Josh Rogin reports: “North Korea’s apparently unsuccessful launch of an Unha-3 rocket with a ‘satellite’ attached marks not only the 100th birthday of the country’s founder Kim Il Sung, but also the end of the Obama administration’s year-long effort to open up a new path for negotiations with the Hermit Kingdom.” All Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could muster before the launch was to threaten to go to the U.N. Security Council (did that have them quaking in their boots in Pyongyang?).
Wendy Sherman, who presided over the Clinton-era North Korea policy ( which proved farcical), was brought into the State Department despite concerns about her naivete regarding the tyrannical regime. So it’s no surprise our efforts to engage the murderous regime came to nothing. Rogin notes the incompetence is quite stunning: “Arms Control expert Jeffrey Lewis explained at length how U.S. negotiators Glyn Davies and Clifford Hart might have flubbed the negotiations by assuming that telling the North Koreans a satellite launch would scuttle the deal and hearing the North Koreans acknowledge the U.S. position was tantamount to an agreement.”
Mitt Romney slammed the president, putting out a written statement that read: “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the attempted North Korean missile launch. Although the missile test failed, Pyongyang’s action is another blatant violation of unanimous U.N. Security Council resolutions and demonstrates once again that Pyongyang is committed to developing long-range missiles with the potential of carrying nuclear weapons. Its weapons program poses a clear and growing threat to the United States, one for which President Obama has no effective response. Instead of approaching Pyongyang from a position of strength, President Obama sought to appease the regime with a food-aid deal that proved to be as naïve as it was short-lived. At the same time, he has cut critical U.S. missile defense programs and continues to underfund them. This incompetence from the Obama Administration has emboldened the North Korean regime and undermined the security of the United States and our allies.” It’s pretty hard to argue with that sentiment.
The administration was at its worst, quivering self. Prior to the launch, White House press secretary Jay Carney (who speaks with all the authority of a college freshman) offered: “The proposed missile launch, if conducted, would represent a clear and serious violation of North Korea’s obligations under two United Nations Security Council resolutions that explicitly prohibit North Korea from testing ballistic missiles.” Pretty thin gruel.
After the launch, the White House response was muted, reading in part: “Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, North Korea’s provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments. While this action is not surprising given North Korea’s pattern of aggressive behavior, any missile activity by North Korea is of concern to the international community. The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations, and is fully committed to the security our allies in the region.” Of concern? And gosh, if they don’t knock it off they aren’t going to get more goodies from us. “The President has been clear that he is prepared to engage constructively with North Korea. However, he has also insisted that North Korea live up to its own commitments, adhere to its international obligations and deal peacefully with its neighbors.”
It was a sorry display of feebleness. Former U.N ambassador John Bolton told me last night that sending a weak verbal message, as Carney did from the White House, was “foolish.” He continued that this highlighted the folly of Obama’s defense cuts: “Obama’s cutbacks to the missile defense program have dramatically reduced our ability to protect ourselves against the likes of North Korea and Iran. One reason I endorsed Romney back in January was his longstanding strong support for missile defense.” The only long-term solution to this problem is “to reunify the Peninsula.” In other words: regime change. He conceded, however, that “none of the last three administrations has done anything on this point.”
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) issued a statement criticizing the president’s policy: “Once again, Pyongyang has demonstrated its complete disregard for international sanctions and its proclivity for worthless commitments. Moreover, North Korea’s actions and gathering of global media to witness the launch make a mockery of the recent ‘Leap Day agreement’ with the Obama Administration. The administration should abandon its naive negotiations with North Korea (and Iran), and instead focus on fully funding missile defenses that can protect the United States from ballistic missile threats.” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) was likewise critical: “This launch, taking place weeks after the Administration secured a ‘promise’ from Pyongyang to suspend missile tests in exchange for food aid, illustrates once again that trying to negotiate with the regime is a fool’s errand. Rather than working towards the next doomed agreement with North Korea, or other rogue regimes, the United States must impose stronger penalties and pressure on those who threaten global security with their illegal nuclear, missile, and other unconventional weapons programs.”
The Post editorial board, in fact, pointed to the horror visited on the North Korean people by a regime that is increasingly oppressive at home and provocative abroad:
The gulag is a network of labor camps that houses 150,000 to 200,000 prisoners. They are generally arrested for no crime, sent away with no trial, never again allowed to communicate with anyone outside the camps, fed on starvation rations and forced to work until they die. Other than from one camp, according to South Korean expert Yoon Yeo-sang, no one deported to North Korea’s gulag is ever released. . . .
The United States, with a goal of keeping the peace and depriving North Korea of nuclear weapons, has not made human rights a priority. In South Korea, the gulag has been a political football between left-wing politicians favoring warmer ties with the North and right-wing politicians pushing a harder line. China, North Korea’s neighbor to the north and west, abuses the human rights of its own population and does not believe any country’s freedom to abuse its population in the same way should be interfered with.
Once again, engagement with despots and diffidence in the face of provocation have emboldened a brutal dictatorship and lessened U.S. credibility. Watching all of this unfold, no doubt, are the mullahs. The North Korean example is instructive to them, especially given that Obama’s approach so closely mirrors his stance toward them: Try fruitless negotiations; defer to international bodies; finger wag and condemn (but not too vigorously); remain relatively mute on human rights; downplay any military option; and have no plan “B” when sanctions fail. Come to think of it, this is also his approach to China, Russia and the other tyrannies on the planet. That’s Obama for you: Speak softly and carry a very tiny stick.