Ambassador Donald Gregg famously said, 'North Korea is the US' biggest intelligence failure'. Reading the rumours which Pyongyongologists have been gratuitously floating in the global media simply underscores Gregg's remarks.
Consider the 'New York Times' correspondent Mark McDonald's 'Low profile of an heir reinforces a mystery' which appeared in the paper of note's online edition [08 January 2011].
The appearance today of McDonald's article is not fortuitous. It has a purpose. Eight January 2011 is Kim Jong eun's birthday. It is not a declared public holiday, but, according to North Korean press sources, his birthday is not an unknown date among North Koreans. And because the date is not celebrated with fanfare, Pyongyongologists consider it open season to demonise Kim Jong il's youngest son.
A hundred days age Kim Jong eun became his heir apparent. Since then the media and cyberspace and nattering of the North Korean scholarly clerisy have spread misleading statements, oblique allusions indirectly accusing this young man of evil designs and actions which remain baseless and without a shred of evidence, and endowing him with powers of deadly force.
When you poke a finger into this puffery, you come up with trickery or purseful disinformation.
Pyongyongologist like to see their names in print. Nothing is more flattering or stroking to the ego. Consequently, they have a ready stock of sound bytes should a journalist want a word from them.
What do we know of Kim Jong eun? At most a bare boned 'curriculum vitae'. We do not know his true ago. We think that he spent some years in a Swiss lycee. Is he married?
We may assume that he went to elite schools in Pyongyang. We know that in September 2010 he was promoted to a 4 star general. Until then, we did not know what he looked like. We do now: he is the spitting image of his grandfather Kim Il Sung. The word brought back by visitors to North Korea indicates that he is learning the ropes of leadership and going through a rigorous and planned apprenticeship of leadership.
And that is more or less what we do know. Not very much, in other words.
Now let us turn to an oft quoted Russian born Korean expert Andrei Lankov, professor at South Korea's Kookmin university. Here is what he has to say on North Korea's 'heir apparent: 'there are some minor but real reasons to ask if we are rushing our judgment about Kim Jong eun'. Just reading his words reveals their gossipy tone. What minor reasons? What real reasons? Not satisfied with the sound of his own voice, he grandly affirmed on Kim's succession: 'the regime seems to be making preparations for the succession, but they haven't reached of no return'. How does he know? And then to put the cherry of condescension on his 'in the know', he went on to proffer portentously: 'Next year, they could very well, say, "Kim Jong us? Oh, he's just one of 20 generals"'. Who is Lankov kidding? His 'reasoned' opinion reveals thoughtlessness and what's more to the point, inanity.
Here we have a 'learned opinion' based on hot air. If if this is the best a much Besides giving McDonald a throw away bit of nonsense, Lankov is klewless as to what's happening in the North. His 'best educated guess' is worthless if not misleading and dangerous. It is dangerous in the sense that governments like the US will consult Lankov for his expertise which, according to his own musings, is hardly remarkable and vacuous.
McDonald also brought Robert Carlin into his article. Carlin a long time North Korea watcher who often visits North Korea and keeps his finger on the pulse of its nuclear programme, remarked that during his last visit in November 2010, the name of Kim Jong eun did not come up. Why should it? He was shown 'a previously unknown uranium enrichment plant outside Pyongyang', but his hosts never brought up Kim Jong eun's name. Carlin is more thoughtful in his assessment of what's happening in the North. In face, he has a more sophisticated understanding: let him speak for himself: he thinks that [Kim] is the 'the one', even if the public rollout is being carefully paced and scripted'. Compare his judgment with Lankov's. Carlin may have an axe to grind with the North but he does not show it. Lankov, on the other hand, influenced by his growing up in the old Soviet Union, never fails to exhibit his ideological knife when it comes to North Korea. Therein lies the difference.
And then there Brian Myers at Busan's Dongseo university. Known for his book 'The cleanest race: how North Koreans see themselves and why it matters'. Impatient that Kim Jong eun's emergence is not following detail by detail the path traced for father, he seems confused. His confusion illustrates that in his own mind North Koreans behave predictably. Now if we know anything about North Korean watchers, there is one thing that they agree on almost to a man, and that is, the North is unpredictable, irrational, and on and on. Maybe having devoted 8 years to reading North Korean cultural production he has discerned a 'pattern', but what does that have to do with political decisions or the rise of Kim Jong eun? This kind of thinking is a crude example of 'historicism'. Lankov, too, falls into the facile explanation: he brings up the fact that Kim Jong eun's birthday is not marked in 'red' in North Korean calendars, nor is his name printed in bold face type in newspapers. Give it time old dear!
Here, too, is an example of the impatience of Pyongyangologists. They've a script and anything which does not conform to it infuriates them. They tend to see North Korea through the lenses that they have fashioned ideologically. They expect Kim Jong eun be 'crowned' as though he were the heir apparent to the throne of England. Hence they get flustered, frustrated, and even more dangerously, striking out blindly and maliciously because the North Koreans are not acting out the film louping in their own heads.
GuamDiary has a long laundry list of the remarks of other Pyongyangologists, but the point has been made of their quality. The level of knowledge could improve greatly were, say, the US recognise North Korea.
A final word: Kim Myong chol, the officious voice of North Korea in Japan had much fun mocking Barack Obama with a long article 'Kim Jong eun makes Obama blink'.