Reports are still coming in, but the title says it all: North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, one of the worst and most brutal dictators on Earth, is dead tonight.
Power will almost-certainly pass, however symbolically, to his son Kim Jong Un - who is reputed to be either legitimately insane, mentally-impaired or both - though it's almost a foregone conclusion that the myriad military/government officials who're alleged to have been the real operators during the elder Kim's dotage (he's been in failing health for years) will be vying to either take power themselves OR get the hell out of dodge with whatever they can carry in the event that the house of cards collapses entirely.
I feel more than a little crass doing to the "blah blah something HUGELY important happened somewhere that's not America... but here's how it will effect America!" hard-segue, but this is really the only thing definite you can say about this right now: Any illusions that Barack Obama or his various would-be Republican challengers may have had that with Iraq "finished" and Afghanistan winding down this would be a strictly meat-and-potatoes "domestic issues" presidential election just evaporated. If you are the "China Policy Advisor" to an American politician, you are very likely about to learn that you are working this Christmas.
Here's the situation: Setting aside the very real long-held concerns that Kim Jong Un (who is essentially a mystery - no one even knows how OLD he actually is outside of the NK government) will not have the official loyalty or ability to hold the system together; this is almost certain to cause a significant amount "rumbling" in the nation itself, which will be most-directly felt at it's borders with China and South Korea (the former of which is seperated by a demilitarized zone patroled by U.S. forces) both of whom will be looking to their American allies to help out (or, in China's case, "back off") with management of what could be a 'failed state' crisis at their respective borders. Here's to hoping things don't get too much worse for North Korea's impoverished citizens, in any case.
Place your bets now as to which GOP Presidential candidate will have the dumbest thing to say about this tomorrow morning.