Sixty years ago this month, the North Korean People's Army, enticed by the Truman administration's announcement that Korea was no longer within the "U.S. defensive perimeter," launched a surprise attack across the 38th Parallel — the arbitrary demarcation line drawn by the United Nations between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the communist north, the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea.
The onslaught was so successful that in a matter of just three days, Seoul was captured and the poorly trained and equipped ROK military was smashed. Hundreds of American advisers and hastily deployed reinforcements were killed, captured or listed as missing in action. By mid-July, the remnant of U.S. and ROK forces were driven into a tiny defensive perimeter around the port of Pusan.
Three years and more than 150,000 American casualties later, an armistice ended the fighting, but not the war. Ever since, American national security policy has been based on the idea that attacks against the U.S. homeland, our national interests and our allies could be prevented by "containing communism" and maintaining sufficient nuclear and conventional forces to deter aggression. American intelligence capabilities were focused on knowing what our adversaries were up to and sharing that information with our allies.
Until President Jimmy Carter came along, it was a strategy that generally worked.
Carter decided and Congress agreed to gut U.S. defense and intelligence budgets, dramatically reduce the U.S. military presence in the Republic of Korea and replace deterrence with "diplomatic engagement." America's adversaries wasted no time in taking advantage of his perceived naïveté and weakness. Though the U.S. withdrawal from South Korea was stopped thanks to a major political movement launched by World War II hero, Major General Jack Singlaub, other American allies weren't so fortunate.
While Americans here at home were distracted by economic woes that included double-digit inflation and interest rates, Panama, Nicaragua, Iran, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and eventually Afghanistan, all succumbed to "revolutionary" regimes or outright invasion during Carter's mercifully brief tenure as commander in chief. He used the threat of reduced arms sales and aid for Israel to initiate the novel concept of a "Palestinian homeland" into negotiations for a peace treaty with Egypt.
Though Ronald Reagan restored the idea of "peace through strength" and carried out his promise to confront Soviet expansion, we are still paying the price for the Carter administration's ineptness and misfeasance. The undetected nuclear weapons programs in both North Korea and Iran trace their lineage to Carter's intelligence cuts. As a consequence, two of America's most steadfast allies — Israel and the Republic of Korea — now face the clear and present danger of existential annihilation. Both democracies are literally under the gun and getting little but platitudes or worse from the Obama administration.
After a ROK Navy patrol boat, the Cheonan, blew up in international waters, killing 46 sailors on March 26, Seoul's military — as our mutual defense treaty requires — turned to the U.S. for advice on how to respond. The O-Team counseled caution, urging the South Koreans to invite an "international committee" to conduct a "fair, impartial and transparent investigation" to determine what happened. They did and the panel found overwhelming evidence that the Cheonan had been sunk by a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine. The Obama administration's response to this overt act of war: Refer the matter to the United Nations. In Pyongyang, the brutal regime that has starved its people to build nuclear weapons, now promises "total war."
It's even worse for Israel, abandoned by the Obama administration and beleaguered by the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon detonating on Tel Aviv, renewed rocket attacks on civilians from Iranian-supplied Hamas terrorists in Gaza and a re-armed, Iranian-supplied Hezbollah terror movement in southern Lebanon.
Last week's flawed effort by Israeli Defense Forces to inspect a so-called "humanitarian aid flotilla" for weapons and military equipment has resulted in international opprobrium because nine "activists" aboard the vessels were killed. The O-Team response: Demand that the United Nations conduct a "fair, impartial and transparent investigation." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has to be thankful no one insisted on a U.N. investigation after more than 70 were killed at Waco, Texas in April 1993.
Americans are once again distracted by economic woes and a Gulf oil spill. The U.S. intelligence community is leaderless and in near total disarray. Our southern border is an open passage for unlawful entry at best and a virtual invasion path for well-armed enemies at worst.
The Iranian regime, having brutally suppressed its internal opposition, is now overtly arming Hezbollah, Hamas and Al Qaeda while simultaneously racing to acquire nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them. The vicious despots running North Korea, having escaped any retribution for repeated violations of international law, commit an act of war and the U.S. backs down.
Meanwhile the Obama administration is intent on turning the U.S. military — already engaged on a two-front war — into a laboratory for a radical social experiments. Even Jimmy Carter didn't try that.
— Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of "War Stories" on Fox News Channel and the author of "American Heroes."