announce that we had an open-and-shut case, and take it to the United Nations for adjudication.

Excuse me, Mr. President? There is a huge difference between crimes and acts of war. We aren’t prosecuting North Korea. We aren’t interested in trying and convicting them. We don’t need to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that they did it.

And we especially don’t need to try to sway a “jury” at the United Nations. Here’s a hint, sir: they don’t like us. They might like you, because you seem to agree with them about how terrible the US is (especially during the previous administration), but they aren’t going to give us a “fair shake.” And they’re certainly not going to “convict” North Korea and impose some kind of sentence on the dictatorship.

There’s one rule that you don’t learn in law school, but you do in pretty much any kind of war-game and in the real world. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: “If you shoot at a king you must kill him.”

In situations like this, you have to be very careful with how you handle your opponent. You must always leave him a way out, an escape, some way of salvaging something — until you’re ready to finish him off. An enemy backed into a corner is utterly unpredictable, utterly desperate, and will do anything he can to survive. Which is why you don’t do that until you’ve done everything you can to minimize the harm he can inflict.

North Korea is in dire straits, but it is hardly on the ropes. It still has an exceptional military power, and can cause much death and destruction. To bring the matter before the United Nations and demand that it take some kind of “action” — in and of itself a laughable notion — is to attempt to corner North Korea. Indeed, it has already announced that any kind of sanction or other action would be an “act of war” — unlike, say, attacking and sinking a South Korean warship in international waters — and would bring about retaliation.

Now, if they’d only limit their “retaliation” to the UN, I’d be tempted to say “go for it! Need any help?” But no, it’s clear Kim Jong Il would strike back against South Korea or the United States.

The downfall of the North Korean regime is inevitable. The state is inherently unstable, and the day it falls will be a hugely chaotic event that will have severe consequences on South Korea, China, and the United States. It will be a humanitarian nightmare, and absolutely no one can say with any authority what the North Korean military will do with its tremendous arsenal. Will they walk away from their stations? Will they fire them off, figuring they have nothing to lose? No one knows.

What can be known is that taking the matter to the United Nations offers no good solutions to the situation. But it lets Obama play to what he perceives as his strengths: lots of talking, lots of “community building” and “seeking consensus,” and not a single tough decision to make or any real accountability.

That’s how “community organizing” goes, Mr. President. It’s a wonderful position — lots of potential power, no real accountability.

But you’re the Commander In Chief, not the Community Organizer In Chief. You’re not trying to win concessions from the powers that be, you ARE the powers that be.

Start acting like it, sir.

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