How happy is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the results of this week’s US presidential election? Let’s put it this way: A guy who embraces Romney in August isn’t likely to bask in Obama’s warmth in November. A guy who shows the UN General Assembly a large piece of cardboard bearing a felt-tipped illustration of a ticking bomb that looks like it’s been pulled straight out of a Road Runner cartoon isn’t one who’s likely get Obama’s devoted attention in the future.
The bomb was of course Netanyahu’s stab in late September at trying to pull the US into yet another war, this one with Iran, and when that stunt failed, he tried another tack: with every breath the right-wing prime minister seemed to castigate his American counterpart for what he made clear through implication were Obama’s pusillanimous demurrals.
Why Israeli leadership should believe—still, after all this time—that American Jews vote all-Israel all the time in American elections is a puzzle. They never do. Exit polls this time around showed that around 70 percent of American Jews at the polls voted for Obama, a number only slightly lower than four years ago. (As the late Milton Himmelfarb of the American Jewish Committee famously put it: “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.”)
In other words, Mitt Romney’s declaration in late October that Obama had “pushed allies like Israel under a bus”; his insistence, after accepting the nomination, that Obama had pursued what-me-worry policies that left Iran to its own nuclear devices and Americans “less secure”—all this failed to gain traction among the very voters Romney was playing to.
Kim Jong Il was a man responsible for imprisoning hundreds of thousands of his countrymen; testing two nuclear devices; deploying hundreds of ballistic missiles aimed at Tokyo and Seoul; and masterminding international drug, kidnapping, and nuclear weapons rings. A world without him, at least in theory, should be safer and more stable.
What comes after Kim, however, might deliver neither. Kim Jong Il did everything he could in the last two years of his life to groom his successor and son — the 28-year-old Kim Jung Un — to ensure continuity. Moreover, North Korea’s generals and party leaders have every incentive to sustain the Kim family’s cult of personality and make his son a success, since their own power and survival depends on it. But strongmen such as Kim Jong Il and his father Kim Il Sung are the exception rather than the norm in Korean political culture. The more familiar pattern is for court intrigue to tear the leadership apart and draw in powerful neighbors, which is precisely what happened with the collapse of the last monarchical dynasty in Korea at the end of the 19th Century.
The hazards of the power transition will not be immediately apparent. North Korea will enter a period of prolonged mourning for and hagiography of the Dear Leader (as Kim Jong Il was known), just as it did when the Great Leader, Kim Jong Il’s father, Kim Il Sung, died in 1994. Back then, Kim Jong Il kept a low profile for months after his father’s death to demonstrate his filial loyalty and respect. Kim Jong Un, the Dear Leader’s son and heir, will presumably do much the same.