Opinion: Sanders Right to Criticize Obama’s Handling of North Korea

Press secretary accuses Obama administration of 'complacency and silence' regarding North Korea's nuclear program
January 5, 2018 Updated: January 6, 2018

President Donald Trump has been left to clean up a North Korean mess left behind by the Obama administration, according to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

It’s not the first time Obama’s policy of “strategic patience” has been blamed for the current crisis, though the seriousness of that failure has become more clear over time.

Sanders said the “complacency and the silence of the previous administration” didn’t help resolve the North Korea problem now facing President Trump.

“This is a President who leads through strength, and he’s going to do that and he’s going to focus on everything that he can do in order to keep Americans safe, and he’s not going to be pushed around by the leader of North Korea,” she said.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a press briefing on Jan. 3, 2018. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Sanders’ may overstate the Obama administration’s inaction, accusing it of ignoring continued threats from the Kim regime, but the fact that Obama’s White House withheld information about the magnitude of the threat North Korea posed proves the previous president willfully avoided dealing with North Korea.

In 2013, during the previous nuclear crisis, the Obama administration received credible intelligence that North Korea had already developed a miniaturized nuclear warhead capable of being mounted on a ballistic missile.

That fact was inadvertently revealed during an April 11, 2013, House Armed Services Committee hearing when Congressman Doug Lamborn, (R–Colo.) quoted unclassified information from a classified Defense Intelligence Agency Report.

The Obama administration attempted to discredit that finding, thereby lessening the pressure to deal with a brewing crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the White House on Dec. 16, 2016, in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It was important, according to the narrative of the time, to downplay the immediate threat. Obama had already ruled out military intervention, one of the few options that could have forced North Korea to reconsider its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. But if North Korea, which had already threatened the United States repeatedly, had gained a miniaturized nuclear warhead, Obama’s doctrine of strategic patience might seem less strategic and more irresponsible.

“If the previous administration had done anything and dealt with North Korea, dealt with Iran, instead of sitting by and doing nothing, we wouldn’t have to clean up their mess now,” said Sanders.

The connection between North Korea and Iran is an important one. The two countries share more than a willful hatred of the United States and a cruel repression of their citizens: they also work together on their missile development programs.

There are also credible allegations that Iran was paying North Korea upwards of $2.5 billion a year for advanced nuclear technology, an amount that would account for up to 20 percent of North Korea’s annual GDP, according to some measures.

Iranians walk past Sejjil (L) and Qadr-H medium range ballistic missiles displayed next to a portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the occasion of the anniversary of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, on September 25, 2017, on Baharestan square in Tehran. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranians walk past Sejjil (L) and Qadr-H medium-range ballistic missiles displayed next to a portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sept. 25, 2017, on Baharestan square in Tehran. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

Even if Sanders exaggerates the previous administration’s inaction, given that the Obama White House did push for additional sanctions against North Korea, the fact that Trump has been able to rapidly increase those sanctions and bring unprecedented pressure on North Korea proves there was much more Obama could have done.

Before Obama took the White House and Kim Jong Un took the helm of North Korea’s ruling communist Worker’s Party, North Korea had had only one nuclear bomb test.

After the two leaders arrived in their positions, North Korea ramped up its weapons program.

President Barack Obama presided over the U.S. response to four of North Korea’s six nuclear bomb tests, over a dozen ballistic missile tests, and two acts of war: one in March 2010 when North Korea launched a torpedo that sunk the Republic of Korea Navy ship Cheonan, killing 46 of the 104 sailors on board, and then a second when North Korea lobbed around 170 artillery shells and rockets at South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island a few months later, killing four people.

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In this handout photo released by the South Korean Defense Ministry, South Korea’s Hyunmu-2 ballistic missile is fired during an exercise aimed to counter North Korea’s nuclear test on the east coast of South Korea on Sept. 4, 2017. (South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)

No U.S. administration has faced that level of aggression from North Korea in concert with a credible nuclear threat.

Kim wouldn’t risk any such attacks today. There is a credible threat of force and if North Korea strikes first, China’s communist regime has said it will not rush to its defense. In one scenario, the United States would much prefer that North Korea make such a strike today, giving it a credible reason to counterattack without drawing China into the fight in North Korea’s defense.

Obama did little in proportion to the risk at the time.

He was also relatively muted after North Korea declared an end to the armistice, threatened South Korea with “final destruction” during a U.N. conference on disarmament, and claimed long-range missiles were already aimed at the U.S. mainland and U.S. bases in the Pacific.

North Korea’s nuclear bomb and ballistic missile programs did face additional sanctions under the Obama administration but Sanders is not the first person to suggest the U.S. response was inadequate to the threat.

And given North Korea’s communist regime casts the United States as its manifest enemy, allowing the regime to develop nuclear weapons without doing everything possible to stop it, and even trying to lessen the pressure to do so, lacked both foresight and integrity.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.