Week In News: North Korea's Tough Posturing

Mar 16, 2013
Originally published on March 17, 2013 10:32 am
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James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays. Hey there, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Jacki.

LYDEN: You know, it's been really interesting following your blog this week about the Iraq War anniversary. You wrote about it so much in the run-up to the war's well and, you know, Jim, about your own personal regrets leading up to the war.

FALLOWS: Yes. I was - I've been saying on The Atlantic site that 10 years after the invasion of Iraq - the anniversary comes this next week - it's worth all of us thinking back about what we got right and wrong in the assessment. And I feel unfortunately that I was right in one thing. I did a long article for The Atlantic in the summer of 2002 called "The Fifty-First State," about all the things that would go wrong once the United States invaded Iraq, as seemed inevitable at that point, and one militarily as also seemed fated.

And so I think that analysis was correct and was sort of obvious to anybody looking at the time. The thing that I personally wish I had pushed harder is saying this is something we just should not do. I had internalized the sense that it was going to happen. I wish I had tried harder to say we just can't go down this road. It's going to be a path of tears for us and for that part of the world.

LYDEN: Well, thank you, Jim, for that sad summation of regrets, I think, many people share.

Let's turn to another foreign situation. Maybe it's not even a situation just yet. This week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the Pentagon will spend a billion dollars to strengthen the U.S. missile defense system along the Pacific Coast. And this comes just after, as you well know, North Korea threatened the United States with a nuclear strike. Now, can we seriously expect to get nuked, Jim, by the North Koreans - it sounds like a film - or that our missiles will shoot theirs down?

FALLOWS: Yes. This literally incredible rhetoric about a sea of fire engulfing the United States has been coming out of Pyongyang in the last couple of days. I think this is both surreal and predictable in the following sense. But for the last generation plus, really the only way North Korea under its various Kim family leaders has gotten any international attention at all has been through gestures like this and rhetoric like this. And I think we see symbolism on both sides. I think in practical terms, almost nobody thinks that North Koreans could devise a nuclear warhead that could be on a missile, which they haven't done - that would take a long time - or have missiles that could hit the United States.

And the United States doesn't really think this, but its gesture of saying it's going to increase the missile defense system is also a symbolic response to the Japanese, to the South Koreans, to the Chinese, to the Russians, saying, look, we're not going to take this lying down. We also are going to be pushing back. So I think this is just one more stage in the agonizing Kabuki - a Japanese term - but for North Korea, that's been going on with that impoverished country.

LYDEN: Jim, you're such a traveler and such a China expert, I sometimes think the national correspondent for The Atlantic, let's talk about something here at home.

Republican Senator Rob Portman expressed his support this week for same-sex marriage after it was revealed - or he revealed - that his son was gay and some real reversal of his previously stated position. What's your takeaway?

FALLOWS: It is. And I think two things are interesting about this. One is of all the issues I've been aware of in my lifetime, and I know of in American history, there has never been one where prevailing opinion has changed as fast as it has on same-sex marriage. Ten years ago, this was not a mainstream view at all. There were no states where this was going ahead. Five years ago, then-candidate Obama was not willing to say that he was in favor of same-sex marriage. And now, the president has changed his view. Numerous states have done so. And age-related polls suggest that 10 years from now, this will be an entirely moot issue. So just the speed of the transition is impressive.

The other is the rationale for Senator Portman's change of view, as with Vice President Chaney, who has a lesbian daughter, he said it was because of a member of his own family. And it's interesting to think about the radius of empathy that people have. For many people, it's their own family members who initiated change. This is the way that social change happens. And I guess this is the most immediate instance when it's your own blood.

LYDEN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic, and you can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. It's always a pleasure.

FALLOWS: My pleasure, Jacki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.