No one was more surprised than President Joe Biden when South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol stood up during a recent state dinner and began singing “American Pie.”
Biden told Yoon Suk Yeol that he had “no damn idea” he could sing, and then presented him with a guitar signed by Don McLean, the writer of the song.
As surprising as that moment was in the South Korean leader’s State visit to the White House, it pales in comparison to what occurred in the Rose Garden during a bilateral press conference earlier that day.
Biden has conducted fewer press conferences than any president since Ronald Reagan, so the fact that he would have one in the Rose Garden with Yeol at all brought out approximately 100 reporters. While limited to two questions from the Korean press and two from the U.S. press, Yeol and Biden both stressed a renewed determination against North Korea.
In recent months, North Korea has taken several aggressive actions, including ballistic missile tests and, for the first time, testing a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile earlier this month seen as a possible breakthrough in the North’s efforts to acquire a more powerful, harder-to-detect weapon targeting the continental United States.
Prior to the press conference, a member of the National Security Council said on background that the administration was used to the “saber-rattling” by North Korea and was already prepared for it. During the press conference Biden and Yeol expanded upon that; announcing a new initiative that included sending a nuclear submarine near the coast of North Korea. Biden’s stance indicated that the U.S. considers North Korean moves much more than empty saber rattling and spelled out a very stark scenario to remind North Korean leader Kim Jong Un of the seriousness of his actions.
“Look, a nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies, or partisans, or partners is unacceptable and will result in the end of whatever regime were to take such an action,” Biden said.
As one NSC insider later explained to me on background, “You never know how crazy Kim Jong Un is.” Well, that’s reassuring.
The fact is what the South Korean state visit showed the world is that we live in perilous times. It is inherently violent with despots trying to end the influence of democracies across the globe. Biden has often said we are at “an inflection point” across the globe and that he has hope for a brighter future. At the same time, he acknowledges that when he tells world leaders that the “U.S. is back,” he has been greeted with a “For how long?” Reply that helped him to decide to seek a second term because of “unfinished business.”
Biden seems almost like a reluctant aspirant for a second term, but the South Korean visit shows that he has a resolve that others should take seriously. But that message is lost not only because Biden is horrible at messaging – or at least his staff is – but because others in the room keep sucking up the oxygen with endless distractions.
Speaking of Donald Trump, the former president is already facing one felony indictment in Manhattan, and may soon face another in Georgia. The district attorney in Fulton County has announced she will make results of her probe available this summer – leading to renewed speculation that Trump will face charges there. Meanwhile, former Vice President Mike Pence spent seven hours testifying recently in at least one federal probe into the activities of Donald Trump and the January 6 insurrection.
Those issues continue to make headlines while the threat of nuclear conflagration, closer than I’ve ever seen in my life, is almost ignored.
When was the last time an American president spoke so forcefully against a sovereign nation in essence threatening to rain down hellfire on them if they threatened our existence or that of our allies? Mutually assured destruction has been the guiding principle upon which our nuclear strategy has been built since the Cold War.
There was never a need to speak about it in any other terms. Biden’s words in the Rose Garden raise a great many questions about whether he believes a nuclear strike against North Korea can be contained to that country, or whether he still acknowledges the inherent danger in using nuclear weapons even against a minor foe like North Korea.
These are serious times that demand serious consideration.
Add into that mix the serious concerns many nations have with the U.S. currency – some of it due to the debt ceiling crisis and some due to the volatility of the United States in the last five years – and you must come to the conclusion that Biden is indeed correct – we are at an inflection point.
The time to deal with the crazed lunacy that is uniquely American is over.
Our survival demands our full attention.