Happy New Year (With Updates)

Yes, the recent past is littered with unrealized predictions of upheaval in North Korea, but if it’s possible to know anything about the North Korean Street, then things are clearly changing faster now than they have in the past. Reading updates from the Daily NK and Open News sounds more like the first chapters of “A Tale of Two Cities” every week. In 2009, the North Korean people pushed their country into the margins of Phase V. This year, 2010, could be the year North Korea enters Phase V in earnest. I’m not saying this is the year — the timing of even likely events is impossible to predict — but I am saying that this year is much more likely to be a year of unrest than any of the years leading up to this one.

If there is unrest, I predict that it will, initially, fail to overthrow the regime. It takes a disciplined, cohesive, armed opposition to overthrow a determined dictatorship, but hatred of the regime itself is enough to galvanize opposition. There is much that we can do to help North Koreans cohere around a set of principles, and that’s something I’ll be writing more about later.

Some updates:

WHOOP DE DOO. NORTH KOREA HAS RELEASED ITS MUCH-ANTICIPATED and analytically worthless New Year’s speech. Every year, they promise to improve the lives of the people; every year, foreigners read this as a harbinger of reform; and every year, things in North Korea only get worse. But nevertheless, let the over-analysis begin! It’s hard to say which is the single worst example among so much weedy, perennial regrowth, but this one probably wins the honor, at least until we see the Hankyoreh’s entry.

WHICH IS, I SUPPOSED, MUCH LIKE NORTH KOREA’S CALL FOR PEACE with the United States. People will naturally see what they choose to see in this, no matter how much past experience contradicts it. Reuters, on the other hand, has seen it all before, and even talks to someone insightful:

“North has absolutely no interest in normalizing relations with the United States. As soon as the North does that, it loses all reason to exist,” said B.R. Myers, an expert on the North’s ideology at Dongseo University. “As soon as people think it is possible to get along with America, they will ask themselves why they need a ‘military first’ policy,” Myers said in a recent interview.

This year, “peace” on North Korea’s terms means recognition as a nuclear state, the dropping of U.N. sanctions, a license to proliferate and counterfeit at will, and non-interference of any foreign power as it commits mass murder against its own people. This is the peace of the (mass) grave, although I’m sure those terms are acceptable to plenty of people in our State Department. Of course, it’s anyone’s guess what “peace” will mean next year.

LEE MYUNG BAK’S MESSAGE IS NO LESS CRYPTIC or manipulative, if we’re to be objective about this. The art of politics — and no one has mastered this more than Barack Obama — is to promise them just enough so that their hopes can fill in the rest of what you didn’t say. Yonhap’s picture of Lee delivering it is one for the ages:

20091231103846_bodyfile.jpg

While the hot young thing on his left — I presume she isn’t the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but who’s complaining? — hangs on his every word, the fellow on the right appears to have entered a trance-like state. No doubt, this is an intense form of concentration.

THE DAILY NK’S CHRIS GREEN, who has become a great asset to its English language edition and everyone who reads it, has the best commentary on the Robert Park situation I’ve read anywhere so far. I’m not even going to quote it. Just read the whole thing yourself. I will say that what Park says about the beef protests explains why I’m ready to write off South Korea as a total loss until unification, when I expect North Korean voters will restore some perspective for a while.

CAPTAIN JON STAFFORD, author of this much-discussed paper on finding America’s role in a post-Kim North Korea, offers another contribution — this time, in the Australian Defense Force Journal. Stafford’s ideas manage to be both subversive and achingly sensible. I wish they had more currency in our government. I also found the article on pashtunwali interesting.

MORE NORTH KOREAN REFUGEES THAN EVER are arriving in Thailand: “Thai immigration authorities say they took more than 1,000 North Koreans into custody this year, compared with less than 400 in 2008 when Beijing tightened security for the Olympics.”

SO FAR, I’M NOT READING REPORTS OF CHAOS IN IRAN, but I’m glad to see that the Iranian opposition doesn’t seem to be backing down from the death threats of the regime’s thug squads.

JULES CRITTENDEN has written a wonderful, bitter, must-read diary of his last decade.

10 Comments

  1. “The art of politics . . . is to promise them just enough so that their hopes can fill in the rest of what you didn’t say.”

    Excellent! Is this your own insight? Or are you paraphrasing someone? Anyway, happy new year.

    Jeffery Hodges

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  2. The art of politics — and no one has mastered this more than Barack Obama —

    How is it that such an erstwhile intelligent and witty analyst always manages to weave in adulation of America’s least-qualified-in-history POTUS? If Obama was so politically savvy, why did his job approval rate drop from the 70s to the 40s in less than 12 months? If he is so politically astute, why is his mammoth government take over of the world’s most advanced health care system opposed by 61% of Americans? If he is so politically smart, why have zero republicans voted for this socialist ponzi scheme? And finally, if he is so politically above it all, why has the Tea Party Movement propelled the sleeping Right to storm the town halls and send books by Mark Levin, Dick Morris and Sarah Palin to the top of the best seller lists?

    Obama is governing against the will of the American people. We will see the results of that in November 2010 with the bloodletting of democrats saddled with Obama’s big government tax-spend-borrow-and apologize for American Exceptionalism overseas record.

    Joshua, you are the best analyst out there when it comes to peninsular politics. But you keep laying eggs about Obama in trying to portray him as a competent leader with a traditional American policy vision. He’s a radical, and he is introducing policies that portend to what we say we hate about the DPRK.




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  3. Kaplan’s article is excellent, as is Bob Collins’ analysis. We are most certainly in Phase V now and the Robert Park situation could help to galvanize the coalition between the underground church and the anti-Juche forces. SEE: collapse of Ceaucescu’s Romania.




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  4. The woman on the right is said to be a female fighter pilot.
    The man on the left is the current prime minister.
    Obviously, the PM has been exhausted from putting out the political fire in Chungchong Province, where local interests are up in arms over government reneging on the promise of relocating part of government institutions.




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  5. Mr. Stanton,

    Would you please re-post the file: “StaffordEngJanFeb08.pdf?” Your link seems to have become corrupted. I was able to download “180 2009 Nov_Dec.pdf” fine. I found Captain Stafford’s paper for the Aussies informative and well-reasoned and I would like to know more about his thoughts on a post-DPRK world. Thank you.

    [OFK: Ask and ye shall receive.]




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  6. You know, KCJ, a more nuanced reading of my comment on Obama wouldn’t necessarily view it as a compliment. I apologize if I’m not inflexibly partisan enough for your tastes, but that isn’t my style. He’s done some things wrong (Iran) and some things right (Afghanistan), but the things I tend to blog about here are things that he’s done, if not quite well, at least much better than I’d expected.




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  7. Just ordered “Nothing to Envy” for my Dad’s birthday. He’s been throwing a few too many “capitalism is to blame” comments around for my liking these days. He needs an upheaval, like the one I underwent when I read “Aquariums of Pyeongyang.”

    But as I ordered the book I found that B.R. Myers has a book coming out later this month. I had no idea. Very exciting news. Finally a book from who I consider to be the world’s leading NK expert. Here’s a review by Andrei Lankov.




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  8. Actually, “the man with the greatest insights into North Korean culture” might be a better description, on second thought. It’s just that the view is so often misrepresented it puts him into the “leading experts” conversation.




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