The Corner

North Korea and the Ripple Effects of Obama’s Foreign Policy

The North Koreans are sending another loud reminder that they are crazy and unpredictable. They just finished showing off another nuclear facility, which means they want more appeasement money to sorta-kinda monitor it under “international” auspices. This shake-down gambit seems to be the paradigm of the future, an easy way to gain cash, attention, and influence otherwise not accorded such a miserable state. Note that in such cases (cf. Iran), the Chinese are usually in the vicinity.

Nonetheless, the more sinister regions of the world are watching the U.S. response to the shelling, for either a yellow or a green light for their own agendas. More enlightened states are watching, too, for indications of the American reaction should the trouble spread to their corners of the world.

But after 22 months of apologizing, bowing, and contextualizing supposed American sins from the trivial (lamenting the Arizona law in a meeting with the Chinese) to the profound (the mythical Cairo speech, unilaterally pressing Israel right out of the starting gate), the Obama administration has sent the message that it may not be so comfortable with America’s past unilateral responsibilities to its allies, and may even sympathize with some of the grievances of our purported enemies. Whether this assessment is fair or not, that’s the message they’ve sent.

Dismissing the idea that past global problems might transcend George W. Bush, this administration operated as if a charismatic world citizen, with reset magic, could win over the globe to a U.N.-sponsored utopia. These false assumptions intrigued the curious abroad — why would Obama seek to advance such absurd notions about global problems having originated with U.S. belligerence circa 2001–2009 and being resolved by U.S. empathy in 2009–2010? Apparently, as we are now learning, North Korea wants to find out the answer.

In general, listlessness and misdirection in Washington always ripple out to the world abroad within a year or two. Sanctimonious Carterism had confirmed the image of a paralytic America by 1979, which may be why that year saw the Chinese in Vietnam, the Russians in Afghanistan, Communists on the rise in Central America, hostages in Tehran, the end of the Shah, and the rise of an emboldened radical Islam. When Nixon and his congressional opponents wrecked U.S. foreign policy in the long dark days of Watergate, by 1973-4 the world became a very unstable place, with the Yom Kippur War, oil embargoes, an imploding Southeast Asia, and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

The tragedy of all this is that, once a sense of American self-confidence is lost, the result is usually a lot of post facto, herky-jerky catch-up efforts to restore credibility. E.g., a once-sermonizing Carter suddenly boycotting the Olympics and establishing the Carter doctrine in the Middle East, or the U.S. 1973 global alert during the Yom Kippur War, or Gerald Ford and the 1975 Mayaguez incident.

To deter North Korea, we should now express and follow through on the sort of solidarity that is unquestioned, a kind of solidarity that has been sorely lacking in the last two years with Israel, Britain, Poland, and the Czech Republic.

And, in a larger sense, the commander-in-chief needs to stop his contextualizing and apologizing, especially this pernicious messianic notion that, as an empathetic and post-national president, his mission is to redeem a previously culpable America. Otherwise, in the next two years that nonsense is going to get people killed.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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