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Sonia Sotomayor vs. Kim Jong Il

Kim Jong Il, I’m told, is a leader with a few deficiencies. Add this to the list: terrible news judgment.

The mercurial Stalinist who runs North Korea, after all, decided to test a nuclear weapon yesterday -- Memorial Day. If you didn’t hear, I don’t really blame you. Americans are far more likely to be charring chicken in the back yard than staring at CNN on their three-day weekends. Still, I suppose, he could have been counting on a wave of worry breaking today as Americans retired their BBQ brushes and began fretting about when nuke-tipped Taepodongs might threaten Hollywood.

But if Kim had given an American newspaper even a cursory look over the last week or so, he would have known that President Obama was set to announce his Supreme Court pick this week, too, and once that happened, his saber-rattling would get pushed below the metaphorical fold. True to expectation, this morning Obama announced he would nominate Sonia Sotomayer to the high court, and even after a couple of missile tests today, Kim’s provocations haven’t registered as they would have during any normal news week. Instead Sonia Sotomayor’s life story is taking up most of the bandwidth. And much of the rest is going to the California Supreme Court’s -- also long-anticipated -- ruling upholding Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage in the state. Clearly, Kim has no business running North Korea’s state-run press, let alone the rest of the country.

This isn’t a frivolous observation. Nuclear weapons are near useless if your adversaries don’t know about and actively fear the ones you’ve got.

If the American public isn’t paying attention to Pyonyang’s nuclear testing and Congress is obsessing over the politics of confirmation, the pressure on Obama to hastily deal with the regime -- and it is likely that Kim is after some quick concessions from this new American president -- is diminished. Which makes it much easier for Obama to take The Post’s advice and decline to treat North Korea’s latest test as the crisis Kim Jong Il wishes it would be.

By Stephen Stromberg  | May 26, 2009; 4:12 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Next: First Thoughts on Sotomayor


This is a great time to tighten the screws on North Korea. Enough of his blowing stuff up. China has to live with this dude in their backyard and one day will have to deal with their own complicity in this matter.

Posted by: ATLGuy | May 26, 2009 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Ignoring his retreat from the armistace does not good policy make. China will indeed have to step up to corral the lunatic in their back yard for they have the most to lose.

Posted by: the_node | May 27, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

I know I spent my Memorial day more interested in a new waffle maker than whatever some tall guy from the State department said about some nuke tests. But perhaps that's the point. A weapons test is about saber rattling to be sure, but I suspect that Kim Jong-Il is looking to scare some of the countries closer to him. He probably realizes that he's not in a position to take on the U.S., so if he can terrorize the rest of the world while we focus on chicken, he's all the more powerful.

Posted by: evenadog | May 27, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Ego, unfortunately American newspapers are only important to, well, other American newspaper reporters and editors. They seem to be the only people reading them these days. And every day they become less important as the number of newspapers is shrinking.

And here we see why. In their obsessive belief they are important, they think that Kim Johg Il could only want to communicate to and through themselves.

If newspapers were too busy with a new Supreme Court justice appointment, why would we want to follow their advice?

Unfortunately, like all good salesmen, Kim has a much larger market in mind, and he has clearly gotten his message of nukes for sale out to the people who count. Whether the American media with its short attention spans and small minds noticed or not.

Posted by: krush01 | May 28, 2009 7:43 AM | Report abuse

North Korea needs a sultry Tokyo Rose flak to threaten us via YouTube. These translated second-hand press releases just don't grab ya.

Posted by: SoCal | May 28, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse


The Six Party talks involve the Russia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea China, and the United States. Now Russia and China have been reluctant to "tighten the screws", as another poster already mentioned, on North Korea because China does not want a North Korea refugee exodus overwhelming its northeasternmost province. Russia has taken a similar tack, plus neither probably much like the idea of unified pro-US Korean peninsula.

South Korea has been tougher on the North since the new government took over and Japan is probably facing a change in government soon. Plus both of them are already mad as heck when the North conducted a missile test earlier this year.

Hence, the only one of the other parties that has been relatively quiet and ignoring Mr. Kim is the United States, who has been groping with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how to engage Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and its own internal problem. North Korea has barely registered in the US official radar screen, so yeah, although the nuclear and missile demonstrations were a calculated temper tantrum to get attention from the parties to the conversations, they probably were primarily intended to make get the US's attention.

Based on the delayed US action, (Secretary Clinton and US and South Korean troops reacted on May 27th, three days later and after unilaterally renouncing to the 1952 Armistice Agreement) due to the long weekend and the nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court, Mr. Stromberg is right that if North Korea's action were to get out attention, he failed to get the immediate response. Perhaps Kim Jong-il's intelligence services should have paid attention in that respect.

I wonder krush1 which newspaper anywhere in the world from the lowliest community paper to the Times of London, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, The Economist, or yes even those pesky American newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post would give the North Korea's nuclear tests the top of the news over a major government nomination or a scandal, like say, the MP expense row in a British newspaper or news cast? Of course in Japan, right across the North China Sea from North Korea the event was definitely an "above the fold" story as they sit next to Mr. Kim's nuclear arsenal.

So yes, despite your dislike of the United States, it seems that Mr. Kim wanted to get the US's, especially its public's, attention after months of being kept in the backburner. Now it seems that now that he has our, our South Korean, and our Japanese allies' undivided attention. Of course it has had the unitended consequence of probably driving a of Chinese and Russian diplomats and expert in the Korean Peninsula to drink at North Korea's recklessness, which has painted into a corner forcing them to agree to a tougher stance as advocated by Japan and the US in the Security Council, something they have been able to stave off for years.

Posted by: Kruhn1 | May 28, 2009 6:50 PM | Report abuse

I have more than a little problem with the idea that Memorial Day has anything to do with what North Korea is doing. Do we do anything on the date that is celebrated as independence day in North Korea? I doubt that we even know what day it is. Americans think that the 5th of May is Mexican independence day but it really is the anniversary of the battle of Puebla and isn't even a national holiday in Mexico. I find it the height of arrogance that we think anyone outside of the US gives a flying whatever about our holidays.

Posted by: chamberlain_s | May 29, 2009 4:05 AM | Report abuse

The Dr. Strangelove principle?

Posted by: dpascover | June 2, 2009 6:45 PM | Report abuse

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