While Barack Obama and his supporters party in the nation's capitol, in places far away from the celebration there are those who are putting the finishing touches on their plans to test him. As Joe Biden is on the record as saying:
"The next four years are going to determine what it looks like 25 years from now because we either get this right internationally or we're in trouble," he said, citing the Korean peninsula and Pakistan as potential hot-spots.
A long line is forming to test the rookie president-to-be as soon as he takes the oath. Many of the usual suspects have staked out their places in the queue, from such diverse locations as Moscow, Caracas, Kabul and elsewhere. But one of the first in line will be a man from Pyongyang.
The identity of the man (it's very unlikely to be a woman, given that the country is a patriarchy) from North Korea that Obama will have to deal with is not clear, as most reports out of the country Dear Leader has ruled with an iron fist are that he has suffered a serious illness, but it will likely be a member of the Kim family, a member of the North Korean National Defense Council or a high-ranking member of the Communist Party from the politburo. But the face and name doesn't matter as much much as what the man from Pyongyang will do. He will surely put the young American president to a stern test.
Much has been said of the carrot and stick policy the United States has pursued with North Korea. If the goal of that policy has been to deny the rogue nation nuclear weapons, then it has been a failure.
In Beijing after meeting with a North Korean delegation, the director of the Center for International Policy's Asia program, Selig Harrison, talked to reporters. Even though CIP is a decidedly left-leaning institution, there is some useful information to be gleaned from what the NorKors told him.
Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun assured Harrison that the North wants better relations with what is soon to be an Obama administration. Pak and his diplomats want energy assistance and help in reviving North Korea's disaster of an agriculture sector. But North Korea always says it wants improved relations with the U.S., and it's no state secret that its failed communist system cannot feed its people or provide even the most basic services such as electricity and home heating. Something else the North Koreans had to say is far more interesting:
Harrison said officials told him the North has "weaponized" 67.8 pounds of plutonium that it declared earlier as part of disarmament talks. He said when he asked what that meant, "the answer I got was, 'It means warheads."'
The officials gave no details, Harrison said. But he said that much plutonium would produce four to five weapons.
Republicans and Democrats will argue until judgement day over the relative success of the two-party talks favored by the Clinton administration and the six-party discussions preferred by the Bush White House. But neither approach has prevented the NorKors from acquiring those warheads or pursuing a program to develop launch vehicles to carry them. Both administrations gave North Korea the store, but neither wound up with anything to show for it. Now it's Barack Obama's turn. With so many Clintonistas on his foreign policy team, from Hillary herself on down, it doesn't look promising to the security-minded.
The truth is, Korth Korea is pretty good at the carrot and stick game itself. It has been waving a nuclear carrot in Uncle Sam's face for sixteen years, always leading the Americans to hope that if we only give them what they want, whether it is food, nuclear power plants or just the status that two-party direct negotiations would confer on the NorKors, they would be only too happy to give up their nuclear weapons. Somewhere along the line, Ronald Reagan's wise warning to trust but verify went under the bus.
the problem goes far beyond those four or five warheads. North Korea has long been known to be a key supplier of missile technology to Iran, and there's nothing that is preventing the NorKors for sharing what they have learned in building their small stockpile of nuclear warheads with the mullahs also. And there is nothing preventing the mullahs from passing along that knowledge to any Islamofascist group they deem worthy of their benevolence.
Meanwhile, the North continues to face southward and rattle its sabres. Just hours ago, AFP reported:
North Korea said Saturday it may keep its nuclear weapons and threatened confrontation with South Korea, staking out a tough position three days before US President-elect Barack Obama takes office.
Pyongyang's foreign ministry said it would retain its atomic weaponry as long as it feels under nuclear threat from Washington.
Hours later, its military called for an "all-out confrontational posture" against South Korea, prompting Seoul to order its armed forces on alert along the land and sea border.
"Even if the DPRK (North Korea)-US diplomatic relations become normalised, our status as a nuclear-armed state will never change as long as the US nuclear threat to us remains, even to the slightest degree," the foreign ministry said.
A ministry spokesman, quoted by official media, said it was a "miscalculation" for the US to consider normalised ties -- as envisaged under a 2007 disarmament pact -- a reward for the communist state abandoning nuclear weapons.
"What we earnestly desire is not the normalisation of DPRK-US ties but the strengthening of nuclear deterrence in every possible way," the spokesman added.
Hillary Clinton had said just last Tuesday that the Obama administration would pursue a "very aggressive effort" against North Korea's alleged atomic weapons proliferation. The next U.S. Secretary of State voiced support for the six-party talks, but she also hinted that bilateral contacts were also a possibility.
But that's the problem. No matter how many people are sitting at the negotiating table, the NorKors have always done whatever they darn well pleased, and anyone who hopes for change from them is being woefully naive. Sometimes, when all else including the carrot and stick have failed, the sledgehammer may be the only tool for the job. But it comes at a very high price. If need be, will the Obama administration be willing to pay it? This is just one of the questions the North Koreans will try to answer when they put our nation's 44th president to the test.