James P. Pinkerton, a fellow at the New America Foundation and a contributor to the Fox News Channel, was a domestic policy aide in the Reagan and Bush 41 White Houses.
President Obama campaigned on the repudiation of Bush-era policies, most notably the neoconservative idea of military pre-emption. The Bush Doctrine—regime change, followed by democratization and reconciliation—is indeed in disarray, but Barack Obama has yet to offer a fully complete alternative. Seven-and-a-half years after George W. Bush's "axis of evil" speech, two thirds of that axis—Iran and North Korea—are more hostile and dangerous than ever. Iran elected the Israel-hating, saber-rattling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, and North Korea has exploded two atomic bombs.And there's nothing we can do about either country, because America shot its wad in Iraq. We achieved no WMD-elimination in Iraq (because there weren't any), and while we managed to increase the freedom that surviving Iraqis enjoy, the Iraqi government we installed at such great cost now seems simply waiting for us to leave, and soon, so it can reimpose internal security, Iraq-style. So whereas once the Sunni suppressed the Shiites, now it will be the Shiites suppressing the Sunni. Tit-for-tat justice, perhaps, but not what Americans were promised.Obama opposed Bush's vision for pre-emptive war in 2002-03, and that's why he's president. His major opponents in 2008, Democratic as well as Republican, supported a war that turned decisively unpopular in the years that followed Operation Iraqi Freedom. So, having gained so much from opposing Bush policies, Obama must now avoid the trap of falling back into them. So far, in terms of Iran and North Korea, the signs are not encouraging.It's obvious that North Korea and Iran fully intend to become nuclear powers, gaining mastery over the military technology needed to deliver nukes onto foreign targets. Do such belligerent and threatening policies make enemies? Sure they do. But as Machiavelli said, it's better to be feared than to be loved.Thus it was ironic, and faintly comic, when President Obama issued
a stern declaration on Monday
The danger posed by
's threatening activities warrants action by the international community
We have been and will continue working with our allies and partners in the Six-Party Talks as well as other members of the U.N. Security Council in the days ahead.
—because the odor of futile
was palpable.With all due respect to the 44th President, Obama's warning to the North Koreans was just a rehash of the foreign policy that emerged from the second term of the 43rd President. Starting around 2005, in everywhere but Iraq, the swaggering unilateralist—once so enraptured with his transformational liberation vision—had become just another chattering multilateralist. Meanwhile, let's get to the nub in the here and now: What's the real danger from North Korea? The most obvious and immediate answer is that North Korea might be able to fire a-bombs at some unlucky country. As Obama also said on Monday, "North Korea's attempts to develop nuclear weapons, as well as its ballistic missile program, constitute a threat to international peace and security." Well, that's for sure. Except for one thing: All the huffing and puffing aside, it's not so obvious that one leading member of the international community, namely China, really objects to what North Korea is doing. And yet more obvious is that China rejects any application of American-style "regime change" on its neighbor. So Obama is stuck, like Bush before him, issuing empty threats and empty cajolements, moving around the same ineffective sticks and ineffective carrots.Or is he? And are all the rest of us thus doomed to suffer through more dangerous n-proliferation? Let's go back to what Obama defined as the danger—"North Korea's attempts to develop nuclear weapons, as well as its ballistic missile program"—and break down the two weapons categories.