Jacob Heilbrunn

Pinned by North Korea

 Are you wearing your Kim Jong-un pin yet? There's going to be a run on them in Pyongyang. Word is that North Korean officials are preparing a rollout of the new pin for a party meeting next month, perhaps to anoint Kim jong-il's son as his successor.

As the United States and South Korea conduct their training exercise, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, the Hermit Kingdom is stepping up its threats against the South, talking about seas of fire and merciless counterblows and nuclear Holocausts. If there's one thing that communist states have always excelled at, it's invective (something both Marx (the opiate of the masses) and Lenin (infantile leftism) excelled at. The truth is that both the U.S. and South Korea are, well, pinned by the North, which has apparently been lobbing shells at the South with impunity, despite threats to retaliate, which are utterly toothless. North Korea can throw all the tantrums it wants.

Both South Korea, which trembles at the prospect of having to shell out financially to unite its lesser half, and the U.S. seem to be taking the North Korean threats in stride. The danger, of course, is that, as in World War I, one step leads to another, and, before you know it, you're mired in a new Asian land war, even as you're trying to extricate yourself from two in the Middle East (but not if Frederick W. Kagan, who the New York Times reported today in a fascinating tidbit, is advising Gen. David Petraeus, has anything to say about it, though, come to think of it, perhaps Kagan, author of a book on Napoleon, might also be an expert on retreats).

But forget North Korea. The real news isn't the bombast emanating from North Korea, but, rather, the rise of China, which is now set to surpass Japan as the world's second-largest economy. Further evidence, as though any was really needed, that Beijing is on a short, not long, march to surpass America as a superpower, at least when it comes to the economy. So the real question for President Obama is this: how long can America continue to act as world's policeman, making exorbitant outlays to maintain the peace for China and other powers before it deliquesces into a third-rate power itself?