Has our country reached the point when we, like so many great nations before us, are no longer the leading state of our time?
The evidence of our decline is everywhere, but nowhere is it more apparent than in the way we are being treated by other countries. Some of our allies, including Canada, Holland and Spain, have left or are leaving us in the lurch in Afghanistan, withdrawing their troops. Many states, including our allies, have sought to embarrass us diplomatically. The trip that President Obama took recently to the Pacific Rim was an example of that. He was rebuffed by countries large and small. Most media observers called his journey a fiasco of sorts.
There was a time when the U.S. military said it was capable of fighting 2 ½ wars at the same time. Today, as a result of being bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, we probably are unable to fight a third war, and our enemies know it.
Last Spring, North Korea sank a South Korean navy ship, killing 46 South Korean sailors. The U.S. is an ally of South Korea with 28,000 U.S. troops in that country. We’ve always been told that those troops are there as a tripwire, so that North Korea would know if it attacked South Korea, it would be attacking the U.S. in the same way that an attack on one NATO country would be seen as an attack upon all NATO members. In the case of North Korea, it has paid no price for its sinking of the South Korean ship and, just as bad, no price for its recent unprovoked artillery bombardment of a South Korean island which resulted in the deaths of two South Korean soldiers and two civilians and injuries to 15 others.
Today comes the revelation from the American secret documents disclosed by WikiLeaks that North Korea has been supplying long-range missiles to Iran. According to The New York Times of November 29th the documents “reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles.”
Other than decrying the most recent attack on South Korea and sending the George Washington aircraft carrier to participate in a joint military exercise in South Korean waters, so far as I know, we have done nothing to retaliate. Undoubtedly, South Korea is reluctant to retaliate or escalate, fearing to expose millions of its citizens to further military action, including a possible nuclear attack by North Korea, which has the fourth largest army in the world. North Korean citizens may be dying of starvation, but their army is well provided for.
Do we have the means or resolve to launch a punishing attack against North Korea, which is perceived as crazy enough to launch a nuclear attack against South Korea or Japan, expecting China to continue to protect it at the U.N. and provide it with military support?
Aside from our not having the resources to take on another war with North Korea, especially if the latter is supported by China – remember General MacArthur’s error in 1951 in approaching the Yalu River and having the Chinese army enter the fray and drive us back to the 38th parallel – most troubling is we don’t have the resolve. America is simply not prepared or willing to go to war again, after our terrible experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are not willing to accept the hardships a war requires, including the need to pay for that war with additional current taxes. Nor are we willing to reimpose the draft requiring everyone to do their part.
We simply are not prepared to protect our national honor and national security as we once were when we went to war with Nazi Germany. Indeed, the situation today is looking more and more like Munich of 1938 when the world caved to the Nazi threats, as we today cave to the threats of countries like North Korea and Iran. We have even succumbed to the threats of Somali pirates who, according to The New York Times of November 9th, are holding for ransom 25 ships and 500 people.
We should tell North Korea and Iran to turn over by a stated deadline their nuclear weapons to China or Russia, countries where we believe the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) still applies, or suffer military consequences. We should warn them that any act of war they engage in worldwide will result in an immediate military response on our part of a devastating nature.
What our current situation requires is the resolve of President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 when he made clear to the U.S.S.R. that the U.S. would immediately respond to the Soviets’ placing nuclear missiles in Cuba deeming it an act of war. Is President Obama up to it? This is his 3 a.m. telephone call. I pray he is.
The Honorable Edward Irving Koch served New York City as its 105th Mayor from 1978 to 1989. His e-mail address is: email@example.com