Pyongyang? Yes, Pyongyang. North Korea test fired not one, not two, not even three, but five new missiles yesterday and today in response to the United Nations Security Council's condemnation of its recent nuclear test. The two moves have sparked a new international nuclear crisis that has implications for Asia, the Middle East, and the United States. This is North Korea week in capitals around the globe from Tokyo, to Beijing, to Seoul, to London, Moscow, and even Tehran. But not in Washington. The Obama Administration's response is essentially to change the subject and distract media and public attention from the subject it does not want to talk about, foreign policy.
Justice Souter announced his impending retirement on May 1st. President Obama said at the time that he wanted to have a replacement seated by the opening of the new Court term in October. Given the pressing events on the Korean peninsula, and the cooperation he is sure to get from the Democratic Senate, Obama could have waited a week to make this announcement and still made his time line for having a new justice seated. But he chose to make the announcement now, thereby guaranteeing that neither he nor his Administration will be pressed on their response to the North Korean missile crisis.
On North Korea, the president has said very little, making the following statement from the White House yesterday.
"By acting in blatant defiance of the United Nations Security Council, North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community. North Korea's behavior increases tensions and undermines stability in Northeast Asia. Such provocations will only serve to deepen North Korea's isolation."President Obama said noting about what measures, if any, the United States will take to enforce that isolation. There has been no public word from the Administration about what steps it will take to convince China and Russia, North Korea's international protectors, to go along with potential new sanctions. It has not even said whether the United States will seek to restart the Six-Party talks with regional players to address the crisis. The president's, "What, me worry?" approach to the crisis shows weakness that other adversaries of the United States will not mistake.
During the presidential campaign, then vice presidential nominee Joe Biden told a gathering of Democratic find raisers that Obama would be tested by an international crisis in the first six months of his presidency. Biden implored the gathering to stick behind the new administration in its response to the crisis because, "it's not gonna be apparent initially that we're right."
Now that international crisis is here. It's 3 AM and the phone in the White House is ringing. But rather than answer, President Obama is pulling the covers over his head by announcing this Supreme Court nomination at this time. The message sent to the international community could not be clearer. The United States, under this president, is not going to take a leading role in dealing with international incidents, leaving that to the ineffectual and corrupt bureaucracy at the United Nations. Domestically, the Administration is seeking to keep the American people focused on areas where the president can look good and sustain his high personal approval ratings. It is a cynical governing strategy with potentially serious implications on the world stage employed by a decidedly un-serious Administration.