Former President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice has some dangerous advice for President Trump on how to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat, which she delivered in the form of a New York Times op-ed on August 10th under the title, “It’s Not Too Late on North Korea.” Now a private citizen, but still possessing a top-secret security clearance for no apparent reason, Ms. Rice recommended what amounts to a policy of appeasement toward the rogue regime, declaring that a nuclear-armed North Korea would not be so terrible. “History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea,” Ms. Rice wrote. In actually, history shows the opposite. When dealing with a megalomaniacal dictator armed to the teeth, a policy built around “peace in our time” does not work.
Ms. Rice is not an innocent observer of current events. She played a prominent role in shaping U.S. foreign policy while serving as the Obama administration’s United Nations ambassador and then as Obama’s national security adviser. She helped to formulate and sell the flawed approach known as “strategic patience” that guided Obama’s feckless foreign policy in North Korea and other trouble spots. This catch phrase is nothing more than a euphemism for kicking the can down the road and letting the next administration worry about the festering problems the Obama administration refused to confront head on. President Trump does not need any advice from one of the key persons responsible for the mess that he has inherited.
Nor should President Trump listen to the hectoring Democrats in Congress who have too often gotten it wrong on major foreign policy issues. For example, House Democrat minority whip Steny Hoyer took issue with President Trump’s warning to the North Korean regime that it faced “fire and fury” if it did not change its ways. "It is not a strategic or responsible response to issue wild threats of destruction," Representative Hoyer said in a statement. "Such behavior we'd expect to see from [Kim Jong-un] himself, not the President of the United States."
House Democrat minority leader Nancy Pelosi opined, “The president’s most recent comments are recklessly belligerent and demonstrate a grave lack of appreciation for the severity of the North Korean nuclear situation.” Senate Democrat minority leader Chuck Schumer tweeted that “reckless rhetoric is not a strategy to keep America safe.”
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has ratcheted up tensions to unprecedented levels, not only with his escalating threats but with ICBM launches that the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” and diplomatically phrased lectures did not deter. Instead of concentrating their ire on Kim Jong-un and giving the Trump administration the time and space to try a different approach, Democrats would rather revert to reckless partisanship and argue over President Trump’s tough tone. Why not instead give strategic impatience a chance?
The Obama administration’s 2015 National Security Strategy paper, which used the phrase “strategic patience” to describe the Obama administration’s national security strategy, stated: “Our commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is rooted in the profound risks posed by North Korean weapons development and proliferation.” However, in view of Rice’s expressed willingness to “tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea,” we now have a window into what the Obama administration was really prepared to risk in order to avoid any direct confrontation with North Korea. While Obama and Rice were exercising their strategic patience, North Korea conducted a succession of nuclear weapons tests on Obama’s watch and developed increasingly sophisticated missiles to deliver them. In fact, the Obama administration reportedly knew back in 2013 of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s determination, reached with “moderate confidence,” that North Korea had the capability to build a nuclear weapon small enough to be deliverable by a ballistic missile. The Obama administration downplayed the report and decided to remain patient.
United Nations sanctions against North Korea did not work, including those negotiated by Susan Rice when she served as the Obama administration’s ambassador to the UN. Praising a unanimous UN Security Council sanctions resolution passed in 2013, a month after one of North Korea’s nuclear tests, Rice said the sanctions would "further constrain" North Korea's ability to develop its nuclear program and warned of “further significant actions" by the Security Council if North Korea conducted another nuclear test. North Korea did not listen. It conducted two more nuclear tests during 2016.
In her op-ed article, Susan Rice chastised President Trump for his “reckless rhetoric,” and urged “rational, steady American leadership” to “avoid a crisis and counter a growing North Korean threat.” Yet President Trump’s “strategic impatience” has already paid off with new UN sanctions that even Ms. Rice conceded are “especially potent, closing loopholes and cutting off important funding for the North.” Those were loopholes allowed by Susan Rice when she was UN ambassador.
Ms. Rice’s suggestion that “we must begin a dialogue with China about additional efforts and contingencies on the peninsula” is a joke. Obama failed for eight years to get anywhere close to what President Trump has achieved in securing China’s cooperation within a little more than six months on the job. The difference is that China is finally taking the leader of the free world seriously.
Finally, Susan Rice wrote that “we must enhance our antimissile systems and other defenses.” Where was she as Obama cut spending on missile defense? The Missile Defense Agency budget was cut by 13 percent during Obama’s first year in office, with a further cut of 7 percent in real terms during the following seven years.
In its 2015 report to Congress entitled “Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” the Department of Defense discussed various types of rockets North Korea had developed and was testing, including “the TD-2, which has only been used in a space-launch role, but could reach the United States with a nuclear payload if developed as an ICBM.” The report warned that North Korea’s “continued development of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles…pose a serious threat to the United States, the region, and the world.” Obama’s strategic patience only allowed the problem to get worse.
The THAAD missile system, which the Obama administration did begin deploying in South Korea, is capable of shooting down short and medium range ballistic missiles in their “terminal phase,” as they re-enter the atmosphere towards their targets. It would do nothing to protect the U.S. homeland against the kind of intercontinental ballistic missiles that North Korea has been testing.
General David L. Mann, Commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, United States Strategic Command, told the House Armed Services Committee in 2014that we had only “a limited defense against threats emanating from North Korea and Iran.” When asked to explain, he said “we all know that these countries are continuing to increase their arsenal and their technology. And down the road, they might reach a point in terms of numbers, just the numbers of missiles that they could employ that it could overwhelm the system.”
North Korea is now much closer to that point, thanks in large part to the passivity of Barack Obama and his national security team. President Trump certainly does not need the advice of Susan Rice or anyone else who embraced Obama’s failed strategic patience paralysis. Indeed, Susan Rice is dead wrong in her advice. We should not tolerate a North Korea well armed with nuclear weapons and equipped with the means for their delivery to the U.S. homeland. Aside from its own potential use of such nuclear weapons, there would be little to stop North Korea from handing off some of its weapons and technology to Iran and to non-state terrorists who mean to do us great harm.