Yesterday's Taepodong-2 missile launch by North Korea presents Teleprompter-In-Chief, Barack Obama, with his first major foreign policy test. This would be the one his gaffe-prone Vice President, Joe Biden, predicted for him shortly after their election.
The United States and South Korea said the Taepodong-2 rocket failed to enter orbit. Analysts said the launch was effectively a test of a ballistic missile designed to carry a warhead as far as the U.S. state of Alaska.
Obama's response was not what you would call swift and sure, although it was about what you might expect from a man who leaned so heavily on the anti-war vote to win the Democratic nomination and then the presidency.
"With this provocative act, North Korea has ignored its international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint, and further isolated itself from the community of nations," U.S. President Barack Obama said.
China, the nearest North Korea has to a major ally, and Russia called on all sides for calm and restraint.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice and Japanese Ambassador Yukio Takasu both called for a clear and firm response and said they wanted to see a fresh resolution. But Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui said any reaction must be "cautious and proportionate."
In other words, we'll leave it to the U.N. Conventional media wisdom becomes a certainty. The missile launch strengthens North Korea's hand.
Sunday's launch wins North Korea the attention it has sought as Obama's new administration deals with the financial crisis and two wars, and it could bolster Kim's hand in using military threats to win concessions from global powers.
"North Korea is likely to judge that its negotiating position has been strengthened now that it has both the nuclear and missile cards," said Shunji Hiraiwa of Shizuoka Prefectural University in Japan.
America under the Democrats will undoubtedly negotiate, even though North Korea's actions are very much like blackmail. There's a difference, though. Blackmail is generally considered unlawful. However, the predictably empty words from the Obama administration's will confer legitimacy, and more importantly they will heighten America's peril by giving North Korea more time in which to develop its nuclear capabilities.
Hope and change? Exactly the kind of change I was hoping we could avoid.
Update: The Wall Street Journal concurs.
The technology may have failed to put a satellite into space, but North Korea's launch has succeeded in getting the world's attention. Most of the civilized world spent yesterday denouncing dictator Kim Jong Il's latest provocation, which violated a United Nations Security Council resolution barring the North from testing ballistic missile technology. However, if the international response keeps with past practice, the condemnations will soon give way to concessions. No wonder Kim keeps launching missiles.
The launch was a success, too, as a global advertisement to those in the market for vehicles to deliver weapons of mass destruction. That includes the North's No. 1 customer, Iran, which in February launched a small satellite thanks in part to North Korean missile technology. Iranian observers were reportedly on hand over the weekend at the launch site.
Sunday's fizzle doesn't mean the North didn't learn anything useful for the future of its long-range ballistic missile program. As learning tools, failures can be more instructive than successes, and the Taepodong-2 missile under development has the potential to reach the U.S. West Coast.
Former interim U.N Ambassador John Bolton sees this as a huge win for Iran as well as for North Korea.
What the Security Council will ultimately produce is of course uncertain -- but resolutions almost never get tougher as the drafting and negotiations proceed. Even worse than a weak resolution would be a "presidential statement," a toothless gesture of the Council's opinion. Either way, North Korea has again defied the Security Council, gotten away with its launch with the support of Russia and China, and now will likely confront only pleas by Mr. Obama and others to return to the six-party talks.
Those talks are exactly where North Korea wants to be. From them ever greater material and political benefits will flow to Pyongyang, in exchange for ever more hollow promises to dismantle its nuclear program.
So far, therefore, the missile launch is an unambiguous win for North Korea. (Although not orbiting a satellite, all three rocket stages apparently fired, achieving Pyongyang's longest missile flight yet.) But the negative repercussions will extend far beyond Northeast Asia.
Iran has carefully scrutinized the Obama administration's every action, and Tehran's only conclusion can be: It is past time to torque up the pressure on this new crowd in Washington. Not only is Iran's back now covered by its friends Russia, China and others on the U.N. Security Council, but it sees an American president so ready to bend his knee for public favor in Europe that the mullahs' wish list for U.S. concessions will grow by the minute.
But then, as if to confirm those worst fears, the Washington Post, in its capacity as unofficial public relations agency for Democrats, spent its front page real estate describing Obama's decisive focus on disarmament.
In Prague on Sunday, Obama condemned the North Korean launch as a "provocative" act and used the incident as a fresh reminder of the world's dangers. He promised a broad new government effort to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons and eventually rid the world of them.
Speaking in Hradskany Square, a hilltop plaza outside Prague Castle, just hours after the launch, Obama announced that he would immediately seek U.S. ratification of a ban on nuclear testing, convene a summit in Washington to stop the spread of nuclear material within four years and advocate for a nuclear fuel bank to allow peaceful development of nuclear power.
"Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something," he said after referencing the North Korean launch. "The world must stand together to stop the spread of these weapons."
Oh, please. Half the world is standing against the U.S. As Ed Morrissey points out, no amount of concessions from Obama is going to change that.
Unfortunately, the science won’t disappear. Nations that put enough effort into R&D will eventually figure out a design for nuclear weapons. Networks like the AQ Khan ring will sell the designs to dictators desperate enough to want them to cement their power. Lunatics, such at the Iranian mullahcracy, will pursue nuclear weapons to arrange their personal Armageddons. Quite literally, the only way to stamp out the danger of nuclear weapons is to depose every potential lunatic who might use them — which the nations of the West absolutely refuse to do...