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You've Got Options, Mr. President

1:49 PM, Nov 24, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
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Both U.S. military and civilian leaders seem a bit nonplussed about the North Korean attack on a South Korean fishing village. With the American Armed Forces tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan, the White House is reluctant to up the ante in the highly militarized Korean peninsula.  So the American response has been rather tepid. The administration accelerates the schedule on pre-planned U.S.-South Korean naval exercises, essentially the same response to the sinking of the Republic of Korea's Cheonan that killed 46 sailors earlier this year.

You've Got Options, Mr. President

Yesterday, we saw how Kim Jong-Il regime interpreted our response to the Cheonan incident: toothless. 

Despite the fact that two South Korean marines lay dead and a village is still smoldering, we're pressing ahead with the precise course of action that did nothing to deter this hostility in the first place. A better solution to North Korean aggression is needed. 

In the Air Force, our warfighting doctrines dictate deterrence of hostile powers by holding their mechanisms of power at risk. The idea is that dictators like Kim Jong-Il value their authority above all else, so constantly reminding them that we can sever their lines of communications, crater their palaces, and swiftly decimate their security forces is an effective way of encouraging good behavior. 

Kim Jong Il cracked this nut a long time ago. We have our technological superiority, but he has 10,000 artillery tubes within range of Seoul. Targeting his vehicles of power is a gnarly issue. We can hit him, but he can hit our South Korean friends back. It's the Gordian Knot of our far east policy, one that doesn't seem like it will be unraveled anytime soon.

So what can the president do absent diplomacy-by-aircraft-carrier, all out war, or sitting quietly on the sidelines?

Plenty.

The North Korean regime is shaky and concerned about the upcoming transition of power. President Obama should attack those fears directly. America must foster the idea that we can hurt Kim Jong-Il at will, both internally and externally. Messaging into a regime that goes completely dark at night due to lack of power is difficult, but it's not impossible. We have psychological warfare tools at our disposal. They should be used aggressively. Jam his communications, interfere with radio broadcasts, seize cargo shipments -- do anything and everything available to make life for the Hermit Kingdom's power brokers miserable. 

Most importantly, remind Kim Jong Il that we have the means to bypass his massive military infrastructure. A flight of stealthy F-22s, likely to breeze past the antiquated North Korean air defense network, would send a very strong message flying over Pyongyang at noon. The jets wouldn't have to drop anything, just serve as a gentle, non-kinetic reminder that next time we buzz Jong-Il's house, we might be packing iron. Sometimes a scalpel can send just as strong of a message as a broad sword. 

Bottom line: there's been a bipartisan failure on the North Korea issue that dates back to the Bush administration. After a long string of half-measures and lukewarm responses to North Korean acts of war, there's a case to be made that we've invited this pain on ourselves. This is an excellent opportunity for President Obama to live up to the muscular rhetoric espoused during his recent Asia trip, and reassure nervous southeast Asian allies that the United States, not a North Korean-Chinese alliance, is still the powerbroker in the region.

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