KUHNER: Another Korean war?

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COMMENTARY:

North Korea threatens to engulf the Korean Peninsula in an all-out war. Pyongyang’s recent test of a nuclear bomb poses a serious threat to international security and regional stability.

Dictator Kim Jong-il continues to thumb his nose at global leaders, especially President Obama. The ailing strongman has denuded Mr. Obama on the world stage, revealing his soft-power strategy to be ineffective and reckless.

Washington’s emphasis on diplomacy was supposed to facilitate rogue states into increased cooperation. Instead, it has only emboldened the likes of North Korea (and Iran) to press ahead with their nuclear-weapons programs. Mr. Obama’s “open hand” has been met with Mr. Kim’s iron fist - one that has smashed Uncle Sam in the face.

The hermit Stalinist regime is not only unstable and repressive, but also dangerous. Pyongyang has formed an anti-American axis with Tehran and Damascus. It is involved in narcotics trafficking, counterfeiting and the smuggling of illicit weapons. Last year alone, North Korean state-run companies sold more than $1.5 billion in arms to unsavory autocracies such as Iran, Syria, Myanmar and Egypt.

North Korea is a brutal police state characterized by one-party rule and totalitarian social control. Political corruption is rampant. Leninist economic planning is fused with jingoistic militarism. The result has been a failed nation - a starving, miserable population; a landscape blotted with slave-labor camps; and a country in which electricity and running water are luxuries for the privileged few.

Pyongyang is also one of the leading nuclear proliferators. U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials say North Korea has supplied Iran’s mullahs with key missile components. During Mr. Kim’s first nuclear-bomb test in 2006, Iranian technicians were present as observers. In 2007, North Korean scientists built Syria’s clandestine nuclear reactor before it was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike. By successfully detonating a nuclear device, Mr. Kim has sent a powerful message: He is ready to sell weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as well as vital missile technology to jihadists and terrorist-sponsoring regimes.

Desperate to prop up the Obama administration, the liberal mainstream media have downplayed the North Korean menace. They present Mr. Kim as an erratic, spoiled child who seeks some international attention. Rather, the opposite is true: He is a sadistic and deadly serious tyrant whose test was an advertisement for his modernized arsenal of death. Call it North Korea 2.0.

This is why South Korea has called for a get-tough approach. It has cut off foreign aid to the North, demanded tougher United Nations sanctions and put its military on heightened alert. Moreover, Seoul is partnering with the United States to patrol the waters near North Korea. South Korean and American ships will seek to prevent North Korean weapons smuggling. But Pyongyang is warning that any attempts to board or intercept its vessels will trigger a military response. In fact, it has threatened to abandon the armistice signed with Seoul following the 1950-53 war - an act, however, it has repeatedly committed in the past. Whether this is more of the usual North Korean bluster remains to be seen. Yet the Russian Foreign Ministry has warned that the escalating situation may spark a nuclear conflict on the peninsula.

Mr. Obama and the so-called “realists” at the State Department are determined to have Pyongyang rejoin the six-party talks. Yet it is precisely the emphasis on multilateral diplomacy that has led to the present crisis. Mr. Kim, like his fellow strongman, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is determined to erect a nuclear state - no matter what the cost. Mr. Kim believes (rightly) that having a nuclear deterrent will inoculate his regime from a Western military attack, thereby ensuring its survival. For fanatical tin-pot dictators, talks are simply a cover to attain the bomb.

The dirty little secret is that the Obama administration knows this. It no longer really cares to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear program. If it did, it would have launched a surgical airstrike to knock out North Korea’s missile launch in April. Such a bold move would have told the Stalinist leadership - and its chief sponsor, Red China - that Washington was serious about curbing its WMD capabilities. It would have put Tehran’s Islamic fascists on notice. Instead, Mr. Obama pursues a reckless policy of appeasement.

The road to Pyongyang goes through Beijing. For years, the Chinese government has subsidized the reclusive North Korean state. China supplies about 90 percent of North Korea’s oil, 80 percent of its consumer goods and nearly half of its food. If Beijing wanted to rein in Pyongyang, it would reduce - or even end - its support. This would cause the teetering North Korean economy to implode and lead to the one thing China fears most: the reunification of the peninsula under the authority of Seoul. Hence, Beijing’s primary goal is to keep North Korea as a political vassal.

The North Korean crisis reveals the bankruptcy of both Mr. Obama’s foreign and fiscal policy. Obamanomics is predicated on massive government spending and borrowing. The results are crippling budget deficits and a soaring public debt. The only way to sustain this deficit-financed statism is to have foreign powers - such as China - purchase our debt. This means we are slowly losing our economic and national sovereignty; increasingly, we are no longer in control of our own destiny - both at home or abroad.

We have lost our freedom of action to pressure China to disarm one of the deadliest outlaw regimes on Earth. America will rue the day.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington think tank.

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