CANBERRA – Perhaps it is going too far to say, as someone did after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill two years ago, that most Americans want a president who is cool, calm, and collected in a crisis – except when there is a crisis. But of all the charges thrown at President Barack Obama by his domestic political opponents, the hardest for most outsiders to accept is that he is too emotionally disengaged: all brain cells and no red-blood cells.
Certainly in defense and foreign policy, a cool and measured response to the extreme provocations that often come with that territory is what the world wants, and needs, from the leader of its reigning superpower. Nowhere is that need greater than in the cases of North Korea and Iran, owing to the destructive potential of the weapons that they have or may be developing.
With North Korea, the provocations continue to come thick and fast. Understandings are reached, only to be immediately broken, as with the North’s agreement in February, in return for US food aid, to accept International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, suspend uranium enrichment, and halt missile and weapons tests. Within little more than a month, a “satellite rocket” is launched, albeit spectacularly misfiring, and all bets are off.
With the North’s new leader Kim Jong-un feeling the heat of that technical humiliation, there is now every reason to be concerned that another nuclear-weapon test, or some other chest-beating military antic, is imminent. China seems unable or unwilling to moderate its neighbor’s behavior. Nerves in South Korea, and especially Japan, are raw.