As it often has in the past, the insular and totalitarian regime of North Korea is testing an American president.
Pyongyang taunted President Barack Obama’s predecessors with provocative missile launches. Now it has raised the ante by shelling a South Korean island, which caused four deaths and 18 injuries.
What is more, the new document drop from Wikileaks reveals another piece of the puzzle that Obama has known about since at least February: North Korea has reportedly supplied Iran with 19 powerful BM-25 missiles, which have a 2,000-mile range and could carry nuclear warheads as soon as Iran has them.
This reckless behavior presents Obama with the most severe foreign policy challenge of his young presidency.
Obama’s handling of Iran does not inspire confidence about his resolve. In 2009, he was reluctant to embrace Iran’s Green Revolution, the first legitimate and popular uprising against the current regime in years, initially stating, “We do not interfere in Iran’s internal affairs.” The Iranian government, which reportedly had already been supporting Iraqi insurgents against American forces, was emboldened to crush the protests.
Now we know that the Iranians were working with North Korea to arm themselves at almost the exact same time this happened.
The White House surely had its reasons for keeping secret the North Korea-Iran transaction. But Obama’s failure to act decisively on issues vital to national security has progressed from naive to dangerous.
His apparent lack of backbone succeeded in emboldening both Iran and North Korea, and in the process he has put the United States in a position in which it might be compelled to use force. Instead of confronting the hard issues, the Obama administration wasted hours, days and months on trivialities such as civilian trials for terrorists and negotiating nuclear disarmament with a Russian government that has not been a threat to us for nearly two decades.
The Obama administration has twice pulled the USS George Washington back from the Yellow Sea since March out of deference to the Chinese, according to Michael Auslin of the American Enterprise Institute. Obama’s decision to dispatch it now may prove to be too little too late.
If the president wants North Korea to stand down, he will first have to stand up. Obama, who sought the presidency with promises to meet and negotiate with madmen such as Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, must now show some spine and give no ground to foreign bullies.
Obama must recognize that enemies such as Iran and North Korea speak only the language of power and pay no heed to finely tuned, professorial rhetoric.