EDITORIAL: Loose talk, jangled nerves

Cooling the war of words is just right

Tough talk has its place among the affairs of serious nations, but menacing bluster does not. North Korea has raised bellicosity to a new level with its boasts that it might lob nuclear missiles at American cities. “Leading from behind” is better than “leading with a mouth,” a lesson Kim Jong-un could take to heart.

Mr. Kim, though a neophyte in the world of statecraft, knows exactly how a little country can grab big headlines: tweak Uncle Sam. The 20-something autocrat has passed the 16 months since his elevation to “the Great Successor” disturbing the peace of “the land of the morning calm” to his south and threatening the United States. He tested a missile in December capable of reaching the U.S. homeland, and in February, conducted a nuclear test.

The American response was the right one, taking the threat seriously, which is only prudent and responsible. The Obama administration dispatched stealth bombers and fighters and missile-defense ships and advanced radars in a show of force meant to reassure South Korea. Mr. Kim raised the ante and said his nuclear missiles would be targeted for specific U.S. cities, including Washington, Los Angeles, Honolulu and … Austin, Texas. (He doesn’t like Willie Nelson’s music?) U.S. and South Korean officials now say Pyongyang might test a missile on Wednesday as a prelude to the birthday of founding father Kim Il-sung on April 15.

John F. Kerry got a lot on his first plate as secretary of state. At a recent joint news conference with South Korea’s visiting president, he launched a reassuring barrage: “The United States will defend our allies, and we will not be subject to irrational or reckless provocation.” As the week ended, the Obama administration was trying to cool the words.

The contrast is stark between Mr. Obama’s reticence toward Iran’s nuclear provocations and U.S. response to North Korea’s belligerence. The difference between these allies in the axis of evil is stark, too. North Korea has the nuclear option; Iran does not. When even Fidel Castro tells everyone to calm down, it’s a sign that the rest of the world is taking notice. The man at the center of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis wrote in a Communist Party newspaper on Friday that neither Mr. Kim nor Mr. Obama has anything to gain from the outbreak of nuclear war. That’s an understatement, but a statement underlined by the American deployment of resources to Northeast Asia, just in case.Given North Korea’s long history of rhetorical bullying, the young dictator’s behavior, while unacceptable, is hardly surprising. The United States doesn’t want to get in a shouting match more appropriate in a grade-school playground than among sovereign nations. When Mr. Kerry arrives in Seoul on Friday to confer with his counterparts, he can accomplish more for the cause of peace on the peninsula by continuing the measured resolve in standing with nervous South Korean allies.

The Washington Times

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