Wisely, Bush ignored ex-Secretary of Defense William Perry and former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, who urged air or cruise missile strikes to destroy the Taepodong on its launch pad. Kim would have had to respond, perhaps with an artillery barrage on the DMZ. That could have ignited a second Korean War, the last thing America needs now.
If there is going to be a second Korean War, let Koreans fight it.
President Bush should also ignore the clamor for new sanctions. For it is the weak, the women, the sick, the elderly and the infants who invariably succumb to what Woodrow Wilson called "the silent, deadly remedy," not self-indulgent dictators like Saddam and Kim Jong-Il or their Praetorian Guard. The North Korean people have suffered enough under Kim and his father. We ought not add to that suffering.
What should America do about Kim's provocative missile test? Follow the example of Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who once told an agitated undersecretary: "Don't just do something. Stand there."
America should step back and let the lesson sink in on Asia that, though we are on the far side of the Pacific, we have been carrying the load for the defense of South Korea and containment of the North for 50 years. And we plan to lay the burden down. With the Cold War over, America has no vital interest on the Korean peninsula to justify sending another army to fight another war there. We ought to get our soldier-hostages off the DMZ and bring them back to Guam, if not all the way home to the United States.
Should North Korea attack the South or U.S. offshore bases in Asia, we can respond with air and naval power from offshore. While the North cannot strike our homeland, we can strike the North at will.
Kim and his nukes and missiles are primarily Asia's problem, not ours. And it is time Asians assumed responsibility for their own defense from a North Korea whose economy and population are small by any great power standard. If South Korea's president wishes to play detente with Kim Jong-Il, let Seoul assume the costs and bear the consequences if he proves to be a Neville Chamberlain.
In his farewell address, 55 years ago, Gen. MacArthur urged America to move her soldiers off the Asian mainland and set up our defense perimeter in the offshore islands. Sound advice then, sound advice now.