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U.S. Military Set to Intercept North Korean Ship Suspected of Proliferating Missiles, Nukes – Political News –

Ever since the campaign and the infamous “3 a.m.” ad, every foreign policy crisis or controversy gets advanced as Obama’s 3 a.m. moment by somebody. Here at the Season, we opined back in May that the real 3 a.m. moment was fast approaching, and that one of two places was going to provoke that call: N. Korea or Pakistan. The only question was which country was going to win the race for top foreign policy headache honors.

Its beginning to look like the winner will be N. Korea. The US military is tracking a cargo ship that left port in N. Korea on June 18th, apparently bound for Singapore. Operating currently in Chinese waters, its headed out to international waters and the US Defense officials have told Fox News that the USS John McCain will intercept it. That ship is positioning itself to do that.

Now, the UN sanctions only allow the US to hail the North Korean ship and demand to be allowed to conduct a search, but not forcibly board it I cannot think of anything that smacks of impotence more than having an American warship ask for permission to inspect, be summarily refused and then have it go on its merry way while we issue empty protests. The only way that makes sense is if you’re building the case for UN authorization to board ships at will, but that would seem redundant given N. Korea’s manifest intransigence. So if President Obama indeed orders the USS John McCain (isn’t that a delicious irony) to actually intercept the Kang Nam, we will indeed have a ring side seat for Obama’s 3 a.m. moment. Stay tuned.

Update: Nightwatch reports – US press services reported that a North Korean arms carrier has departed the port of Nampo. This appears to be a genuine arms shipment to an unidentified recipient as well as a test of the new UN Security Council sanctions on proliferation.

The US Navy announced yesterday that it will request permission to board North Korean merchant ships suspected of carrying contraband, but it will not board without permission. The best opportunity to stop North Korean proliferation is at ports of call.

Make no mistake: this is a deliberate North Korean test of the new sanctions regime. If the ship is boarded, the North warned yesterday that it will respond with military violence. The North Korean warnings must be taken at face value, under current circumstances. They are not kidding. Conditions are set for an armed confrontation, but which is still avoidable. This is a warning.

Political Season Response: We are about to find out if Obama has the cahones or not. The N. Koreans are a thug regime. They take what they want and they respect only strength and resolve greater than their own. Obama has a smart, detached intellect, that much we know. Now we are about to find out whether his spine is made of steel or rubber. Its gut check time.

Update II: Obama, today on N. Korea – “North Korea has a path toward rejoining the international community, and we hope they take that path,” said Mr. Obama on Monday in a prerecorded interview on CBS. “What we’re not going to do is to reward belligerence and provocation in the way that’s been done in the past.”


The Obama administration’s 3 a.m. moment could be upon us at any hour. Nightwatch reports that Chinese fishing vessels operating near the Northern Limit Line (NLL) are leaving the Yellow Sea area northwest of Seoul. The number of boats operating in the area has decreased from 280 to 140. This is a strong indicator that naval clashes are possible and that other violent events from N. Korea can be expected.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, attacks by Taliban forces on government targets and civilians in Pakistan’s major cities are a potent message to the government and the population that the Taliban can strike with impunity anywhere. The Pakistani army appears to have lost the initiative. After beginning a vigorous offensive against the Taliban that seemed to set them back on their heels, the bombings make it clear that the Taliban are regaining the offensive against government forces. As the attacks continue, its quite likely that the government will lose popular support for resisting the Taliban. The likelihood that the Taliban may successfully destabilize Pakistan and pose a real threat of nuclear weaponry falling into the hands of terrorists and the necessity of US action to insure that does not happen.

Obama’s 3 am moment is upon us.

Obama has been the target of lots of criticism for his oft stated willingness to engage in direct dialogue with our enemies abroad where the opportunity to do so exists. The utility of this approach may well be demonstrated by the North Korean situation.

The US’s messaging to North Korea and the international community since the Obama administration came to power has been that it is willing to talk with the North Korean regime. At this moment when the North Korean’s are provoking strong reactions from Japan, China, Russia and their neighbor South Korea, one arguement has been removed from North Korea and the international community for delay or inaction. No one can now argue that US policy is at fault for the intransigence of the North Korean regime.

North Korea on Monday conducted an underground nuclear test and also fired off several missiles. It repeated the provocative missile firings again today. The United Nations Security Council has issued what seems like a worthless statement of condemnation and the President is promising a more vigorous effort to enlist the international community in answering the North Korean provocation.

The less discerning on the right are happy to pounce on North Korea’s actions as evidence of the weakness of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, but in truth, the options of the United States and indeed the rest of the international community is limited where this bat s**t crazy, continuous crime against humanity regime is concerned.

Fellow Hoosier Thomas Barnett has called for the US to embrace a grand strategy that envisions a transparent and agreed upon international system for processing politically bankrupt states like North Korea, regimes that everybody wants gone. The wisdom of this concept seems manifest when confronted with a regime like North Korea. There really is no other true solution to the North Korean problem than regime change, indeed regime replacement. However, neither the US nor the international community have a mechanism for accomplishing the toppling of this regime and its replacement with another system of governance that will immediately take up the work of providing for its people and this is what is preventing great powers such as China from taking more responsibility for addressing North Korea’s behavior. The Chinese fear the influx of millions of refugees were the North Korean state to be brought down without any way of standing up a replacement regime. This is perhaps even more critical a requirement in North Korea than in other places since all indications are that this is a state and society bizarre in the extremes to which the organized oppression of its people has been allowed to proceed and where its inhabitants may be frankly unable to function in anything resembling normal society for a period of time. We have the Leviathan force, but its the Sys Admin force we need to fix the North Korean problem.

I ordinarily find Gingrich to be interesting, intelligent and these days, a bit more reasoned and seasoned in his bombast. But the North Korean missile test has most of the prominent voices on the right coming unhinged and accusing Obama of capitulation. Gingrich gets himself in on the action on the Sunday talk shows:

AllahPundit at Hot Air nails this foolishness:

“As for North Korea, what exactly is the alternative to how Obama handled it? What would McCain have done differently? Newt told Fox News Sunday yesterday that a President Gingrich would have disabled the missile before launch — “there are three or four techniques that could have been used” — but that’s so nutty and “out of touch with reality” itself that I can’t believe he seriously means it. With Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan already on the Pentagon’s plate and the economy teetering towards depression, he would have risked a regional war involving millions of Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese and a global economic meltdown just to prove a point about missile tests? How, exactly, would the threats to the United States in the Middle East be lessened by America suddenly having to commit tens or hundreds of thousands of troops to defending Seoul?

Awesome points. Conservative criticism of this sort from Gingrich and the rest of the GOP to the right makes me uncomfortable. All this talk from Cheney, Gingrich and others of how we are less safe and there will be an attack runs the risk of being perceived as cheerleading for disaster. An overreaction to NK’s missile launch of the kind being pushed on the right would have been an investment in substantial disruption that the US can ill afford, simply to make a sabre rattling point about NK’s missile program. American military policy is very ably in the hands of SecDef Gates, whose wise counsel Obama is heeding. Its irresponsible to attempt to goad the President into foolish and dangerous foreign policy actions in order to score points with the base.

By George Friedman

The Bush administration briefed the U.S. Congress on Thursday about the reasons behind the Sept. 6, 2007, Israeli raid on Syria. According to the secret briefing — the content of which, of course, not only was leaked immediately (as was intended) but was essentially confirmed by a White House spokeswoman — the target was a nuclear reactor, able to produce plutonium, that had been built with the assistance of North Korea. The administration showed a videotape, apparently produced by Israeli intelligence, showing faces that were said to be in the facility and to be clearly Korean.

What is important to note is this information is not new. It is a confirmation of the story leaked by the administration shortly after the attack and also leaked by the Israelis a bit later. The explanation for the attack was that it was designed to take out a reactor in Syria that had been built with North Korean help. There are therefore three questions. First, why did the United States go to such lengths to reveal what it has been saying privately for months? Second, why did the administration do it now? Third, why is the United States explaining an Israeli raid using, at least in part, material provided by Israel? Why isn’t Israel making the revelation?

It has never been clear to us why the Israelis and Americans didn’t immediately announce that the Syrians were building a nuclear reactor. Given American hostility toward Syria over support for jihadists in Iraq, we would have thought that they would have announced it instantly. The explanation we thought most plausible at the time was that the intelligence came from the North Koreans in the course of discussions of their nuclear technology, and since the North Koreans were cooperating, the United States didn’t want to publicly embarrass them. It was the best we could come up with.

The announcement on Thursday seems to debunk that theory, at least to the extent that the primary material displayed was U.S. satellite information and the Israeli video, which was said to have been used to convince the United States of the existence of the reactor and of North Korean involvement. So why didn’t the administration condemn Syria and North Korea on Sept. 7? It still seems to us that part of the explanation is in the state of talks with North Korea over its own program. The North Koreans had said that they would provide technical information on their program — which they haven’t done. Either the United States lost its motivation to protect North Korean feelings because of this or the Bush administration felt that Thursday’s briefings would somehow bring pressure to bear on North Korea. Unless the United States is planning to use these revelations as justification for attacks on the North Koreans, we find it difficult to see how this increases pressure on them.

More interesting is the question of why the United States — and not Israel — is briefing on an Israeli raid. Israeli media reported April 23 that the Israelis had asked the Americans not to brief Congress. The reason given was that the Israelis did not want the United States to embarrass Syria at this point. As we noted on April 23, there appeared to have been some interesting diplomatic moves between Syria and Israel, and it made sense that revealing this information now might increase friction.

If this read is true, then it would appear that the United States briefed deliberately against Israeli wishes. Certainly, the Israelis didn’t participate in the process. One answer could be that the United States is unhappy about Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s moves on Syria and wants to derail them. The United States wanted Syria out of Lebanon. The Israelis have a more complex view of their presence. In some ways, they see the Syrians as a stabilizing force. And they certainly aren’t eager to see Bashar al Assad’s government fall, since whatever might replace the al Assad government would probably be worse from the Israeli point of view. That would mean that the Israelis would want to take out the reactor, but not necessarily rub the Syrians’ nose in it.

So there are two plausible answers to Thursday’s show. One is to increase pressure on North Korea. The second is to derail any Israeli-Syrian peace process. The problem is that it’s hard to see why North Korea is going to be moved by the official declaration of what Washington has been saying from the beginning. The second would assume that U.S.-Israeli relations had deteriorated to the point that the United States had to use this as a lever. That’s tough to believe.

The senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra, said after the briefing, “This administration has no credibility on North Korea. A lot of us are beginning to become concerned that the administration is moving away from getting a solid policy solution to ‘let’s make a deal.’”

So that seems to undermine the prep for strike theory. That leaves tension between the United States and Israel as the last standing theory. Not a good theory, but the last standing one.