Fantasyland foreign policy on North Korea and Iran

You can’t say elections don’t have foreign policy consequences.

Secretary of State John Kerry- Melina Mara/Washington Post

Take North Korea. Former Missouri senator Jim Talent was the likely pick for secretary of defense in a Mitt Romney administration. He writes:

The North Koreans believe they can provoke conflict with impunity. Perhaps they can in the short term. But a more capable American Navy, exercising an increased presence in the Northwest Pacific, would be a long-term setback for North Korean and Chinese ambitions. That is a consequence neither regime could ignore the next time North Korea contemplates a new provocation.

At a fundamental level, defense policy is foreign policy. Weakness, real or perceived, invites challenge; strength deters it. Ronald Reagan understood that, which is why he built up American power in the 1980s. Teddy Roosevelt understood it too; his policy was to walk softly while carrying a big stick. If our leaders absorb that lesson today, and apply it with prudence and purpose, the North Koreans may yet have cause to regret that they decided to rattle their sabers.

Likewise, a conservative foreign policy critic of the president on Capitol Hill calls the cancellation of our missile test “troubling.” He e-mails: “ A continued show of force in the region is the best way to make the Chinese realize that they need to rein in Pyongyang, but I think until we are willing to push the envelope and make our policy one of regime change, via targeted financial actions, more funding for democracy and human rights programs, etc. that is unlikely to happen.”

At a fundamental level, defense policy is foreign policy. Weakness, real or perceived, invites challenge; strength deters it. Ronald Reagan understood that, which is why he built up American power in the 1980s. Teddy Roosevelt understood it, too; his policy was to walk softly while carrying a big stick. If our leaders absorb that lesson today, and apply it with prudence and purpose, the North Koreans may yet have cause to regret that they decided to rattle their sabers.

Likewise, a conservative foreign policy critic of the president on Capitol Hill calls the cancellation of our missile test “troubling.” He emails: ” A continued show of force in the region is the best way to make the Chinese realize that they need to rein in Pyongyang, but I think until we are willing to push the envelope and make our policy one of regime change, via targeted financial actions, more funding for democracy and human rights programs, etc. that is unlikely to happen.”

Contrast that to the Obama administration plan to slash defense and its idiotic pronouncement that it is up to Pyongyang to step back. Talent suggests a policy built on leverage, exercise of American power and soberness about our foes. Obama’s team is all about wishful thinking.

Likewise, in the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry is back to peace processing. But it is worse than that for the reality-based community. Israeli columnist Ruthie Blum reminds us that now he wants Turkey to play a role in the moribund peace process:

To say that this is delusional would be to diminish the depth of its derangement. Turkey has been making overtures to Hamas in Gaza and remains hostile to Israel, in spite of Obama’s brokering a restoration of ties between the two countries during his own visit to Jerusalem last month. And though a group of Israeli diplomats is scheduled to go to Ankara in the near future, the purpose of the delegation is to discuss the multi-millions of dollars in compensation to be paid to the families of the Turkish radicals who were killed during the “Free Gaza” flotilla raid in 2010.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made it clear to Kerry that Israel would have to meet a stringent set of preconditions before Turkey would agree to kiss and make up. These include lifting the naval blockade of Gaza.

I’ll take a wild guess that a Republican administration would have thought that preposterous and instead would be figuring out how to deal with the real emergency in the Middle East, the failure of the Iranian talks and its steady pursuit of nuclear weapons.

I suspect just about any Republican administration (and a Democratic one if weaned from the left’s anti-Israel hostility and never-neverland approach to the mullah) would take a different tact, akin to what Iran expert Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, described in The Post recently:

To entice such concessions from the West, Iranian officials cleverly dangle the possibility of addressing an issue that is not essential to Tehran’s nuclear weapons objectives: the production of uranium enriched to 20 percent. Iran’s medium-grade enrichment is a dangerous escalation of the crisis, as it brings the material much closer to weapons-grade quality. Western powers would be judicious to focus on stopping it. But prolonged negotiations over this narrow issue and any concessions on Iran’s “right to enrich” in order to obtain that suspension would fall into Tehran’s trap of hampering a U.S. or Israeli military option.

To successfully negotiate with Tehran, the P5+1 must demonstrate the same type of steadfastness that guardians of the Islamic Republic have shown. The best means of disarming Iran is to insist on a simple and basic red line: Iran must adhere to all the Security Council resolutions pertaining to its nuclear infractions. This implies establishing serious curbs on its activities in Natanz and not just being preoccupied with Fordow. To suggest or behave otherwise will only whet the appetite of strong-willed clerics sensitive to subtle shifts in their adversaries’ posture and power.

My only quibble would be that the “trap” is more like a briar patch, a refuge for the Obama administration to decline to do what it has never wanted to do, exercise the military option.

Obama administration officials fancy themselves as realists. But how realistic is to simply expect North Korea to stop being belligerent? How realistic is to expect on, say, the 15th (unlike the previous 14) negotiation meeting, the Iranian negotiators will slap hands to their foreheads, renounce the right to enrich and give up its nuclear weaponry all to get back in the good graces of the “international community”? Not realistic at all, I’d suggest. In fact, it is lunacy, a dangerous game of avoidance that allows rogue regimes to blackmail the West.

 

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