On December 11th, as North Korea was launching a rocket, the Obama administration’s top officials who deal with Asia were reportedly at various Washington, D.C. soirees, caught completely flat-footed by the rocket launch.
According to Foreign Policy magazine, “the Obama administration’s Asia team was caught so off guard by North Korea’s Dec. 11 rocket launch, several of them actually had to put down their drinks and suddenly leave a holiday party being held in honor of the Japanese emperor’s birthday” when they were notified of the launch on their blackberries.
In fact, “just minutes before the launch news became known, several officials were overheard remarking how nice it was that North Korea was apparently delaying the launch, giving U.S. North Korea watchers hope that their holiday festivities would not be interrupted.”
Some of the Obama administration’s Asia team were at the Pakistani Ambassador’s Christmas party.
“Nobody in the U.S. government thought this would happen when it did,” a top Obama administration Asia expert who attended the party said. “A lot of the guys who do the Korea stuff both on the policy and intelligence side were at this thing. They were saying ‘We bought ourselves some time.’ People were hoping it didn’t happen before Christmas because they wanted to take time off.”
According to Foreign Policy magazine’s “The Cable” blog, Obama administration Asian officials who were at the parties included:
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Affairs Jim Zumwalt, National Security Council Director for East Asia Syd Seiler, Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy Northeast Asia Director Chris Johnstone, OSD Senior Advisor for Asia Amy Searight, and others. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Peter Lavoy was at the Pakistani ambassador’s Christmas Party…
However, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland insisted the Obama administration was not caught off guard, claiming, “For weeks and weeks and weeks we have been warning against this launch and we’ve been preparing a response if the North Koreans did the wrong thing as they did.”
But “several attendees” at the Japanese emperor’s birthday celebration contradicted Nuland’s account and told Foreign Policy magazine that the Department of Defense and the State Department were “just stunned” and “shocked” by the rocket launch.
“Everybody stood down. Nobody thought they were going to do it this week,” a top Obama administration Asia expert and party attendee said.