The exercise will include sending the aircraft carrier George Washington and a number of accompanying ships into the region, both to deter further attacks by the North and to signal to China that unless it reins in its unruly ally it will see an even larger American presence in the vicinity.The diplomats will try everything imaginable to keep the situation from escalating, but that may be precisely what the North Korean regime is banking on. They will use the opportunity to attempt to wrest more concessions from the South and Party of Six, or at a minimum stall any additional efforts to contain the North's nuclear ambitions.
The decision came after Mr. Obama attended the end of an emergency session in the White House Situation Room and then emerged to call President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea to express American solidarity and talk about a coordinated response.
But as a former national security official who dealt frequently with North Korea in the Bush administration, Victor Cha, said just a few hours before the attack began, North Korea is “the land of lousy options.”
Mr. Obama is once again forced to choose among unpalatable choices: responding with verbal condemnations and a modest tightening of sanctions, which has done little to halt new attacks; starting military exercises that are largely symbolic; or reacting strongly, which could risk a broad war in which South Korea’s capital, Seoul, would be the first target.
The decision to send the aircraft carrier came as the South Korean military went into what it termed “crisis status.” President Lee said he would order strikes on a North Korean base if there were indications of new attacks.
North Korea’s artillery shells fell on Yeonpyeong Island, a fishing village whose residents fled by ferry to the mainland city of Inchon — where Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s troops landed 60 years ago this fall, three months after the outbreak of the Korean War.
The death toll from the North Korean assault is now four - two civilians and two South Korean Marines.