Two of the peace-loving republics formerly known as the Axis of Evil threw a frightful scare into anyone paying attention Monday, with North Korea exploding a nuclear bomb as powerful as the one that destroyed Hiroshima and Iran telling Barack Obama to get lost (and take his teleprompter with him).
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he wouldn't accept an invitation to freeze work on his own nuclear weapon and he's not interested in talking to Mr. Obama or anyone else about it. But not to worry. The United Nations Security Council postponed its afternoon tea to hold an "emergency session" to consider options for dealing with developments in Korea. The world is considerably less worried about Iran, since Mr. Ahmadinejad appears to be mostly interested in only killing Jews.
Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general, is "deeply worried," and President Obama is "gravely concerned" about North Korean behavior. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the test not only "erroneous," but "misguided." China is "resolutely opposed" to such nuclear explosions, and the Japanese foreign minister said the test "cannot be tolerated," whatever that means, and suggested that the U.N. might consider using its penultimate weapon, a resolution of concern. Such a resolution could even "regret" and "lament." If that doesn't work, the U.N. could unleash its "doomsday weapon," a resolution going far beyond mere regret to "deploring" international naughtiness. Take that, you naughty guys.
Kim Jong-il, the beloved "dear leader" of Pyongyang, obviously thinks he has the number of Barack Obama, our very own dear leader, and the squishy leaders of the West. This is the second "nuclear device" (the preferred soft euphemism for "bomb") exploded by the North Koreans since they defied international "opinion" to detonate their first bomb in 2006.
The second explosion, set off underground early Monday morning, Korean time, follows by only two months the test-firing of a long-range ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear warhead. Russian defense officials estimated the explosive yield at almost 20 kilotons, or 20,000 tons of TNT, and 20 times more powerful than the first North Korean nuclear explosion. The explosion shook the ground 130 miles away. However measured, it was a lot of bang for Kim Jong-il's buck.
The temptation to deride the reaction from Western capitals, couched as it is in the prissy language of the diplomacy so beloved by Mr. Obama, is irresistible, not only for its pretentious prissiness, but because the evildoers have heard it all so many time before. The presidents and prime ministers of the West need at minimum new speechwriters to project their pretense of toughness, their affectation of strength. They invite mockery at home because they strike neither fear nor caution in the hearts of enemies they insist on regarding as just friends they haven't made yet.
The latest test is a reminder that North Korea "is going it alone as a nuclear power," the executive director of the Center for Korean-America Peace, a Pyongyang front, told the daily Guardian of London. "North Korea doesn't need any talks with America. America is tricky and undesirable. We are not going to worry about sanctions … we don't care about America and what they say."
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered his own mockery of naive intentions, and showed no signs of the unclenched fist that the dear leader in Washington sees in his future.
"The nuclear issue is a finished issue for us," Mr. Ahmadinejad told reporters Monday in Tehran. But he made an offer that Mr. Obama will find difficult to refuse, proposing to debate the president and his teleprompter at the U.N. "regarding the roots of world problems." But no talks about the Iranian bomb. "Our talks [with the major powers] will be only in the framework of cooperation for managing global issues, and nothing else."
Certain diplomats put down the truculence in Pyongyang and Tehran as mere scimitar-rattling, designed to strengthen dictators at home. Kim's grip on power was weakened by a stroke late last year, and he wants to install one of his three sons as his successor, the dear leader giving way to a precious leader, or maybe an adorable leader. But these ambitious scimitar-rattlers are armed, or soon will be, with nuclear weapons now. What if a teleprompter is not a match for a 20-kiloton intercontinental ballistic weapon?
President Obama departs soon for his second Grand Groveling, Apology and Repentance Tour, scheduling a courting ritual with the Muslims, including Mr. Ahmadinejad, in Cairo. We must pray that events so far this week have calmed his beating heart, if only a little.