Obama, North Korea and Social Media
Notice how we’re suddenly talking about North Korea, just a short while after a change in leadership? Except we’re not – the Americans are doing most of the talking, along with China, who are eagerly trying to mediate the whole thing down. Do you wonder why these threats from North Korea’s Dear Leader need to be taken seriously? Wonder why its all being talked about now?
There’s an age old saying about men with big cars having something lacking on a more personal level. In a sense, what its saying is that people who feel vulnerable will make up for it, hiding behind external objects if they feel its necessary. Right now, Obama and Kim Jong-un are in surprisingly similar places. Both feel they look quite weak.
Obama started from a place of weakness – being a Democrat and being forced to appoint a Republican secretary of state for Defence is a bad start for a Commander in Chief, and the next Democrat President will need to find a way out of that conundrum without perpetuating the myth about Democrats being militarily weak presidents. This has gotten a whole lot worse in two key ways: the President is seen to have ‘blinked’ in his brinkmanship with Iran, and has been forced to watch the French do to Mali in two weeks what America never really managed in the whole decade of the second Iraq war.
As for Kim Jong-un, his ascendency has been marked by almost total ridicule in the West. It doesn’t take an elite spy network to realise that no one sees him as much of a threat. If he’s looking for longevity in his regime, restoring a bit of fear would be a good start.
Perhaps this shows, again, that Social Media, and YouTube in particular, is having an effect on International Relations in ways that might never have been predicted. A video posted in one country as a joke amongst friends can be a spark for violence in another area of the globe. Unlike the cartoon that sparked embassy riots across the Muslim world recently, this is more of a stacked effect. Jokes abound that this 29 year old leader is weak. The solution: to talk tough, and if that doesn’t work, to act tough.
Sure, the traditional press and even national leaders made out that the new Dear Leader, and we should never pretend that social media is about to replace any of these. However, for the first time, someone in a reclusive state who happens to have an internet connection can see just how popular jokes at their authoritarian leaders’ expense are becoming. I think it takes a certain degree of Western middle-class naivety to think that these jokes exist in a realm completely disconnected from the reality in which the belittled players of the world stage suddenly feel a need to lash out.
In short, don’t lets be stupid enough to think that free speech comes without consequences, and that the world is somehow a less dangerous place than we might be tempted to pretend.