While almost no one was looking, over the past 48 hours the prospect of nuclear conflict took quite a leap forward. That’s right; while the political class is obsessed with Marco Rubio’s last stand and Hillary Clinton’s latest embarrassment, something serious is happening that ordinarily would be considered consequential. Instead of contemplating the existence of Trump Steaks or debating if saying “Excuse me, I’m talking” is sexist, the candidates running for president of the United States and the pundits who talk about the race should have something thoughtful to say about North Korea and Iran. The 2016 campaign is hiding rather than illuminating the urgent challenges the next president will face.
North Korea, which recently test-fired missiles and conducted a nuclear weapons test, has matter-of-factly announced that it has “miniaturized” nuclear warheads, enabling those warheads to be placed on ballistic missiles and presumably kill millions. While that was happening, Iran test-fired two ballistic missiles – which allegedly were inscribed with the phrase “Israel must be wiped off the Earth” — in a flagrant violation of U.N. resolutions, although the tests were not technically a violation of the Iran nuclear deal. Well, that’s a relief.
Maybe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini are bluffing, but regardless, even their assertions are worth a comment or two from the presidential candidates. The neglect of the actual issues in the 2016 campaign is going from shameful to frightening.
All this is to say that the next president will have a lot of work to do to repair the United States’ stature around the world. Under President Obama, deterrence is dead. The North Korean leadership ignores him, and the Iranians taunt him. Even the Cubans won’t play along. On Wednesday, the Cuban regime’s mouthpiece, the Communist Party paper Granma, published an editorial demanding that President Obama use executive actions to end U.S. policies that “manufacture internal political opposition” in Cuba. The Castro government won’t even pretend it is lessening its brutal suppression of political freedoms, and President Obama is still going to go through with his trip to Havana?
The world is becoming more dangerous. I thought an election would reverse that trend and the United States’ enemies would fear or respect the new president. But nothing about the election season so far should give anyone any confidence that U.S. leadership will be restored anytime soon.