WASHINGTON -- 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 and the communist north, the Democratic People's 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 remnants 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 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 naivet? and weakness. Though the U.S. withdrawal from South Korea was stopped thanks to a major political movement launched by World War II hero Maj. Gen. 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" during 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 still are 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 the Cheonan, an ROK navy patrol boat, blew up in international waters, killing 46 sailors 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: to 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's detonating on Tel Aviv, renewed rocket attacks on civilians from Iranian-supplied Hamas terrorists in Gaza, and a rearmed, Iranian-supplied Hezbollah terror movement in southern Lebanon. Last week's flawed effort by Israel 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's response: to 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 in Waco, Texas, in April 1993.
Americans once again are distracted by economic woes and a Gulf oil spill. The U.S. intelligence community is leaderless and in nearly 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, overtly is arming Hezbollah, Hamas and al-Qaida while 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 in a two-front war, into a laboratory for radical social experiments. Even Jimmy Carter didn't try that.
Examiner columnist Oliver North is nationally syndicated by Creators Syndicate.