In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama promised that he would “eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.” His campaign manifesto, Change We Can Believe In, described Obama’s North Korea policy, and the philosophy behind it, in great detail:
North Korea is an example where direct, tough diplomacy that lays out clear choices to rogue regimes for good and bad behavior can lead to change. When the United States was engaged, the pace of Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons was slowed; when we were not, it quickened. While there has been some promising progress, it’s important that all of North Korea’s claims are verified. If they are not, we should move quickly to reimpose sanctions that have been waived, and consider new restrictions going forward. As President, Barack Obama will work with diligence and determination with our friends and allied to end the threat of North Korea and to secure a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.
Obama’s pledge to use “tough diplomacy” to “end the threat of North Korea” followed his infamous pledge during a Democratic presidential primary debate in 2007 that he would meet the leaders of rogue regimes like North Korea “without preconditions.”
That thinking matches the pseudo-realist view expressed repeatedly by Obama’s new nominee for Secretary of Defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE)–that the danger of regimes such as Iran and North Korea is amplified by, or even caused by, U.S. failure to “engage.” Obama’s extreme self-confidence emboldened his campaign promise not just to contain North Korea, but to convince it to abandon nuclear weapons entirely.
Obama did not just leave such talk on the campaign trail. In his 2010 State of the Union address, Obama boasted of the success of his policy on North Korea:
Now, these diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons. That’s why North Korea now faces increased isolation, and stronger sanctions–sanctions that are being vigorously enforced.
He repeated the North Korea boast in his 2011 State of the Union address:
Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before. And on the Korean Peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons. (Applause.)
Yet today, on the day he is to give the first State of the Union address of his second term, North Korea has tested a nuclear bomb. Not only has Obama failed to “eliminate” the North Korean nuclear weapons program; he has also failed to discourage or deter it.
So much for “tough diplomacy” from the Obama administration.