Saturday, April 4, 2009

What We Learned of Obama Via North Korea

As The Wall Street Journal reports, North Korea is expected to set off a long-range missile soon, perhaps today. Can we learn anything about Obama from this series of events?

Absolutely. Obama's actions, whatever they are, will indicate his approach to foreign policy disputes. Will he be a hawk? Will he be pushed around? Or will he take a moderate position?

It would have been easy for Obama to have used his bully pulpit in Europe to threaten North Korea. He could have used express threats -- "If you set this missile off, we will shoot it down" -- or more veiled threats -- "Shooting off this missile is an act of aggression against our country."

But he did neither. Instead, Mr. Obama made a firm, but tempered, announcement: "Should North Korea decide to take this action, we will work . . . to take appropriate steps to let North Korea know that it can't threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity . . . ." As reported by the NYT, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs "said the launching would be a violation of Security Council resolutions, and [that] 'preparations' were being made if it went ahead."

This strikes the perfect tone, I think. The administration is not threatening immediate military action, which would undermine North Korea's sovereignty and threaten the six-way negotiations America seeks to re-engage. But, team-Obama has promised action and real consequences, which avoids appearing soft and asserts our power as part of the UN.

All in all, Obama has taken a tough tone without ratcheting the tension-level up more than is necessary. Of course, this is all subject to change if/when the missile launches.

LATE UPDATE: Chicago Tribune reports: "U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this week defended Japan's [desire to shoot down falling debris], saying it 'has every right to protect and defend its territory from what is clearly a missile launch.'"

This is also good news, as it shows that the administration is talking to other countries -- more interested countries -- encouraging cooperation in handling the situation. We are not along in the world, we are not the world's police, and these actions show that Clinton, Obama, et al. understand this.

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