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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been railing against President Donald Trump for his approach to North Korea, despite the fact that her own efforts to deal with the rogue regime failed.
Speaking in Seoul, South Korea, Clinton urged the Trump administration to present a strong front but remain “patient” while avoiding “bellicose and aggressive rhetoric,” according to Reuters. She suggested that the president’s “cavalier” threats are “dangerous and short-sighted.” In past talks, she argued that his words might trigger nuclear war.
Clinton also expressed a need to use pressure to bring North Korea to the negotiating table, which has essentially been the Trump administration’s strategy from the start, even if the president has been inconsistent in his views on the value of engaging North Korea in dialogue.
Trump has engaged North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in a war of words while dismissing the possibility of talks in favor of increased pressure backed by military force should that prove necessary. While some suggest that the president’s rhetoric, coupled with displays of American military might in the region, send a message to North Korea and China about the seriousness of America’s convictions, others are concerned that Trump’s tough talk is making a renewed conflict on the Korean Peninsula much more likely.
Trump’s rhetoric could serve as a catalyst for conflict, or it could strengthen America’s deterrence posture. The confusion has caused some concern among U.S. allies and in Washington.
Regardless, it is clear that Clinton’s approach to North Korea at a time when she had the ability to make a difference ultimately failed to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
During her time as secretary of state, Clinton advocated for a policy known as “strategic patience,” a hands-off approach to North Korea that passed the buck to the next administration by simply waiting for North Korea to change it’s behavior.
Strategic patience, which some leading scholars called a “strategic blunder,” was based on the belief that the rogue regime might collapse if it was left alone to suffer under sanctions.
“People thought, mistakenly, that they would eventually disappear,” John Merrill, former chief of the Northeast Asia Division of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the Department of State, told Politico last year. “Of course, that was a miscalculation.”
“‘Strategic patience” was a polite term for sitting back and watching while North Korea continued to build up its nuclear weapons program,” Matthew Bunn, nuclear non-proliferation expert at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, explained to reporters.
“It’s not a strategy,” Joel S. Wit, a former State Department official, revealed to the Stars and Stripes, “It’s serving North Korea’s interest, not ours … If you straight-line into the future, the threat is going to get worse.”
“It’s gotten worse since 2009 when the Obama administration took office, and it’s going to keep getting worse and worse and worse,” he explained. At that time, the North had conducted three nuclear tests, and by the end of Obama’s second term, the regime detonated a total of five nuclear devices, claiming after the fifth test to be able to mount a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, a reality confirmed by U.S. intelligence this past summer.
For most of Clinton’s time as secretary of state, she dealt with a North Korea led by Kim Jong Il, who engaged in limited weapons development and testing, but nothing like what his son would later do. In the final year of the Obama administration, North Korea tested around two dozen ballistic missiles and two nuclear bombs, advancing the country’s weapons programs rapidly.
The president’s tough talk aside, the current administration is committed to a diplomatic solution, a position affirmed by Trump. The U.S. is presently pursuing a hard-hitting pressure campaign to change North Korea’s strategic calculus. At the urging of the Trump administration, China has taken steps to rein in its nuclear neighbor, and numerous other countries have cut ties.
While the Obama administration incorrectly stated that North Korea is the most sanctioned country on the planet, the Trump administration has significantly tightened the noose around the North Korean economy through tough U.N. sanctions and unilateral sanctions. At the same time, the U.S. has also worked to improve the offensive and defensive capabilities of U.S. allies while moving more U.S. strategic military assets into Northeast Asia to handle a conflict should such a situation arise.
The North Korean threat has become much more serious now that the rogue regime has an intercontinental ballistic missile that can range the U.S. mainland and a staged thermonuclear weapon — a hydrogen bomb.
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