Tag Archive: North Korea

For Freedom of Speech A Dark Night Rises

I can recall in July 2012 following the shooting massacre in Aurora, security was beefed up in theaters nation-wide showing The Dark Knight Rises. I went to see the movie at a megaplex and outside there were two Teaneck police cars. Inside next to the entrance there was a plainclothes officer with an ear piece looking closely at everyone coming through the door.

Sony Corporation last week decided to cancel distribution of The Interview – a fictional movie about an assassination plot against “The Supreme Leader” of North Korea. Sony Pictures CEO said he reached that decision because some major theater corporations did not want to show the comedy. Shame on the movie theater owners for their cowardice. And shame on Sony, which could have made the film available to venues which wanted it, including independently owned facilities. We have a nicely restored private theater in Teaneck. Our local police would have been there. Indeed, police nowadays routinely cover events where there is possibility of mayhem.

The movie seems to be a slacker comedy and probably filled with tasteless but occasionally funny jokes. Nonetheless, setting a precedent that a film, a book, a painting or any art can be “disappeared” because some person or government threatens a terrorist attack is a serious mistake. We value freedom of speech and should not allow a dictator to say what movies we can see or not see.

Also the likelihood of organized North Korean terrorists attacking film-goers seems highly remote. There is no indication that North Korea has such capability in the U. S., and Koreans who live here have no respect for Kim Jong-un. It is hard enough for the most persistent terrorists in the middle-east to undertake such a venture in our country. It’s also difficult to imagine a lone wolf would glean from an obviously absurd movie a desire to go on a rampage.

I can understand the hesitancy some people might have to attend a showing, but that does not excuse Sony’s or the megaplex owners’ behavior. Besides, I am confident our Teaneck police could take the matter in stride.  

As I sat sitting

It was strange as I sat holding my grandson and watched as the two journalists who were held captive for 140 days by North Korea debark from the plane and realized that they were finally back on American soil and their ordeal was over.  They were escorted by former President Bill Clinton, secret service, State department personnel, and a host of others who had flown to N. Korea to bring these Americans home.

Their release wasn’t accomplished by threats, or by anger, but rather by going through the appropriate channels, the press, the United Nations, cooperation with foreign ambassadors, and the Obama Administration working behind the scenes to bring them home.  It was about how the Obama Administration’s  understanding of how the N. Korean culture works and using that knowledge, while working in tandem with the other methods being used, was able to secure the release of these reporters.

It was about how North Korea had found itself in a situation that it probably wanted to end. It had been running “amok” over the past few months between its nuclear development and missile launching and its coup de grace was the seizing of the two female reporters.  Whether or not these reporters had actually crossed over into North Korea or whether N. Korea had crossed into China has yet to be determined. North Korea’s actions were escalating and they found themselves in situations that had condemned them in the eyes of the World.

What can be determined is that by understanding how another culture works, it is possible to solve a problem and/or find a solution to a crisis without rattling the sabers or rounding up the “cowboys” and force, what just might have been, an unnecessary confrontation.

The belief in manifest destiny no longer works for America.  We are no longer loved or respected around the world thanks to eight years of republican “thuggary”.  We are no longer greatly feared, as illustrated by 911 when a terrorist group was able to plan and carry out such destruction on American soil. Our feeling that “we know better” is not welcomed around the world.

As we become more global, and our young people begin to interact more and more with the rest of the world’s population, as they will be traveling and working in foreign countries, it will become more and more important that our young understand the complexities of other cultures and respect the differences that exist.

It will be that respect and understanding that will empower America to be able to come to the negotiation tables with an insight into how that country thinks and because of that insight be given the respect America deserves.  It will be important, as it was with North Korea, that sometimes the answer is the simplest action.  In this case it was all about” how can we lessen a crisis and still walk away with dignity.”

It was all about sending in a requested individual to meet with Korea.  In this case, it was a man that the Koreans trusted, former President Bill Clinton.  By Obama’s sending in Clinton, he was allowing the best scenario to be played out.

Send in Clinton, the requested negotiator; sit down and discuss whatever issues need to be addressed that will be permitted to be placed on the table, get the women, get them on board a plane and home, leaving the Koreans with dignity and having saved face.

No bombs!  No threats! No army build up!  Just what actions have to be done so that in the end our citizens are back safe and unharmed on American soil and everyone has saved face so that this crisis could end.

Because in this instance, that was all that really matters!

This is a lesson that anyone living anywhere in America, including New Jersey, could take a lesson from.

Andrews Talks Foreign Policy, Again

I’ve been pretty busy lately with writing and editing my thesis (anyone who wants to know more about the wild world of fish hydrodynamics and/or has chronic insomnia, drop me a line). Finally, it’s almost done. But because of that I’ve fallen behind a bit on writing about some topics that I’ve really wanted to talk about. Topping that list is the Senate primary. I was hoping the campaign would be more about issues, but that was probably never realistic in a short race like this. Still, I don’t think that means we should focus on the negative campaigning. We can still talk about issues, and I was hoping to do more of that.

For me the major distinguishing issue between Lautenberg and Andrews was their support for the Iraq War. I know they both supported it at the start, but Andrews’ unique position as one of the few charged with rounding up Democratic support and bipartisan cover for the war is particularly bothersome. He was the last of the state’s Democratic delegation to turn against the war and call for a withdrawal. Almost exactly one year ago, I noticed what seemed to be a substantive change in Andrews’ foreign policy stance. He had introduced legislation to block any funds authorized for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from being used to plan an attack on Iran. It seemed to me that he had learned a lesson from the way we got into a war with Iraq. You can read about our discussion here, but one aspect of his position still surprised me:

In hindsight, despite knowing that Iraq did not possess chemical and biological weapons, Congressman Andrews still believes that Iraq was a threat to the United States. I tried to understand what he thought distinguished Iraq from the multitude of other countries with similar capabilities who we do not choose to take out by military force. The distinction seemed subtle to me, but Andrews explained that it included the combination of the ability to produce chemical and biological weapons with the fact that Saddam had been uncooperative for so long. The difference between Iran and Iraq, he said, is that we are only now in the early stages of diplomacy with Iran, whereas we were much further along with Iraq.

Fast forward almost a year, and now Andrews is a candidate to be one of the 100 people who get to decide issues of war and peace. A few weeks back, Andrews was kind enough to again discuss foreign policy position in detail. In particular, I wanted to understand under which conditions he thinks the use of pre-emptive military force is appropriate.

It seems his position has evolved significantly – even from just one year ago. There are several conditions that would need to be satisfied. First, he said that simply the capacity to manufacture weapons is not a reason to use force – there would need to be at least active conduct. He also said that there would need to be serious international support. That means there wouldn’t be military action absent UN Security Council approval and a broader expression of support from the international community. Presumably, this would mean we would not use force in a situation like we had with Iraq in 2002. He would employ an exhaustive diplomatic process to try to find a more effective solution to the problem. Finally, there would need be a very high burden of proof of an imminent threat. I think this all sounds reasonable. It’s difficult to identify any way that I disagree with his assessment, which surprised me a bit.

We talked about his stance in the context of Iran. He supports Iran’s nuclear energy program for domestic use and noted that low-enriched uranium (LEU) is not a threat to us. Since Iran has suspended their nuclear weapons program, the use of military force fails on that condition alone. He also pointed out that there is zero international support for military action and zero evidence that they can deliver weapons to the US. For each of these reasons, he opposes the use of military force against Iran.

I asked what if Iran were producing highly-enriched uranium (HEU) instead of LEU, and he said that still wouldn’t pose an imminent threat, though he would favor a gasoline embargo to try to address the issue. Asked for an example of what would constitute a threat? Synthesizing HEU and handing it off to a terrorist organization.

In the context of North Korea, he said that they have HEU but no intercontinental ballistic missiles to deliver a weapon to the US (though they may be able to produce them). Further, there is no international support for a pre-emptive military strike, and he says that diplomacy is working. On all counts, he would currently oppose the use of military force against North Korea, too.

So indulge me and let’s pretend for this thread at least that the campaign is actually about issues. What do you think about Andrews’ stance on the pre-emptive use of military force?

From Pyongyang to Hackensack

Meet Robert Egan – roughneck son of Fairfield, N.J.; owner of Cubby’s, a barbecue place in Hackensack; and, for something like 15 years, America’s unofficial liaison with North Korea.

This New Yorker profile will catch you up on how North Korea (and, before that, Vietnam) came to appreciate Egan’s diplomatic skills. Meanwhile, some choice excerpts on Egan and his worldview are in order.

So, Mr. Egan, how does Kim Jong Il compare with, say, George W. Bush as a world leader?

Put it this way, O.K.? I’d rather have George Bush mad at me than Kim Jong Il,” Egan said one day at Cubby’s, leaning confidentially over the table. “I have no problem with George Bush coming in the restaurant and yelling and screaming at me. I would sleep real good that night. I wouldn’t want to get His Excellency Kim Jong Il angry. I wouldn’t sleep well that night.

Huh!