Tag Archive for 'north-korea'

North Korea Behaving Badly Again

Published November 27th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Those of you who are worried about the latest spike in tensions between North Korea and South Korea should read the excellent piece by my colleague Doug Bandow in the National Interest Online.  Among other things, Doug questions why nearly six decades since the end of the Korean War, the United States is in the middle of a parochial spat between two small nations half-way around the world.  He shows why North Korea’s neighbors should be perfectly capable of handling that obnoxious little troublemaker on their own.

The security commitment to South Korea is yet another example of U.S. global obligations that are both obsolete and dangerous.  The sooner we get our troops out of harm’s way, the better.  We have far more pressing problems much closer to home–including the soaring (and spreading) drug violence next door in Mexico.

How Not to Handle North Korea

Published October 29th, 2009 by tcarpenter

I have a new article in the National Interest Online about the speech by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates during his recent visit to East Asia.  His comments inadvertently underscored why U.S. foreign policy is such a mess.  In one speech, he 1) made the North Korean nuclear crisis more dangerous, 2) greatly reduced the chances that China will exert itself to help solve the crisis, and 3) gave U.S. allies Japan and South Korea a green light to continue underinvesting in their own defense while free-riding on U.S. efforts.  Other than that, it was a brilliant speech.

Gates is reputed to be the foreign policy “adult” in the Obama administration.  If that’s true, we’re all in deep trouble.

Has Washington Changed its Policy Toward Iran?

Published July 19th, 2008 by tcarpenter

The Bush administration surprised everyone this week when it announced that William Burns, the number three official in the State Department, would meet with Iran’s top negotiator regarding the ongoing nuclear crisis.  Yet barely two months earlier, in a speech to the Israeli Knesset, President Bush had criticized anyone who was willing to negotiate with “terrorists and radicals” as making the same naïve blunder as Western leaders who sought to appease Adolf Hitler.  That comment was a jab at Barack Obama, who had previously suggested opening a dialogue with such countries as Iran and Syria.


There are two possible explanations for the administration’s change in strategy.  One possibility is that the Bush foreign policy team has finally decided, with great reluctance, to enter into serious negotiations with Iran, just as it had earlier with regard to North Korea.  When the nuclear crisis involving that country re-ignited in late 2002, the administration’s initial reaction was to refuse even to talk to Pyongyang.  Only after months of intense pressure from China and Washington’s chief allies in East Asia, Japan and South Korea, did U.S. officials relent and agree to meet with their North Korean counterparts.  That paved the way for the ongoing six-party talks.  Indeed, Washington’s policy changed so much, that over the past two years the United States and North Korea have even conducted several rounds of  bilateral (albeit unofficial) negotiations.


It is possible that we are witnessing a similar evolution of  policy toward Iran.  If so, that creates at least some hope that the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program can be resolved, and that someday normal diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran will be restored.


But there is another, much more ominous, possibility.  Rumors have been flying for several months that the administration is considering launching air strikes against Iran.  The Israeli government seems to be considering the military option even more seriously, since it has recently conducted military exercises involving that scenario.  If air strikes have become a live policy option, the Burns diplomatic mission could be Washington’s effort to give Tehran a final chance to capitulate before the bombs and missiles start flying.  Indeed, if one were inclined to be cynical, the administration could be simply going through the motions to establish a record that would support the narrative that the United States had tried everything, even high-level diplomacy, to solve the crisis peacefully.  That “evidence” would then be used to support the case that the only remaining option was military force to prevent the “crazy mullahs in Tehran” from acquiring nuclear weapons.


At this point, there is no way to tell which scenario is correct.   The former seems more likely, but the latter cannot be ruled out.  At the very least, one should be cautious with  expressions of enthusiasm and relief about the Burns mission until the picture becomes clear.