There is an irony that so shortly after the U.S. administration brought on one of the architects (Wendy Sherman) of a failed approach to North Korea, the clownish despot of that hellish regime should die. It seems that the Obama administration, ever in search of a deal and a stabilizing relationship with the totalitarian gulag, is oblivious to opportunities to destabilize the regime.
At least one potential opponent to the president has a clue what we should be doing. Josh Rogin reports:
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday called on the United States to take the opportunity of dictator Kim Jong Il’s death to push for regime change in North Korea, a distinctly different message than the calls for stability and caution coming from President Barack Obama’s administration
“Kim Jong Il was a ruthless tyrant who lived a life of luxury while the North Korean people starved. He recklessly pursued nuclear weapons, sold nuclear and missile technology to other rogue regimes, and committed acts of military aggression against our ally South Korea. He will not be missed,” Romney said in a Monday morning statement. “His death represents an opportunity for America to work with our friends to turn North Korea off the treacherous course it is on and ensure security in the region. America must show leadership at this time. The North Korean people are suffering through a long and brutal national nightmare. I hope the death of Kim Jong Il hastens its end.”
Other conservative critics of the Obama and Bush administrations’ policy of negotiation with North Korea have urged this course as well. Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton wrote in January:
Our objective should be to increase pressure on Kim Jong Il’s regime, hopefully leading to its collapse.
Resuming the six party talks, which include the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and America, clearly has global ramifications. Pyongyang and Tehran have cooperated closely on ballistic missiles and almost certainly on nuclear matters, as the North’s construction of a reactor in Syria, destroyed by Israel in 2007, demonstrates. It has long been a mistake to treat these rogue states as unrelated threats, a point that still eludes the Obama administration. . . .
We should thoroughly isolate North Korea by denying it access to international financial markets, ramping up efforts to prevent trade in weapons-related materials and pressuring China to adhere to existing U.N. sanctions resolutions. Opening North Korea to foreign commerce to benefit its near-starving population, as some advocate, is utterly fanciful. If the regime had ever cared about its people, they wouldn’t be in such dire straits.
We should also dramatically expand preparations for Kim’s inevitable demise. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy for Washington to see his death only as a risk, rather than an opportunity. We should take every advantage of the inevitable rivalry and confusion that will accompany the transition, and use whatever levers are available to undermine the regime. We must also plan to meet the North’s evident humanitarian needs, whether or not there are massive refugee flows. Even if the population stayed put after a regime collapse, the North’s misery would still require urgent attention. And we must ensure that the North’s weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the wrong hands.
But of course the administration did none of that.
Other conservative analysts have urged a variety of steps to increase the flow of free information into the country and to join with our allies in the region to further isolate North Korea.
The administration, however, has preferred with North Korea, as with Iran, China, Russia and Syria, to try engagement long after it became apparent that this was a fruitless exercise. We shouldn’t expect anything different with regard to North Korea. As Rogin notes, “The administration’s stance is to not provoke the new leader, out of concern that he may take aggressive actions to demonstrate his strength both externally and within the top echelons of North Korea’s political system.” We wouldn’t want to rattle the “Great Successor” or give him pause that a continuation of his predecessor’s rule of terror would be disadvantageous.
This policy choice is both morally and strategically obtuse and yet another example of the administration’s desire to be as innocuous as possible when it comes to rogue regimes. Not until we have a new president in the White House can we expect to have a policy that does more than passively accept the North Korea gulag as a permanent fixture in the region.