Where’s John Glenn When You Need Him

14 Dec

Did They Know?The Obama administration’s response to yesterday’s successful launch of its Unha-3 rocket parking a 220-pound satellite into a polar orbit reminds me of John Glenn’s “forthright, gracious, and magnanimous” spin in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957.

John Glenn: I’m tired of being forthright, gracious and magnanimous.
Gordon Cooper: Yeah.
John Glenn: I’m tired of these stupid questions from the press.
Gordon Cooper: mm-hmm
[the others voice their approval]
John Glenn: Let’s f-f-f…
Gus Grissom: Fuckin’ A, bubba.
John Glenn: That’s right! Exactly!

Instead, State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, mumbled something about “increasing the pressure” on Pyongyang. It might help if Obama administration officials weren’t caught literally, celebrating the Japanese emperor’s 77th birthday.

Several top U.S. officials dealing with Asia and North Korea from the State Department, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council were relaxing Tuesday night at the Japanese ambassador’s Nebraska Avenue residence in Washington when the news came over their blackberries that North Korea had launched another Unha-3 rocket with a “satellite” attached, this time with much more success than a previous attempt in April.

Just minutes before the launch news became known, several officials were overheard remarking how nice it was that North Korea was apparently delaying the launch, giving U.S. North Korea watchers hope that their holiday festivities would not be interrupted.

“Nobody in the U.S. government thought this would happen when it did,” said one top Asia expert who attended the party. “A lot of the guys who do the Korea stuff both on the policy and intelligence side were at this thing. They were saying ‘We bought ourselves some time.’ People were hoping it didn’t happen before Christmas because they wanted to take time off.”

Among the Obama Asia officials at the party when the rocket launched were Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Affairs Jim Zumwalt, National Security Council Director for East Asia Syd Seiler, Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy Northeast Asia Director Chris Johnstone, OSD Senior Advisor for Asia Amy Searight, and others. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Peter Lavoy was at the Pakistani ambassador’s Christmas Party, as was your humble Cable guy.

Add snubbing the Japanese emperor and embarrassing the Obama administration to the long list of explanations for being caught off guard by the launch. Perhaps now, though, laypeople will stop associating intelligence-gathering with fortune-telling or omniscience.

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