Kim Jong Il is dead.
Make way for Kim Jong III.
As far as crazy dictators go, KJI was pretty damn good. Not for the North Koreans, of course, but for the rest of us. Sure, he was part of the "Axis of Evil," but did you ever really feel threatened by North Korea?
No. Even if you're easily manipulated by war mongering politicians and the mainstream media, you felt threatened by Iran, not North Korea.
Other than a few minor dustups, North Korea basically just did it's own thing, and nobody paid them much mind. Yet, for the last decade invading Iran has been on the back of the collective American mind, and the idea is getting greater attention with inside the GOP presidential primary race. Iran is getting close to having nuclear weapons, gotta invade! If they get the bomb, if we let evil have the bomb, all the world will end!
North Korea probably does have the bomb, and now they're just working on delivery systems. Their missile capabilities are limited, and growth is slow, but it's happening, and they may be only a few years away from having ICBM technology.
Why isn't anyone talking about invading North Korea? Destroying their weapons of mass destruction in order to preserve global security?
One reason is that North Koreans don't look like the people who attacked us on 9/11. Neither do Iranians, really. The 9/11 hijackers were Arabs, while Iranians are Persian. But, over the airwaves of talk radio, they pretty much look the same.
Also, Iran is closer to Israel. Neither North Korea nor Iran is an imminent threat to the United States, but our surrogates aren't so lucky. North Korea is a threat to South Korea and Japan, while Iran may become a threat to Israel within the next few years. But, Washington doesn't really care about South Korea. Korean Americans aren't strong lobbyists, and the Korean peninsula isn't the Christian holy land.
There is one other factor that makes North Korea a place we aren't trying to scare Americans into wanting to invade. Or, until yesterday there was. It was Kim Jong Il himself, and what may have been the most brilliant negotiation strategy on the global stage in decades.
KJI was crazy. He had the crazy hair, the sunglasses stolen from his mother-in-law, absurd claims of hitting back-to-back-to-back hole in ones his first time ever playing golf, and he simply defied biology, refusing to grow any taller.
During the Cold War, the United States relied on a simple strategy for defense, Mutually Assured Destruction. You attack us, we'll have time to counter attack, and we'll both lose. The only winning move is not to play, and all that. This works with an intelligent, logical opponent, like Russia. MAD prevents war, but it also puts the parties in weak bargaining positions with each other. If the other side doesn't cooperate, the worst you can do it pout.
That balance doesn't exist if you have a crazy country. Crazy doesn't understand mutually assured destruction. Maybe they're deluded into thinking we don't have the capabilities, that all our missiles are actually just wood and cardboard dummies. Or, maybe they just don't care.
That's a great position to negotiate from. With crazy KJI at the helm, North Korea could sincerely threaten attack. That's a much stronger negotiating position.
If a man dressed in a nice suit approaches you on a somewhat crowded subway car, and says you need to give him $20, you aren't going to do it. If the same man approaches you with days of built up body odor and his pants around his ankles, he's getting that $20.
Maybe Kim Jong Il really was crazy. Maybe truly, clinically crazy. Maybe deluded by an intense echo chamber of yes men, either afraid of him, or using the delusion to manipulate him. But, maybe he was a fairly sane, rational person, who realized that North Korea has no power on the world stage is it presents a respectable front. The best way to give the country some negotiating power was to appear crazy, to drop his pants and say "lift your sanctions."