President Obama was woken up shortly before 4 a.m. by his national security adviser, Tom Donilon, and told of the North Korean artillery barrage that has killed two South Korean soldiers and injured civilians.
Is the president prepared for what might come next? He already has a full-fledged war going in Afghanistan, a half-war in Iraq, a global war against terrorists, and now this. North Korea's motives are completely obscure, but there is no point in avoiding the obvious conclusion that one factor in Pyongyong's calculus in this act of aggression, and in the sinking of the Cheonan in March with the loss of 46 lives, is that South Korea's major ally, the United States, might well be perceived as militarily overextended, mired in economic crisis, and led by a weak president.
President Obama may indeed be weak, and one danger is that weak presidents sometimes feel the need to take strong actions, stronger than warranted. It is too early to make any predictions about what the North Koreans will do next, or how the White House will respond. But Hillary Clinton's famous campaign ad about the phone in the White House ringing at 3 a.m. because "something is happening in the world," has a certain resonance on a day like today. "Who do you want answering the phone?" was the last line of the advertisement. It remains a pertinent question.