President Obama had warned Kim Jong Il that should he launch a long-range ballistic missile the U.S. would "take appropriate steps to let North Korea know that it can't threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity."
Last weekend, Kim went ahead with the launch anyway. Obama took the matter to the United Nations where, as expected, nothing happened.
The lesson - not just for the Dear Leader but also for Tehran and other regimes that regard themselves as global revolutionaries - is clear: "Yes you can -- threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity," warnings from the engaging, new American president notwithstanding.
Who is going to stop you? At the U.N., China, Russia and the Organization of the Islamic Conference now rule the roost. The Europeans -- whose "leading role in the world," Obama lamented, Americans too often "fail to appreciate" - have been feckless in one crisis after another. Think of Bosnia, Kuwait, Rwanda, Darfur and, of course, Europe's endless tango with Iran's ruling mullahs. Has there been even one exception?
Obama is the third president in a row to have adopted the same policy toward North Korea. That policy boils down to talking, bribing and finger-wagging -- and being shocked and disappointed when Pyongyang continues to menace its neighbors and proliferate nuclear technology to rogue regimes.
Obama has added one twist: If America and Russia begin to reduce their nuclear stockpiles, he said while in Europe, that would "give us a greater moral authority to say to Iran, don't develop a nuclear weapon; to say to North Korea, don't proliferate nuclear weapons."
Can anyone really think the problem is to change the perception that Kim Jong Il and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have of America's "moral authority"? More to the point: Can anyone seriously believe they will be more cooperative - rather than more aggressive - if we respond to what Obama called a "provocative" act by starting to disarm?
A thought experiment: Suppose North Korea's Taepo Dong-2 missile had been launched - and then knocked out of the sky by an American, Japanese or South Korean missile defense system.
Kim would have been hopping mad. The Russians, Chinese, Iranians, Syrians and others would have said we had "no legal authority" to break Kim's rocket, and they might well have organized an expression of U.N. disapproval - which probably would have contained stronger language than any letter Kim is likely to find in his mail box.