Repeating History's Painful Lessons in North Korea

In China President Obama extravagantly praised his hosts’ world view, extolling their “thousand year view of history.” Then Air Force One landed in Seoul and he apparently forgot all about America’s recent experiences with North Korea.

In a joint press conference with South Korea’s President Lee Myung-pak, Obama delivered what the New York Times called a “stern message” to North Korea vowing to “break the pattern” of past negotiations with the rogue regime over nuclear weapons.

One can only imagine Kim Jong Il (and his body doubles) trembling at the prospect. Maybe in laughter.

Over the past decade and a half the North Korean minuet has been consistent and predictable: North Korea behaves badly — testing missiles, threatening neighbors with destruction, and exploding nuclear weapons — and the US responds with greater levels of assistance.

The pattern to which Obama referred began in earnest in spring 1994 when former President Jimmy Carter flew to South Korea, ostentatiously walked across the Demilitarized Zone into North Korea, and promptly cut a deal with Kim Il Sung and his soon-to-be successor son, Kim Jong Il: Stop your nuclear weapons program and in return the US and others will provide you with nuclear power plants, fuel oil, food and medical aid, and favorable economic conditions.

The Clinton White House learned of the deal from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer broadcasting live from Pyongyang.

Nevertheless, Carter provided a convenient way out for Clinton, who had been pressed to the wall and was considering military options against North Korea that he was loath to employ.

The Agreed Framework, as it was known, then became standard US policy. America insisted that surrounding states join in the agreement so Japan, South Korea, Russian, and China all became part of the Six Party Talks upon which Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Obama have based policy.

Predictably, North Korea immediately broke its pledge. It ceremoniously closed down a plutonium facility at Yongbyon and invited UN inspectors to view it, but restricted them from visiting any other sites in-country. Concomitantly, it secretly pushed ahead aggressively with a uranium enriched bomb that it has since tested three times.

Meanwhile, the regime continued rapidly to develop its missile program, successfully testing (with financial and engineering support from Iran) a spectrum of missiles from multiple short-range shots through medium and longer range rockets. The longest range, ICBM class missile, may soon be able to strike America’s West Coast.

Now Obama has pledged to “break” this pattern by sending special envoy Stephen Bosworth to Pyongyang to offer “new incentives” to Kim in return for ceasing his nuclear weapons program and rejoining the Six Party Talks.

Such is the Orwellian double-speak that could only make sense in an Obama White House.

How repeating an established practice of the past and expecting new results could somehow be construed as “breaking a pattern” is unfathomable.

According to sources, Bosworth (where, one might ask parenthetically, is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in all of this) is to dash up to Pyongyang, arms laden with a new basket of goodies, and in return we are reasonably to expect that Kim Jong Il, the Great Deceiver, will promptly abandon a bait-and-switch policy that has served him exceedingly well for more than 15 years?

One deeply embedded Korean cultural characteristic is to rely on past experience to solve immediate problems. In this regard Kim’s experiences have all been positive: Bluster loudly and receive big rewards. Cheat openly and receive big rewards. Explode nuclear weapons with great fanfare and then be told by the US President that “it is unacceptable for North Korea to be a nuclear power.”

News flash to the White House: Mr. President, they already are a nuclear power.

What is most worrisome here is that Obama might actually believe that he is crafting some imaginative, effective new policy toward North Korea that will yield the results he expects and that the American people ought to demand.

If a nuclear device, manufactured by North Korea, laundered through Iran, and deployed by a terrorist organization, explodes in an American city what possible excuse could Obama have for allowing such a catastrophe to occur? The stakes are far too high to play fast and loose with reality.

We ought to correctly worry that this is an attempt, once again, on Obama’s part to rely on personal charisma and negotiating skills, with which he is clearly enamored, to “put lipstick on a pig” and convince us that more talk and less action will change the mind of a ruthless dictator.

For someone who extravagantly praised China’s embrace of its history, Obama seems appallingly ignorant of his own.