11/04/2013

Double March Madness

For an American, as well as basketball fanatics around the world, March Madness refers to the final tournaments to determine the national collegiate champions. (Full disclosure: I am definitely biased and particularly enthusiastic this year since my alma mater, Amherst College, just won the Division III title.) The main focus of attention is the men’s Division I competition. It is not only that roughly 50 million people watched the final game, but that office pools have complex betting schemes on who will get into the draw, and various winners. This is a craze that sweeps America every spring.


Even President Obama got into the frenzy. A former high school player who regularly plays pickup games with his staff, the President got into the picture with predictions about who would play, who would win certain sections, and the ultimate champion. He did this in an interview with a sports station on the eve of his recent trip to the Middle East, which received the following sour rebuttal from a Republican, “American families want the president to focus on the economy and controlling spending, and it’s time for the president to get to work by spending a little less time preparing his brackets {predictions} and a little more time doing his job of preparing a budget.”

Be that as it may, March Madness this year has taken on a second meaning. Fierce rhetoric from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Full disclosure: He was partially educated in Switzerland) has issued and carried out several provocations recently including: 1) Foreigners in South Korea should look for shelter or consider leaving the country since the Korean Peninsula was on the verge of a nuclear war; 2) North Korea withdrew its 54,000 workers from the Kaesong industrial park run jointly with South Korea; 3) North Korea cut off the last remaining military telephone hotline with the South; 4) The General Staff of North Korea's military claimed in a statement to the nation’s official government-run news agency that it has final approval to carry out “merciless” strikes on the United States; 5) South Korea has blamed the North for a series of cyber attacks on banks, media and government websites.

The justification for these threats and actions from the North Korean perspective have been joint American-South Korean military drills in the region as well as United Nations approved sanctions imposed after the North’s February 12 nuclear test. It is noteworthy that the military drills had been planned well in advance and that China, North Korea’s major ally, approved the sanctions.

The response to the provocations has been to emphasize patience and the potential for a “proportional response”. The U.S. military, however, has moved two navy-missile defense ships closer to the Korean peninsula. The U.S. and South Korea have put their forces on alert in anticipation that North Korea could launch its medium-range Musudan missile in the near future. The U.S. Department of Defense said it would deploy the ballistic Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (Thaad) to Guam to intercept any missiles fired at the United States or its bases. Japan is deploying Patriot Pac-3 missiles around Tokyo as a precaution.

In the past, North Korea has staged military provocations close to important national holidays; Monday is the birthday of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung.

March Madness. The national collegiate basketball championships are over. President Obama’s prediction for the Division I champion did not come true. Here’s hoping he does better with North Korea.

Les commentaires sont fermés.