When people tell me their problems, I immediately feel like I need to solve them. I wonder if that impulse is an American cultural thing. Obviously every individual is different, but it seems as if we Americans like to get involved in other people's business.

I think about that impulse when I noodle about the North Korean situation. Realistically, is there anything the United States can do to influence North Korea that China isn't already doing in its own self interest? North Korea is dependent on China for its survival, and China's economy is dependent on avoiding nuclear wars anywhere in the world. China is smart and competent. Isn't the North Korean nuclear threat China's problem to solve?

We all agree that if North Korea sells nukes to rogue regimes, it's bad for the United States. But can we really do anything about it that China isn't already doing in pursuit of its own self interest? I doubt it.

China will use economics to move from their already strong influence over North Korea to something that will be closer to total control. And my guess is that the generals in North Korea are already the real power, with the Dear Leader as their bumbling figurehead. I doubt the country's real leadership is as crazy as it seems.

The current issue of Newsweek claims North Korea's economy is actually stable and growing, with plenty of natural materials to exploit. With China's help, North Korea's economy could be booming in a few years, mostly because of mining. For the ruling elite, that would make the selling of nuclear secrets less profitable than good ol' Russia-style domestic corruption, and far riskier.

My entire knowledge of international affairs is based on several one-day visits to Canada and four days napping on a beach in Cancun. My views on North Korea, and most other topics, can be safely ignored. I'm just curious whether our cultural bias is causing us to rationalize meddling in North Korea.
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Jun 3, 2009
Headhunt: If you were right, it would only undermine my final comparison, not my entire point. However, you are not entirely right or wrong. I simply didn't get into a detailed account of the Fall of the Roman Empire in a blog post :)

What happened, in a nutshell, is that the Romans expanded their boarders (i.e. took over other areas) and then robbed/taxed these new citizens to support those in Rome. Eventually, they more or less ran out of places to invade, and had to resort to taxing their own citizens, who hadn't had to work much in previous years let alone paid taxes, thereby causing a great deal of discontent.

Further, the Praetorian guards were the city guards. The other Centurians were sent out into the new territories to ensure peace was kept, taxes paid, etc. These guards started buying land and becoming very wealthy. In order to keep the Praetorians around to protect Rome proper, they had to be given more and more perks and basically they became lazy and unwilling to fight. The Romans eventually had to hire the non-Romans (or newly conquerored peoples who were now, nominally at least, Roman) who were still willing to fight, to guard the city. These individuals had more in common with the Barbarians and the Vandals (sometimes even being connected to them in some way, allegiance, family, marriage). Basically, it became weak through a general sense of entitlement that undermined Rome's entire set up.

Had the Romans reorganized their military in such a way to keep the soldiers in fighting mode (say, by offering them nice retirement packages for staying out of investments and no perks while in the military) they could have easily withstood the Vandals, and virtually any other group that came against them by virtue of their excellent military knowledge and the resources available via their vast territories. Had they not granted such an easy lifestyle to the Romans in the first place, they would not have needed to overtax anyone else to the point of bankruptcy and may have kept the whole thing going so well, we'd be typing in Latin today. But arrogance in the longevity of their empire made them unwary.

No comparison is a perfect comparison, but my point was simply that Americans have enjoyed the ability to muscle weaker nations into doing their way for a long time and may not be comfortable having to acquiese to someone else's needs or demands. In order to continue feeding the drive for expansion, they will continually over tax their ability to force the issue. Saddam Hussein called their bluff when he refused to sell oil in US dollars. He paid the ultimate price for that, but consider: how many troops have been on the ground in engagements of late? Who is available to defend the nation from those who may wish it harm for the decades of meddling and muddling their affairs? While there are still many brave souls who sign up for military duty, most Americans are against the draft and would rally against it, just as the Praetorians resisted fulfilling their duties. I don't think the Americans could pull back and redeploy fast enough to countermand a determined and well thought out, quickly executed invasion.

Compare with Iraq, which had (I don't know, but assume the American occupation has ended this, at least for now) a mandatory draft for a certain number of years for males over age 18. When the Americans invaded, despite their awesome superior weaponry and training, they were still, after 5 years, only able to secure a very small part of one city for themselves. The Iraqis were more than willing to fight against impossible odds and die horrible deaths to defend their country from what they see as American rule. Drive down to any Walmart or MacDonalds in your area, take a good look around and ask yourself if you see these people fighting with rocks against Bradleys.

Ergo, the softness of the Praetorians giving way to the invasion of the Vandals. The US has only gotten to the soft part; who will be the Vandals? Not the Canadians, surely, we're too polite :) We'll just get mopped up after, if they even bother. But the US isn't well liked in the middle east outside of Saudi and perhaps Kuwait (not even so much liked there, but that's another story), and the asian countries like American money, but not much else. Both these regions have money, manpower and enough...let's say unpredictable leaders who may be entirely willing, perhaps eager, to step into that role. While South America doesn't have the money or the manpower, they are certainly still angry at the US for a number of issues and would be all-too-likely to provide a staging ground for an invading force.

Of course, I haven't given all that very much thought, so I'm sure you can find holes if you have the time to think about it.
Jun 3, 2009

After spending a lot of time in China over the last 4 years, I think you would be better served by thinking of China as 50,000 or so pointy haired bosses ruling 1.3 Billion people, rather than "competent and smart" There are amazingly smart and competent people in China (when you are one in a million there, there are 1300 more of you), but the system puts a stranglehold on competence.

China is rich and powerful and influential, but take a good look at their foreign policy before you determine that they will make the right moves in the PRK...THe best predictor of future behavior is always past behavior.
Jun 3, 2009
"But, what she REALLY wanted you to say is "I feel deeply for you. I can FEEL your thirst.""

But what the guy really meant is 'if I get her a glass maybe she'll shut up for a while and I can play with Rosie Perez's boobies'
(in case part of that gets censored, lets say 'chesticles')
Jun 3, 2009

Everyone who has watched Team America: World Police know that the Kim Jong is a power hungry dictator who controls the world, you should really get your facts straight.

Personally, I think that if China wants to be a major superpower, let them handle this threat, see how they perform. It's in their neck of the woods, let them be the bad guys, with the current situation, they have the most to lose and gain.

It seems like they are suffering from little country syndrome, and they are compensating by building a nuke to show how big they are (or want to be), so they can play with the bigger countries. But in the end, they are still just a little country, with a little dictator.
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Jun 3, 2009
I like it, but even if you are 100%, beyond a shadow of any doubt correct, can you picture our politiicans getting up telling us, yes North Korea and their crazy little dictator have the bomb and are activly marketing it to our enemies, but don't worry, China's on top of it.

Personally I think we'd lynch them. So even if your theory is100% correct, us voters would never let it happen.

By the way lil-Kim shot a 38 under par during his first ever round of golf a few years back, at least according to North Korea's State Information Department. A guy with a golf game like that can't be all bad.
Jun 3, 2009
ghostie, et al,

This is the basis for the Men are From Mars themed books. Men want to solve the problem and women want to talk about it.
Jun 3, 2009
Not so much cultural as historical. Emerging as a superpower after WWII, we assumed/were charged with, the role of opposing the soviets. Post-cold war when Saddam invaded Kuwait, who did the world turn to? When Yugoslavia fell apart who did Europe look to? We are the de facto leader of the world. If people didn't like it, they would fix their own problems.

The world wants someone to fix their problems. We are all too happy to oblige. The problem is when we fix problems that the rest of the world isn't all that worried about (WMD in Iraq).

Not saying that is how it should be, just the way it is.
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Jun 3, 2009
There is a phrase that is a common part of the American lexicon: "They should've stopped Hitler in Munich". I've heard it said by folks from different generations, political parties, genders, religions, (not just Clemenza in the Godfather) and it seems to be an underlying theme in US foreign policy.
Jun 3, 2009
It's not an American thing, it's a guy thing. That's why women get so mad when we try to solve their problems and we get mad when they tell us problems they apparently don't want to fix.
Jun 3, 2009
IMO, ghosttie is on the right track, but I think it's a different type of reaction. There is deep-seated guilt in the psyche of many North Americans and Europeans due to their respective government's complete lack of action to protect the Jews and halt the Holocaust. It has often been said that had people intervened at the beginning, it may have been avoided entirely, or mostly. The photos and accounts of the survivors made it so that there could be little to no "good feeling" about the intervention that eventually came about. Whenever major events enfold today, these groups feel compelled to intervene and correct the problem before it becomes one.

The second issue is a colonial one. I'm going to over-simplify for the sake of saving space. Most readers here should be intelligent enough to fill it in themselves. Throughout history, as far back as the Romans and further, whenever a nation becomes strong, it seeks to expand it's power and control more territory and more people.

In modern times, colonization is considered "wrong"; "civilized" countries do not engage in such acts. So how can the world's only superpower exercise this inate colonial drive? Foreign military bases, military occupation of foreign lands, and "influencing" the leaders of numerous foreign leaders and groups acts as the aspertame to the colonial sugar for the US. Like aspertame, it is a not entirely satisfying substitute, with any number of possible side effects. To make up for the loss of satisfaction, the US needs to influence more and more regions and people.

It is not inherently wrong to protect oneself or to influence people to do good. However, when one does so to the detriment of those they are influencing, a backlash (side effect) is sure to follow. The longer this "influence" continues, and the more widespread it is, the greater the backlash. Considering American foreign policy over the last...50 years? I would encourage the US government (if I had such influence) to focus more on protecting the US than on exercising it's influence on yet another foreign nation. To return to the Romans, recall that it was the deteriorating conditions of the Praetorian guard that allowed the Vandals to sack Rome.
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Jun 3, 2009
Shouldn't we just ignore them? It works on the elementary school playground...then if they take a swing at us, we allow our inner Bruce Lee to remove the threat? To give a bully of any type a pulpit, they will abuse it. Remove the pulpit, and the bully goes away. This stroke of genius came to me one day on a beach in Jamaica. No worries, mon...
Jun 3, 2009

I have to agree with ghosttie. I, too, always associated that tendency with being a "guy thing".

The old joke says that if your wife wakes you up in the middle of the night to tell you that she's thirsty, the immediate "male reaction" would be something akin to "No problem, sweetheart. I'll go get you a glass of water".

But, what she REALLY wanted you to say is "I feel deeply for you. I can FEEL your thirst."

Jun 3, 2009
I've always thought that trying to solve everyone's problems was a guy thing. My wife is constantly telling me about problems that I try to solve but she never wanted solved - she just wanted to talk about them.

Having said that, Americans seem to want to interfere with other countries more. I think that may be a residue from WWII - they want to be the heroes again, rescuing the poor helpless Europeans, so they keep looking for another Hitler to defeat.
Jun 3, 2009
My view is that even if China has a lot of control over NK, they are probably egging them on to keep pushing the US's buttons. This way the US will continue to rely on China for this issue (and others), which means they won't pressure them on the more... irritating issues of human rights and so on...
Jun 3, 2009
I don't think the need to solve any and all problems is an American mindset so much as an Engineering one.

This is why Dilbert will never be the Boss. Dibert wants to solve the problem. The Boss wants money (for WORKING on solving the problem. Reaching a solution is irrelevant to the Boss, but not to Dilbert.).

Imposing solutions does not work.

We try to solve the "problem" of N.Korea in our self-interest. But N.Korea doesn't see itself as a "problem". Selling nukes isn't a "problem", because they know that no one who bought thier nukes would bother using them on N.Korea. The only "solution" that N.Korea would want, whether from us or China, is one that is in THEIR self-interest. But so often so-called "win-win" solutions aren't geared to what they CRAVE - the solutions only provide N.Korea with getting the solution provider off of their backs for a while. Once that goal is achieved, the "solution" provides nothing that N.Korea wants, so they revert back to their self-Interest.

Forturnately, President Obama knows this. He's more likely to listen than to speak, and thus may find out just what the N.Korean gov't would consider a "solution".
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