Kim Jong-Un

December 23, 2011 by staff 

Kim Jong-UnKim Jong-Un, Orwellian. Contrived. Staged. Forced. Disingenuous. Take your pick. Those words only begin to describe the response of his countrymen to the death of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.

Kim died of a heart attack while on his private train a few days ago, at least according to reports from the country’s official news agency. Like much about the secretive leader, that version of his death remains in some question.

Word of Kim’s passing, delayed for two days, was met immediately with scenes of North Korean men and women weeping and wailing uncontrollably – and utterly unconvincingly – on the streets of Pyongyang, the country’s capital. Within hours, tens of thousands had gathered in a snow storm to profess their grief.

Reactions voiced by the leadership of this people’s paradise were clumsy parodies of language that could have been drafted by the man who so masterfully satirized propaganda, George Orwell.

The passing of the “Dear Leader” brought immediate and flowery pledges of allegiance to his son, Kim Jong Un, now referred to formally as “outstanding leader” and hailed, like his father, as another “gift from heaven.” The youngest of three sons, he is presumed to be in his late 20s and is as big a mystery as his late father.

Chronicle cartoonist Nick Anderson depicted the dilemma posed by the younger Kim’s ascension to power by showing a toddler rushing headlong into a room full of nuclear weapons labeled as toys. We cannot improve on Anderson’s depiction of this dangerous situation.

The mysterious twenty-something is in charge of a nuclear arsenal, and a country actively engaged in commerce with other nuclear outlaws, such as Iran. It was no accident that one of the first acts of the successor government was to fire off a missile.

North Korea’s aggressive posturing presents a problem for the rest of the world, one that is only compounded by the nation’s almost total isolation. To its credit, neighboring South Korea, an economic dynamo with an economy roughly 30 times the size of its neighbor’s, is not missing the opportunity brought by Kim Jong Il’s death to woo its captive cousins, long mesmerized by tyranny.

North Korea’s clear vulnerability is its inability to feed itself and continual reliance on food aid. The elder Kim’s unexpected passing has interrupted negotiation between the United States and the Pyongyang leadership.

When President George W. Bush first unveiled his “Axis of Evil” in the 2002 State of the Union address and included North Korea along with Iran and Iraq, the inclusion of the North Korean regime puzzled some Americans.

Over the years, however, the nuclear linkage – especially with Iran – has been proven and is demonstrably dangerous. And the list of potential clients is growing. It could soon include nations as far-flung as Syria and possibly Venezuela.

Kim Jong Il’s death has added elements of mystery and riddle to an already nettlesome foreign policy situation.

Just who is Kim Jong Un? Will he turn out to be a real power in the long term or merely a convenient puppet? Can China be persuaded to join more actively in bringing North Korea into the global mainstream?

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