EL PASO, Texas -- Nobody wants bad news during the holidays. But here, along the U.S.-Mexico border, and along the 38th parallel on the Korean Peninsula, there is very little good news this Thanksgiving. Fresh bloodshed along both "borders" (the boundary between North Korea and South Korea is a "military demarcation line" with a 2-kilometer demilitarized zone on each side of the line) reflects the ineptness of the Obama administration's national security "team" and poses significant risks to American citizens.
This week, North Korea's proud display of a previously secret cascade of uranium enrichment centrifuges and a deadly artillery barrage into South Korea swept bad news from our own southern neighbor off the front pages. Unfortunately, the drug cartels battling one another and the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderon along our southern frontier may prove to be as great a peril to the U.S. as the erratic regime in Pyongyang. Worse, the O-Team's response to each threat has proved to be equally feeble.
President Barack Obama, already infamous for kowtowing to foreign leaders and apologizing for the U.S. on every overseas visit, now has proved himself to be particularly inept at formulating a consistent national security policy. His naive offers to extend an "outstretched hand" to repressive, downright brutal regimes in Tehran, Damascus, Havana, Caracas and Pyongyang all have been rebuffed. Neither his romantic "reboot" overtures to Moscow nor his embrace of Beijing has produced promised results. The administration's decision to bully Israel while pandering to the Palestinian Authority has emboldened Hamas and Hezbollah. This summer, the O-Team held up more than $26 million in U.S. law enforcement assistance for Mexico's fight against narco-cartels that have killed more than 29,000 people. Yet when Arizona sought to protect its own citizens from drug-induced violence originating south of our border, the Obama administration sued the state in federal court.
Given this abysmal track record, it should be no surprise that neither President Calderon in Mexico City nor President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul appears to be counting on Washington's help in dealing with internal and external threats.
This week's artillery barrage on the Republic of Korea's Yeonpyeong Island, which killed two ROK marines and destroyed more than 60 buildings, was the fourth unprovoked North Korean military attack since Obama's inauguration.
In November 2009, Pyongyang initiated a naval engagement against ROK patrol vessels in South Korean waters. Washington counseled caution.
In January this year, the North Koreans fired heavy artillery into South Korea. After firing a single return volley in self-defense, Seoul ceased its counter-battery fire because Washington urged "de-escalation."
Then, on March 26, the ROK navy patrol boat Cheonan was blown up in South Korean waters, killing 46 sailors. The Obama administration insisted Seoul delay any response until the incident was validated by an "independent international inquiry." Two months later, the investigators concluded that the vessel had been sunk by a North Korean torpedo. The O-Team once again pressed Seoul to defer a military response because it might jeopardize "negotiations for an agreement on North Korean nuclear weapons."
None of this has worked. According to military sources, Washington ordered an immediate stand-down for the 38,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, who had been on alert since the most recent aggression by North Korea, and then urged the matter be referred to the U.N. Security Council to determine "an appropriate response," because the regime in Pyongyang is "in transition." That may prove to be untenable to the democratically elected government in Seoul.
The Obama administration's ambivalent, uncertain response to bloodshed in Asia and in this hemisphere raises doubts among America's democratic allies and emboldens our adversaries. Calderon and Lee may be half a world away from each other, but their democratic governments deserve better than they are getting from Washington. And while they wait, brutal men like Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, head of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran watch and wonder whether Jimmy Carter is back in Washington.