Can Trump Overcome Past Failures on North Korea?

Member Group : Marc Scaringi

One of the greatest obstacles in the path of a denuclearized North Korea was erected by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton several years ago and half a world away in Libya.

In 2011, the Arab Spring had sprung and Islamic revolutionaries attacked the secular regime of then Libyan ruler, Moammar Gadhafi. Clinton lobbied successfully for military intervention on behalf of the Libyan rebels, who with this assistance then toppled the regime and executed Gadhafi.

Clinton, in a moment of braggadocio that would make President Donald Trump blush, took credit for the slaying of Gadhafi and compared herself to Julius Caesar saying, “We came, we saw, he died.”

Clinton’s decision, however, was a mistake that has imperiled US efforts to achieve the denuclearization of other “rogue” states such as North Korea. Once an international pariah, Gadhafi had been turned around under the administration George W. Bush.

Gadhafi had dismantled his weapons of mass destruction, long range missile and nascent nuclear weapons programs.

Former President George W. Bush had promised Gadhafi’s “good faith would be returned” and offered a normalization of relations and security guarantees.

Despite this remarkable progress, a few years later when Gadhafi was in mortal danger, Clinton couldn’t resist the opportunity to bring about regime change and be lauded as the conqueror of Gadhafi.

Clinton got her scalp, yet the world would pay the price. In response, the North Korean Foreign Ministry stated, “Libya’s nuclear dismantlement much touted by the U.S. in the past turned out to be a mode of aggression whereby the latter coaxed the former with such sweet words as ‘guarantee of security’ and ‘improvement of relations’ to disarm and then swallowed it up by force.”

Later, after the U.S. reached the nuclear agreement with Iran, North Korea’s ambassador to China said, “The nuclear deterrence of [North Korea] is not a plaything to be put on the negotiating table as it is the essential means to protect its sovereignty and vital rights from the U.S. nuclear threat and hostile policy.”

Ironically the often-bombastic Bolton was using the “Libyan situation” in the context of explaining why the Bush administration’s Libyan policy was successful – the Libyans had allowed US inspectors to have direct access to their former nuclear sites. Bolton wasn’t talking about how later Obama and Clinton supported the overthrow of Gadhafi. Yet the damage was done.

Vice President Mike Pence then added fuel to the fire when he said, “There was some talk about the Libyan model last week, and you know, as the president made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal.”

Asked if he was issuing a threat, Pence replied, “Well, I think it’s more of a fact.” This statement and the previous one by Bolton set off the North Koreans.

North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui called Bolton’s statements “reckless” and Pence a “politically dummy.” Yet the problem is not the rhetoric; such rhetoric is part of the negotiation tactics of both sides.

Hui stated, “It is to be underlined, that in order not to follow in Libya’s footsteps, we paid a heavy price to build up our powerful and reliable strength that can defend ourselves and safeguard peace and security in the Korean peninsula and the region.” President Trump has a lot of work to do to undo the damage of Obama and Clinton’s short-sightedness.

Despite the media’s constant chorus of condemnation, we are in much better hands under a President Trump than under any recent past US president or any of Trump’s leading rivals.

Unlike most other U.S. political leaders, Trump is a realist in foreign policy. Trump has recently assured the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, that if he cooperates there will be no regime change.

This assurance is critically important to the success of the talks. South Korean President Moon Jae-in stated, “What’s unclear for Chairman Kim…is not his willingness for denuclearization but whether he can certainly trust the U.S. saying that it’ll end hostile relations and guarantee the security of his regime after his denuclearization.

A denuclearized Korean peninsula would be a wonderful and remarkable outcome that would benefit the world.

Marc A. Scaringi, of Camp Hill, is a PennLive Opinion contributor. His work appears biweekly.