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The rattling saber

Apr 3, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

North Korea's 20-something leader had better hope the U.S. doesn't take him at his word

Check the word "bellicose" in a thesaurus, and you'll find synonyms such as hostile, combative, threatening and antagonistic. Just about any of those would apply these days to North Korea and its new "dear leader," Kim Jong Un.

He is still in his 20s, having been thrust to the dictator's throne following the death of his father, the bizarre Kim Jong Il. The first of the post-Korean War strongmen, Kim Il Sun, was no prize, but he was tempered not only by first-hand memories of the war in his own country but also by World War II.

Now, two generations removed from those war realities, Kim Jong Un seems bent on demonstrating that he is a strong leader despite his youth and previous life of sheltered experience. Apparently he either believes or has been told that the best way to do this is to threaten nuclear war against the United States and its allies.

Re-read Randy Tucker's column from Sunday, March 31, about the never-ending need for a "bogeyman" in U.S. foreign policy. It's a good point -- and the new North Korean boss is playing the role to perfection.

In recent weeks Kim Jong has ordered a nuclear weapons test from his nation's small arsenal. He has upped the alert level of his troops. He has renounced the 60-year-old truce that halted the Korean War. He has cut emergency communication lines between North and South Korea. He has said his nation's nuclear rockets have been adjusted so that they now are aimed at U.S.military bases. He has ordered his nuclear weapons controllers to the condition of "standby," the highest possible short of actual deployment. And he has spoken harsh words accusing the United States of preparing to invade North Korea, and he has threatened to attack South Korea, Australia, U.S. bases in Japan, and the U.S. mainland.

Ask anyone who has been in a position of power as a young person and you'll usually hear that the strongest demonstrations of leadership and maturity are not threats, taunts and insults, but patience, discussion, negotiation and proportion.

Most of the time, however, that lesson is a retrospective one. Clearly, Kim Jong Un has not benefitted from such hindsight. As for foresight, perhaps his can be improved by watching the American B-2 bombers flying exercises just off North Korea's shores. What that foresight ought to tell him is this: The United States of America recognizes your need to gain traction with the home crowd, and we don't really think you're serious with all this bravado ... but if you really want trouble, you can have it.

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