Your dog is hungry and has decided to employ the often-used strategy to get what he wants. He’s going to bark, for hours if necessary, until you finally relent and give him a biscuit. The yapping drives you crazy, so you figure the easiest thing to do to quiet your canine friend is to continue to reward him with treats. You probably realize that from the beginning, you should simply have ignored the dog’s howls, and he would likely have given up on the tactic long ago. But you didn’t want to have to deal with him. Now, instead of having trained the dog, the dog has trained you.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is the dog, and he’s barking louder than ever. He’s relying on past precedent, knowing that over the years, America has eventually given Pyongyang the biscuit, in the form of billions of dollars in assistance.
Through the past several administrations, Republicans and Democrats alike have rewarded North Korean saber-rattling with generous sums of financial aid. And time and time again, North Korea goes back to the well, using its nuclear program as a bargaining chip to receive massive amounts of cash. Since the 1990s, the United States government has sent the North Korean regime billions of dollars in exchange for the promise of dismantling its nuclear program.
Though humanitarian in principle, this aid allows the North Korean regime to continue allocating resources toward its military — in particular, to advance its nuclear weapons program.
It started with the “North Korea deal,” which was negotiated by at least one of the same individuals who bargained over the nuclear deal with the terrorist regime in Iran. In October 1994, President Bill Clinton approved a deal to send $4 billion in “energy aid” to North Korea. In return, the Stalinist regime was supposed to “dismantle its nuclear weapons development program,” the New York Times reported at the time.
What Clinton officials naively overlooked was that they were creating an incentive for North Korea to continue, not halt, its nuke program, seeing billions more in potential aid over the horizon.
In 2007, the Bush administration celebrated a “deal” that delivered millions in “economic aid” to North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang’s agreement to “dismantle all of its nuclear facilities.”
Not all were convinced that it was the right play, including Donald Trump. Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton warned at the time:
“This is like Lucy and Charlie Brown and the football. How many times are we going to go through this with them?”
But the aid continued into the Obama administration.
In 2012, under President Barack Obama, White House officials again rejoiced that the North Koreans were “suspending nuclear activities.” In exchange for 240,000 metric tons of food aid, North Korea “agreed” to suspend its nuclear programs. That program was cut short, but the Obama administration continued to send aid to North Korea up until the week Donald Trump was elected president.
Now, North Korea is back at it again, rattling the saber as usual under the Millennial leader Kim Jong Un.
On Tuesday, President Trump warned Pyongyang against more threats against the U.S., saying the regime would be met with “fire and fury.” Kim then threatened to bomb the U.S. territory of Guam. It’s difficult to determine whether the threat from Kim is serious. But what history does tells us is that Kim is engaging in the time-tested, proven strategy employed by his predecessors.
Due to the 20+ years of misguided capitulation by previous administrations, President Trump has a serious inherited challenge on his hands. Pyongyang is reportedly producing missile-ready nuclear weapons. Will this induce the Trump administration to deliver to North Korea what it wants, continuing to bolster the regime? Or instead, will Trump chart his own path and embrace the time-tested principles of “peace through strength” articulated by President Ronald Reagan? (For more from the author of “Obama’s Legacy: A Nuclear North Korea. Will Trump Channel Reagan?” please click HERE)