Obama, Clinton Foreign Policy Errors Affect Korean Crisis
The foreign policy failures of the Obama and Clinton presidencies are affecting the crises currently facing the nation.
The United States is seen by opponents such as North Korea as a government that has a weakened military, a lack of resolve to follow through on demands, and, perhaps most importantly, possessing a strange propensity towards punishing its friends and helping its enemies.
Examine the last item first. For reasons that have yet to be explained, the Obama Administration, generally reluctant to engage in armed conflict, played a key role in forcibly removing Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi from power. Gaddafi had surrendered his nuclear program, ended his association with terrorism, and was essentially on the same side as the West in opposing radical Islam. Obama also encouraged the ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who also sided with the U.S. against radicalism. From Kim Jung-un’s perspective, it makes far more sense to be an enemy rather than a friend of Washington.
And, of course, there is Iran. With the exception of North Korea, no nation has uttered more threatening statements against the United States than Iran. Rallies are regularly conducted by its leadership calling for the destruction of America, its ships and planes regularly threaten the U.S. Navy, and Tehran sponsors terrorist movements aimed at U.S. interests and allies. The result? A nuclear deal in which the Iranians gained billions of dollars (in cash for easy transfer to terrorists) all in return for nothing more than an agreement to simply delay its nuclear weapons program.
Militarily, the United States is in a far lesser position than it was eight years ago. Thanks to the sequester budget agreement, America’s armed forces have lost experienced personnel, as well as enduring years of inadequate training, especially for Naval and Marine Corps aviators. As this article was being prepared, the Marines had temporarily grounded all of its planes for a maintenance issue.
Spare parts are in short supply. The U.S. homeland itself is in a less secure position, thanks to Obama’s tacit acceptance of the Russian Navy’s return to Cuba, the acceptance of Russian military influence in Nicaragua, and the vastly strengthened Russian military presence in the Arctic. America’s major military rivals, Russia and China, have dramatically built up their forces while the U.S. diminished its own. For the first time in history, Russia has a more powerful nuclear force. China’s navy and the sophistication of all its forces have been dramatically strengthened.
Added to those hard facts is an important psychological component. There is a significant element within the U.S. political and punditry class that, fundamentally and against all logic, tacitly agrees with the most strident anti-American beliefs of the nations’ opponents. The Washington Free Beacon has recently reported that the vice-chair of the Democrat National committee, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has stated that “Kim Jong-un is acting more responsibly than Trump.” Those adhering to this philosophy dissent against reasonable efforts to deal appropriately with foreign threats. As North Korea’s Kim Jung-un rapidly developed the ability to strike the American mainland with nuclear weapons and issued clear statements that he fully intends to do so, they reserved their condemnation not for him, but against President Trump’s firm rhetorical response to it.
This peculiar, but not uncommon, attitude was well illustrated in a USA Today article by Jim Michaels, which examined the recommendations by several analysts. Despite the fact that the North Korean leader has presided over one of the most nightmarish regimes in history, has engaged in numerous domestic and international atrocities, belongs to a ruling family that has broken one arms agreement after another, regularly states that it has plans to devastate the U.S. and is in defiance of a U.N. Security Council resolution, their criticism is aimed at President Trump’s statements that the U.S. would defend itself with great force—“fury and fire”– if the regime continues on its current path.
The recommendations of those analysts clearly reveal that, in their eyes, only an abject surrender of U.S. interests and national security, would comply with their politics. As Pyongyang explicitly describes their plans to launch attacks, Jenny Town, assistant director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies essentially subscribes to a moral equivalence concept by urging both sides to simply cool their rhetoric. How does this solve the underlying issue of North Koreas’ nuclear belligerence?
She is not alone. Michaels’ column quotes David Maxwell, Georgetown University’s associate director of its Center for Strategic Studies. His contribution is to suggest that America acknowledge North Korea’s status as a nuclear power.
Other suggestions include easing sanctions, and suspending joint exercises with South Korea.
These approaches have failed miserably and repeatedly in the past, and offer Pyongyang a hefty reward for nothing much in return. Conceptually, it is deeply similar to President Obama’s provision of financial rewards and sanctions suspensions to Tehran in return for nothing more than a delay in Iran’s nuclear weapons development—a fact which Kim Jung-un clearly understand and is absolutely betting on. It should also be remembered that the appeasement route was thoroughly tried by President Clinton in the 1990’s, when he both gave food aid and nuclear assistance to Pyongyang in return for a mere promise, completely broken, that in return the regime would not pursue nuclear weapons.
Why would Kim even consider pulling back, when history clearly instructs him that America punishes those that change their ways to satisfy Western interests but rewards those that continue to threaten the U.S.? The North Korean dictator may be portrayed as an immature despot, but it is clear that he has shrewdly examined the history of the recent past and has adopted a course which may be evil but is also quite logical.
Originally published on the New York Analysis of Policy and Government.