Obama's Consequential First 4th: NoKo, AfPak, Iraq, Russia, Palin (Palin?!)

North Korea was to have been the drama of the day. But it turned into a major fizzle.
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In his weekend video/radio address, President Barack Obama discussed the heritage of Independence Day and pushed his economic, energy, and health care agenda.

Quite a consequential first 4th of July as president for Barack Obama.

Not only did he have 20 of daughter Malia's schoolgirl friends over for a Camp David sleepover in honor of her 11th birthday on the 4th of July -- just wait till her "Independence Day," Dad -- he had a few other things on his plate, as well as the barbecue for military families and the fireworks show. Not counting his inherited worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

North Korea was to have been the drama of the day. But it turned into a major fizzle.

Those wacky characters in Pyongyang had threatened to challenge Obama in two big ways. First, with a ship reportedly carrying contraband weapons technology for sale. And more dramatically, with a threatened test launch of a long-range missile toward Obama's home state of Hawaii on the 4th of July. But fortune, or perhaps the judicious use of presidential pressure, smiled on Obama as the ship turned back and the missile launch to Hawaii did not materialize.

On the AfPak crisis, Obama monitored the first big military offensive he's ordered, the Marines in southern Afghanistan, just underway over the last three days, as well as the first big military offensive he's suggested, the Pakistani Army against encroaching Pakistani Taliban, underway for weeks.

On the Iraq War, which he opposed from the beginning as a distraction from the attackers of 9/11, not to mention a quagmire-in-the-making, Obama monitored the pullback of US combat forces from Iraq's cities and towns, completed just a few days ago.

On Russia, Obama continued prepping for what may be his most important summit meeting of the year, the Moscow Summit on July 6-8. And received good news about Russian assistance in Afghanistan. Which naturally will come with a price tag.

On Sarah Palin ... Okay, that's more of a light dessert than an entree. But still, at least a mild distraction. Is there a rational political explanation for her behavior? And, more to the point: Does it matter in the least?

Two weeks ago, North Korea had a ship at sea carrying contraband weapons technology, in seeming violation of the UN Security Council, and threatened to launch a long-range missile at Hawaii on the 4th of July. Both threats evaporated.

** For weeks, Obama and his team had to monitor the North Korean situation. North Korea has been an incipient crisis since its underwhelming but threatening nuclear test detonation this past spring. In this latest iteration, ts threatened long-range missile test launch toward Obama's home state Hawaii on the 4th of July did not, in the end, materialize. But the North Koreans did fire off a number of shorter-range missiles, which can reach targets in South Korea and Japan.

Perhaps the North Koreans were dissuaded by Obama moving anti-missile units to Hawaii to shoot down their missile on the off chance it got anywhere nearby. (Their last two long-range missile tests were failures, with an attempt in the spring to place a satellite in orbit falling far short, and another long-range launch a few years ago getting less than a minute down range.)

North Korea also provided some drama by sending a cargo ship, the Kang Nam, apparently carrying missiles, on a voyage to rendezvous with some buyers.

Obama ordered a Navy destroyer -- USS John McCain, by coincidence, named for the four-star admiral father and grandfather of his 2008 Republican opponent -- to shadow the North Korean vessel down the China coast. Meanwhile, the North Korean ship was denied entry first by Singapore, then by Burma, and turned around.

It wouldn't be hard to dismiss North Korea as a silly nation, intent on comic opera threats and easily parodied Stalinist bluster. It certainly has a pattern of acting like an attention-seeking child, albeit a particularly nasty one. But then you consider that it has the fifth-largest military in the world, and could easily overrun South Korea but for the US presence in the region. As it did in the Korean War.

Incidentally, despite all the provocations, Obama apparently did not make the usual move of ordering an aircraft carrier strike group or two into the waters off the Korean Peninsula. An interesting subtlety, given the other moves that were made.

Obama ordered thousands of US Marines into Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan in Operation Strike of the Sword.

** Obama is closely monitoring the first offensive he has ordered involving large numbers of American troops. This is Operation Strike of the Sword, involving more than 4000 US Marines and about 750 Afghan troops, as well as hundreds of British troops. They have moved into the Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, a hotbed of Afghan Taliban activity. They have encountered little resistance, and only one Marine has reportedly been killed so far.

The Marines will set up a series of bases there and pursue active patrolling with the near-term goal of preventing Taliban disruption of Afghanistan's presidential election in August. Obama has clarified that the overall goal is to deny Afghanistan as a base for Al Qaeda. As distinguished from, say, setting up a 21st century Western-style democracy.

There was no bad news on that front today. And given how badly things have gone in Afghanistan in recent years, no bad news counts as arguably good news.

** Vice President Joe Biden celebrated the 4th of July in Iraq with US troops and Iraqi officials. He and the Delaware contingent of National Guard troops - which includes Biden's son, Delaware Attorney General Joe Biden - had a 4th of July party at the late Saddam Hussein's presidential palace.

The security handover in the cities from American to Iraqi forces is going well. So far.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev delivered an encomium to a new friendship with America.

** Obama flies to Moscow on Sunday for his major summit with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Obama is engaged in major preparations prior to the Moscow Summit. Word is that the US and Russia have reached tentative agreement on a plan to regularly ship military supplies - and perhaps US troops - across Russia to aid the US effort in Afghanistan.

This summit in Moscow from July 6th to July 8th may be Obama's most important. It will be followed by the G-8 summit in Italy. Key issues, which of course will be explained further, involve America's role in NATO expansion and missile defense seemingly aimed at Russia and potential major Russian assistance to America's agenda in Afghanistan, Iran, and the Middle East.

Sarah Palin resigning as governor of Alaska in a curious statement.

** Obama and company may also be trying to parse the meaning, if any, of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's sudden decision yesterday to resign from office little more than halfway through her first term. Her statement was, let's say, on the rambling side. I'm being kind. Mostly because Palin bores me.

Obama should be so lucky as to face Palin in the 2012 presidential election. I have a Thursday piece, linked below, which sheds some light on the chaos surrounding Palin.

Compared to the other matters, Palin is strictly a sideshow. As, actually, I've been saying since she was picked, in what was a distinctly backfiring move, for the Republican ticket.

Presumably, with all these far more consequential matters on his plate, Obama spent little time thinking about Sarah Palin.

Now it's on to Russia, which can't be seen from Obama's house ...

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