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'Rocket Man' continues firing smokescreens

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Views from the Boathouse

As we celebrate the holiest weekend of the year, the man described in a new book as an “unusually bold and courageous” leader who is “a gift from heaven” — North Korea’s “Rocket Man” — has returned to the news, rattling sabers along the way.

The book, “Kim Jong-un: A Great Man,” sticks closely to the propaganda used for years to keep the North Korean people loyal to their rulers.

It’s seen as an attempt to solidify Kim’s position in Pyongyang and portrays the North Korean leader as “master of everything that he sets his mind to” while praising his “insightful foreknowledge and scientific analytical capabilities.”

The book also says the dictator possesses “a heroic and manly character and disposition, proficient in all things.”

Kim is also praised in the book as a capable equestrian, a fearless sailor and an “aggressive” tank driver who “tightly grips the control stick and pushes the steel horse like storms and gales.”

The biography claims Kim’s “boldness and audacity cannot be matched by any mortal” and declares him “a gift from heaven” who is “perfect and entrancing.”

Sounds impressive. But could the real “Rocket Man” continue to be hiding behind smokescreens?

On Wednesday, the secretive country’s state media, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), reported that Kim had overseen the first public test of a new weapon.

The KCNA announced that the weapon has a “powerful warhead” in what is a huge development for the country’s military arsenal.

Speaking following the test, Kim said: “The completion of the development of the weapon system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the North Korean army.”

But was it real rocket science, or only a smokescreen?

U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Thursday confirmed North Korea conducted a weapon test the previous day, though added it was not a ballistic missile.

“There was a test … Also, there’s no change to our posture or to our operations,” Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon. He declined to give further information on the weapon test.

The initial U.S. intelligence assessment was that North Korea tested components for an anti-tank weapon, rather than a fully operational new weapon. That assessment is based on a review of information gathered from satellites and aircraft that did not register any indication of a launch of any type of short-range tactical weapon or a ballistic missile.

U.S. officials reportedly believe that if North Korea had launched a fully functioning anti-tank weapon their sensors would have likely picked up some indication it had been fired.

Sensor data that the U.S. has been able to review indicated the components were inconsequential to any advanced North Korean military capability.

U.S. officials believe the component testing was most likely motivated by Kim deciding to send a message to the U.S. that he still had a test capability without engaging in a major provocation.

A few hours after making the weapon test announcement, statement released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, Foreign Ministry official Kwon Jong Gun said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had been “letting loose reckless remarks and sophism of all kinds against us every day.”

So yes, the test announcement was likely a smokescreen hiding the fact Kim is becoming frustrated with Washington’s lack of flexibility in recent negotiations concerning denuclearization in North Korea.

But where there is smoke — even if its being used as a screen — there could also eventually be fire.

Harry Kazianis, a Korea expert at the Center for the National Interest, a Washington think tank, probably said it best on Thursday.

“Sadly, we are only one ICBM test away from another crisis with Pyongyang, and these smaller tests only bring us closer to such a moment,” Kazianis said.

T. Scott Boatright is editor of the Ruston Daily Leader. Contact him at