This past weekend, President Obama received his first 3:00 a.m. telephone call — actually, it was 4:30 a.m. in Prague, where Obama was making his first overseas foreign policy speech as president.
He learned that North Korea had just launched a rocket over the Sea of Japan, a launch that experts believe is part of North Korea’s attempt to develop a nuclear warhead.
Obama’s response was predictable: a harshly worded statement that won’t mean much to North Korea or any other nation bent on acquiring nuclear capability.
Obama said, “With this provocative act, North Korea has ignored its international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint, and further isolated itself from the community of nations.”
Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, echoed Obama’s tough talk: “There is no doubt that there must be consequences.”
Like what, another resolution from the United Nations? Isolation?
In case no one has noticed, the Ryugyong Hotel in downtown Pyongyang is not exactly hopping with tourists. In other words, the threat of isolation is not exactly high on Kim Jong Il’s list of concerns.
The same can be said for Iran, which has not been swayed by blustering from the U.N. or by Obama’s overtures to conduct a dialogue based on mutual respect. In fact, the regime seems somewhat amused by the opportunity to spurn Obama. And at some point, we will no longer be able to hide behind the comfortable rhetoric of calling force a “last resort.”
We will have to acknowledge that sometimes in the real world, negotiations and resolutions just do not work, and we have arrived at the last resort.
That is the uncomfortable reality of which former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., spoke after North Korea’s weekend launch. Gingrich said Obama’s nuclear policy is based on a “fantasy,” a point Obama pounded home in his Prague speech.
He reiterated the desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons, saying, “I'm not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly — perhaps not in my lifetime . . . We have to insist, ‘Yes, we can.’” In signature fashion, Obama also seemed to imply that past U.S. nuclear policy is blameworthy, saying that “As a nuclear power — as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon — the United States has a moral responsibility to act.”
It is hard to fathom how eliminating U.S. nuclear weapons would represent a strategically wise move. The more plausible justification for eliminating them is to make a moral statement, which Obama admits.
That rationale is based on the notion that certain countries, such as the U.S., do not possess a greater moral standing to possess nuclear weapons than others.
However, to pretend that the United States, the United Kingdom, or Israel has no more moral justification to possess nuclear weapons than Iran, North Korea, or Syria is to demonstrate remarkably self-loathing ignorance.
And yet, while acknowledging the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons, Obama maintains ideological skepticism about developing a missile defense system, which would be the most prudent and sensible way for us to protect ourselves from rogue nuclear threats.
While Obama recently indicated that he might support missile defense, he provided three qualifications, saying, “As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven.”
As the president expressed in his January interview on Al Arabiya television, he believes that too often the U.S. dictates to other countries. But hopefully he is starting to see that asking nicely is not a promising approach to dealing with totalitarian thugs.
If he thinks that countries like Iran or North Korea are going to be induced by the carrot of “mutual respect” or deterred by the stick of “isolation,” then our president is truly as naïve as some feared.
That is proving to be not only embarrassing for the U.S., but also dangerous as well.
Brett Joshpe is co-author of “Why You're Wrong About the Right: Behind the Myths: The Surprising Truth About Conservatives,” and general counsel of The American Civics Exchange.
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