Sunday, March 25, 2012

On North Korea...

Yesterday, on his visit to South Korea, Obama said this (part of a larger comment):
North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or provocations. Bad behavior will not be rewarded. There had been a pattern, I think, for decades in which North Korea thought if they had acted provocatively, then somehow they would be bribed into ceasing and desisting acting provocatively. What I've said to them consistently is rewarding bad behavior, turning a blind eye to deliberate provocations, trying to paper over these not just provocative words but extraordinarily provocative acts that violate international norms, that that's not obviously working.
This sounds like the right thing to say to the North Koreans. The trouble is that Obama's predecessors, all the way back to the Eisenhower administration, have said essentially the same thing, but behaved otherwise. The rest of the world, but most especially the U.S. and South Korea, keep telling the North Koreans that we will not reward them for bad behavior – and then we go ahead and reward them.  What passes for an upper class in North Korea has grown to be dependent on the food and other aid from the West.  Worst of all, they've learned (because we've trained them well) that if they do something outrageous (like, say, shelling a South Korean community), we'll respond with ... more aid.

I have no argument with Obama's rhetoric here; it remains to be seen whether he (unlike Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton, or G.W. Bush) will break the pattern I just described.  I hope he will...

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