Failure teaches a lot — this is an axiom that often trips off Obama’s tongue.
Then what is the lesson the incumbent U.S. President must learn from his predecessors’ unsuccessful tussle with the DPRK over the past 70 years?
On June 25, 1950, the United States unleashed a war against the burgeoning DPRK out of an aggressive ambition to secure a bridgehead for its world supremacy on the Korean peninsula. It enlisted for the Korean front a colossal two million-strong force including the mercenaries of its 15 satellite countries, the south Korean troops and the remnants of the former Japanese army, to say nothing of its own army, navy and air forces. However, it lost one battle after another on the front line. Truman drank a bitter cup and left the White House.
Inaugurated in early 1953, Eisenhower initiated a new offensive to turn the tide of the war. This last-ditch venture, too, ended in a fiasco.
On July 27, 1953 the United States signed the Armistice Agreement, which was tantamount to a letter of surrender. In a radio speech, 59 minutes after the signing of the truce, Eisenhower described it as tragic and heartrending.
On January 23, 1968, the U.S. armed spy ship Pueblo was captured in the act of committing espionage in the territorial waters of the DPRK.
The then-U.S. President Johnson called a meeting of the National Security Council at the White House, in which he dubbed the capture of the vessel an act of war against the United States. He ordered that a huge task force led by the nuclear aircraft carrier Enterprise be dispatched to the waters off the Korean peninsula.
The United States issued an ultimatum to repatriate the vessel and its crew, or it would retaliate. The DPRK responded by declaring that it would retaliate against the “retaliation” and the “all-out war” in kind. The superpower had no option but to admit its criminal action and sign a letter of apology. Johnson called it the singular apology in America’s history.
The spyship USS Pueblo, now permanently moored on the Taedong River in Pyongyang.
Upon taking office in early 2001, Bush labelled the DPRK as part of the Axis of Evil and nullified the DPRK-USA Agreed Framework [on nuclear energy and for the normalization of relations] that had been signed during his predecessor’s term. His administration went to extremes in pressuring the DPRK politically, economically and militarily, and openly threatened preemptive nuclear strikes against it.
Bush accomplished a remarkable “feat” by orchestrating a new uproar on the nuclear issue. In the face of the United States’ ever-increasing nuclear threat, the DPRK declared that it could possess a nuclear deterrent or something else more powerful to defend its sovereignty and dignity.
And soon afterwards the DPRK carried out a successful nuclear test to affirm that the declaration was not a bluff.
Conclusively speaking, Bush wielded the stick of the sole superpower, only to help the DPRK become a nuclear state.
Lesson for Obama
While running for the presidency, Obama used to clamour about the “recourse to diplomacy” in improving relations with the DPRK, as he might have realized from the lesson taught by his predecessors that a punitive or confrontational policy will not lead to progress.
But it turned out to be just a gimmick. Upon entering the White House, Obama adopted a policy of “strategic patience,” which was not designed to improve its relations with the DPRK.
The former Deputy Secretary of State, who was an active protagonist of this policy in the Obama administration, admitted that Obama could find no other alternative to debilitate the DPRK than by destroying its self-defensive nuclear deterrent.
The DPRK judged that in a major shift of policy the United States was scheming to buy time and there was no change in its ultimate goal to topple the government. It announced that it would simultaneously conduct economic construction and build up nuclear forces.
American hardliners asserted that Obama’s “strategic patience” afforded the DPRK an opportunity to develop its rocket technology and manufacture miniaturized nuclear warheads, further threatening the security of the United States. Against this background Obama has returned to the tough stand towards the DPRK, spearheading an outcry about “human rights” against it.
Recently, Obama was driven into a tight corner by his scandalous act of golfing in Hawaii while the domestic situation plunged into a chaotic mess because of [the protests against] rampant racial discrimination from the end of last year to the beginning of this year. He again provoked the DPRK by issuing a “presidential executive order” aimed at imposing additional sanctions upon it.
The DPRK declared that is is through with the United States and will take counter-measures to end the U.S. provocations.
What then should Obama learn from the seven decades of his predecessors’ high-handedness and from his own ineffectual policy? Failure teaches a lot and will teach him a bitter lesson.
(April 20, 2015. Slightly edited for grammar by TML.)