Kim's Rockets Clear the Air

That free fireworks display Kim Jong-Il put on for our benefit on July Fourth may prove to have been the best day George Bush has had since Zarqawi went to his eternal reward.

For years, Bush has been trying to persuade world opinion that Kim is a psycho who cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons. By firing off all those rockets into the Sea of Japan, Kim went a long way toward convincing a hung jury that Bush may have a point. Kim has also provided compelling evidence that missile defense may not be such a silly right-wing idea after all.

Further good news is that the Taepodong-2, which is supposed to be able to put a nuclear warhead on the United States, is years away from being a serious threat. Having sat on the launch pad, fueled and ready to go for two weeks, Kim’s rocket burned 42 seconds before plunging into the Sea of Japan. Whether the Taepodong was off course, and North Korea blew it up, or it fizzled, we do not know. But this is the first ICBM test by North Korea in eight years, and it proved a bust.

Today, and for years to come, North Korea poses no missile threat to the U.S. homeland. Indeed, the world market for North Korean missiles probably tanked a bit on July 5, especially as one of Kim’s shorter-range rockets almost landed on Mother Russia.

 To save the "face" he has lost, Kim is going to have to prove his Taepodong-2 works, which means more testing — despite the wails of the "international community."

Why is this good news? Because it is better to know than not to know the character and capability of one’s adversaries.

Not only has Kim’s failed launch left him with egg on his face, he made a fool of every patron he has in Asia. South Korea’s president, who has pursued a "sunshine policy" toward Pyongyang and planned a state visit, implored Kim not to launch. He got the wet mitten across the face.

 The Chinese, which have been looking after Kim’s interests in the Six-Party Talks with the United States, and whose food and fuel remain essential to Kim’s survival, also asked him not to launch. Kim dissed them, as well.

Beijing looks to the world today as having far less clout with their little client state than they led the world to believe.

Japan warned Kim not to launch, as the last long-range missile he tested flew directly over the Home Islands. Japan is now severing aid and travel ties, looking hard at missile defense, moving closer to the United States and probably considering its own nuclear deterrent, none of which can make Pyongyang’s patron, China, too happy.

Wisely, Bush ignored ex-Secretary of Defense William Perry and former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, who urged air or cruise missile strikes to destroy the Taepodong on its launch pad. Kim would have had to respond, perhaps with an artillery barrage on the DMZ. That could have ignited a second Korean War, the last thing America needs now.

If there is going to be a second Korean War, let Koreans fight it.

President Bush should also ignore the clamor for new sanctions. For it is the weak, the women, the sick, the elderly and the infants who invariably succumb to what Woodrow Wilson called "the silent, deadly remedy," not self-indulgent dictators like Saddam and Kim Jong-Il or their Praetorian Guard. The North Korean people have suffered enough under Kim and his father. We ought not add to that suffering.

What should America do about Kim’s provocative missile test? Follow the example of Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who once told an agitated undersecretary: "Don’t just do something. Stand there."

America should step back and let the lesson sink in on Asia that, though we are on the far side of the Pacific, we have been carrying the load for the defense of South Korea and containment of the North for 50 years. And we plan to lay the burden down. With the Cold War over, America has no vital interest on the Korean peninsula to justify sending another army to fight another war there. We ought to get our soldier-hostages off the DMZ and bring them back to Guam, if not all the way home to the United States.

Should North Korea attack the South or U.S. offshore bases in Asia, we can respond with air and naval power from offshore. While the North cannot strike our homeland, we can strike the North at will.

Kim and his nukes and missiles are primarily Asia’s problem, not ours. And it is time Asians assumed responsibility for their own defense from a North Korea whose economy and population are small by any great power standard. If South Korea’s president wishes to play detente with Kim Jong-Il, let Seoul assume the costs and bear the consequences if he proves to be a Neville Chamberlain.

In his farewell address, 55 years ago, Gen. MacArthur urged America to move her soldiers off the Asian mainland and set up our defense perimeter in the offshore islands. Sound advice then, sound advice now.