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Michael Weiser: Pyongyang and Pushovers

                                                    (2004)                                 (2014)


Michael Weiser, Esq      We’ve seen this movie before. In October 2004, the satirical comedy-action movie Team America: World Police was released in theaters. The film, acted out through marionettes, pokes fun at Islamist terrorists and North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-Il, among others.  Nearly all of these characters meet very violent ends in the film, including Kim Jong-Il.  Yet at the time of its release, the movie was criticized for its prolific use of vulgar language and explicit depictions of sexual acts, not its slights against some of the most evil people on the planet. In fact, Kim Jong-Il, known for his love of foreign films, made no public pronouncement about his depiction in the movie.  The sole complaint by North Korea was a request directed at the Czech Republic to ban the film. According to the World Tribune, the Czech Foreign Ministry refused, saying that the North Koreans had been rebuffed in their effort to undermine the Czech Republic's post-Communist-era freedom.

So how did it come to pass that over the last week, a film starring Seth Rogan and James Franco called, The Interview, provoked such an aggressive response from North Korea?  How could a comedy, which depicts the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, draw a serious cyber-attack against Sony and terroristic threats of violence on the scale of 9/11 if the movie is screened at theaters? What has changed so dramatically since October 2004?

The movies haven’t changed. Both Team America and The Interview are comedies which take aim at the North Korean regime. As if to drive this point home, Team America was to be screened in selected theaters in place of The Interview, at the request of fans. But then, Paramount Pictures pulled Team America from theaters as well.

North Korea hasn’t changed. Yes, Kim Jung-Un has replaced his father as the “Dear Leader,” but North Korea remains the same belligerent actor it has always been. It still acts provocatively towards its neighbors—particularly Japan and South Korea—by conducting nuclear tests, cutting off disarmament talks, and test firing missiles. In addition, it continues to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload and reaching the United States.

 The one variable that has changed is America—under Barack Obama. By every metric, America is perceived as being weaker by its enemies and its allies. Just this week a Military Times Annual Survey found that only a scant fifteen percent of the U.S. Military support the president. This hardly comes as surprise given Obama’s string of recent, and not so recent blunders.

Consider the president’s dismal foreign policy record. His withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving it vulnerable to the Taliban. His precipitous withdrawal from Iraq and his failure to inhibit the rise of ISIS before it could consolidate its gains. Handing over Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi. Leading from behind in Libya, not to mention the Benghazi debacle. The ongoing appeasement of Iran while it pursues nuclear arms. The failure to stop Putin’s advance on Ukraine. Releasing hardened terrorists from Guantanamo Bay. Failure to follow through on the use of force in Syria once red lines have been drawn. Signing a deal with China with no tangible gain for U.S. interests and doing the same with Cuba.

Through this series of serious missteps, the United States is now viewed as a pushover. Although not all the facts are in regarding North Korea’s latest stunt, particularly with regard to which other nation may have assisted them in their hacking of Sony, it is clear that America’s enemies are emboldened and feel comfortable in challenging the U.S. in new and provocative ways. All the usual suspects who could have helped North Korea are also challenging America in their own fundamental ways: China is expanding its military-particularly its submarine and carrier fleets and also its advanced jet fighters. An increasingly nationalistic Russia under Putin has already gobbled up part of Ukraine and is considering its next moves. Iran continues making advances in its nuclear program while it leads the West down the primrose path to endless further talks and conferences.

 What then, is the lesson to be gleaned from this latest foreign policy challenge? Other than that private corporations and the United States need better defensive cyber capabilities. It is a clarion call to arms for a tougher, bolder national security and foreign policy. America must be viewed as a country to be feared and respected. This is particularly critical as it applies to the Iranian nuclear program.

North Korea is an intractable problem to deal with precisely because it already has nuclear weapons it can use as a deterrent and leverage. And North Korea, at least in the last several decades, has not gone so far as to provoke an all-out war, though many of their provocations have toed the line. The major goal for North Korea has been regime preservation and continuity.

 By contrast, Iran, which is ruled by a radical and fundamentalist Islamist ideology, is not solely driven to preserve its regime. It seeks regional hegemony, the destruction of Israel and by extension, the West. And it has no qualms about sacrificing millions of Iranians to reach those goals. For these reasons, Iran must not be allowed to become the next North Korea. To be a pushover nation in the face of Iranian demands portends dangers far more grave than even the trampling of the First Amendment or cyber hacking.


Michael Weiser is an attorney and national security analyst