North Korea’s claim to have detonated a hydrogen bomb on Wednesday may cause major new problems for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
As Secretary of State in President Barack Obama’s first term, Clinton led a policy that sought new outlets for talks with North Korea while promising “to speak out forcefully” against the regime. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, traveled personally to North Korea to free U.S. journalists in 2009.
In 2007, then-candidate Obama had promised to meet with North Korean leaders, among others, “without preconditions,” saying that “the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them–which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this [Bush] administration–is ridiculous.” In his campaign manifesto, Obama went further, promising to “eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program” through diplomacy.
In his 2010 State of the Union address, delivered while Hillary Clinton was in charge of his administration’s foreign policy, Obama boasted that he was succeeding in diplomacy with North Korea, as well as with Iran–that his diplomatic efforts had “strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons.” He repeated the claim in his 2011 State of the Union Address, stating that his administration continued to “insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.”
In 2013, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on the day President Obama was to give his State of the Union address, putting an atomic stamp on the administration’s failure. In 2014, the administration struggled to respond to North Korean hacks that targeted Sony Pictures and its film, The Interview, that lampooned the regime.
Experts are skeptical that Wednesday’s test was a hydrogen bomb, but agree that it was a nuclear explosion, and not a natural earthquake.
Already, Clinton’s rivals are pouncing. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told Fox & Friends Wednesday that “three out of the four nuclear detonations that the North Koreans have done have happened on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s watch, and they have just not acted strongly at all around the world. It’s just another example piling on top of Iran, on top of Syria, on top of Crimea and Ukraine. This is what weak American leadership gets you.”
The fact that Bill Clinton, as well as Hillary Clinton, was involved in recent diplomacy with North Korea may also tempt GOP frontrunner Donald Trump to renew his attack on the former president. Recently, Trump has revived the issue of Bill Clinton’s conduct towards women–and his wife’s alleged enabling behavior.