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Why North Korea worries Dick Cheney

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 5:44 AM EDT, Fri April 12, 2013
This undated photo, released Tuesday, October 14, by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a housing complex in Pyongyang, North Korea. International speculation about Kim went into overdrive after he failed to attend events on Friday, October 10, the 65th anniversary of the Workers' Party. He hadn't been seen in public since he reportedly attended a concert with his wife on September 3. This undated photo, released Tuesday, October 14, by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a housing complex in Pyongyang, North Korea. International speculation about Kim went into overdrive after he failed to attend events on Friday, October 10, the 65th anniversary of the Workers' Party. He hadn't been seen in public since he reportedly attended a concert with his wife on September 3.
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Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dick Cheney gave GOP lawmakers a blunt assessment of N. Korean crisis
  • Ruben Navarrette says those who live on the U.S. west coast are particularly concerned
  • He says the fear is that Kim Jong Un backs himself into a corner

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

San Diego, California (CNN) -- You know a global scenario is serious when even Darth Vader seems scared.

Developments in and around North Korea are so worrisome that they appear to have frightened Dick Cheney. The 72-year-old former vice president stopped by to visit with GOP lawmakers Tuesday and wound up talking about unpredictable, and perhaps unstable, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. According to sources present at the meeting, Cheney offered this blunt assessment of the crisis in the Korean peninsula: "We're in deep doo doo."

Oh, that's just terrific. It's spring, and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom in the nation's capital. And so naturally our thoughts turn to... the threat of thermonuclear war?

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

We interrupt the politically driven debates in Washington over gun control and immigration control to bring you an important message about a world leader who may be out-of-control.

Welcome to the North Korean missile crisis. subtitled: The Missiles of April.

It's time to think the unthinkable. In fact, if you live in Hawaii, Guam, the Pacific Islands or, as I do, on the West Coast of the United States -- or, for that matter, anywhere else within range of this bad neighborhood -- it's probably long past time.

Just this week, CNN reported this:

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"The Obama administration now calculates it is likely North Korea may test fire mobile ballistic missiles at any time based on the most recent U.S. intelligence showing it is likely the North Koreans have completed all launch preparations."

And this:

The official confirmed that U.S. satellites are monitoring the Korean peninsula and 'the belief is that the missiles have received their liquid fuel and are ready for launch.'"

And, a day later, it followed up with this:

"Countries in northeast Asia remained on edge Wednesday amid warnings from U.S. and South Korean officials that North Korea could carry out a missile test at any time."

Hagel: N. Korea nears 'dangerous line'
World awaits North Korea's next move
South Korea concerned about threats?
Is N. Korea a nuclear threat or not?

Japan has deployed missile defense systems around Tokyo, some Chinese tour groups have canceled visits to North Korea and U.S. radars and satellites are trained on an area of the Korean east coast where Kim Jong Un's regime is believed to have prepared mobile ballistic missiles for a possible test launch.

Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, didn't mince words when -- in remarks at a Senate Armed Services hearing this week -- he characterized the crisis as "a clear and direct threat to U.S. national security and regional peace and stability."

OK, Pyongyang, you have America's attention -- and, for that matter, the world's. What are you going to do now? Think very carefully about how you answer that question.

It seems that there is not much that U.S. leaders can do now but wait for Kim Jong Un to make the next move. But that's a high-stakes game, since he seems to be running out of moves that don't involve a missile launch. As experts on the region have been saying all week, perhaps the most worrisome aspect of this crisis is that the North Korean leader doesn't appear to have left himself an exit door.

If, after all this huffing and puffing and rattling of missiles, Kim Jong Un simply backs down and goes back to fiddling with his Play Station and making vacation plans with Dennis Rodman, could his own military see that as a sign of weakness and stage a coup? And so, the 30-year-old despot may feel as if he has no choice but to finish the game.

Given the volatility of the situation, President Obama and his security team have to be ready -- in the event of a missile launch -- to immediately respond forcefully. A clear and unequivocal message that goes beyond diplomacy would have to be sent. The response has to leave no doubt that this administration isn't playing games -- and that it means business.

That was the message that the heroic members of Seal Team 6 delivered in tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year. Obama's liberal base was overjoyed at the use of military force in dispatching bin Laden to the other world just before a presidential election. How could it object in this case, when once again Americans -- and our allies -- are being threatened?

That's the question. If there's an answer, let's hear it. And for the sake of those of us who are closest to the doo doo, let's hope we hear it soon.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

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