Following North Korea's failed launch of a long-range missile, conservative media attacked the Obama administration over a deal between the United States and North Korea on nuclear testing, arguing that it was a mistake. But experts have rejected that criticism, saying that the administration's pursuit of the deal was "the smart thing to do" and that not taking "this initiative would have missed an opportunity" to test the intentions of North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong-un.
Last Thursday, North Korea launched a long-range missile, defying international pressure and violating a deal with the United States in which North Korea had agreed to suspend uranium enrichment, nuclear tests, and long-range missile tests in exchange for food aid. The rocket ultimately failed, disintegrating shortly after the launch, but conservatives seized on it to attack the Obama administration for pursuing a deal with North Korea.
Conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote:
Once again, engagement with despots and diffidence in the face of provocation have emboldened a brutal dictatorship and lessened U.S. credibility. Watching all of this unfold, no doubt, are the mullahs. The North Korean example is instructive to them, especially given that Obama's approach so closely mirrors his stance toward them: Try fruitless negotiations; defer to international bodies; finger wag and condemn (but not too vigorously); remain relatively mute on human rights; downplay any military option; and have no plan "B" when sanctions fail. Come to think of it, this is also his approach to China, Russia and the other tyrannies on the planet. That's Obama for you: Speak softly and carry a very tiny stick.
On Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Fox News host Mike Huckabee said that "the only thing that fizzled worse than the missiles of North Korea the other day was probably the Obama policy." He continued:
HUCKABEE: Charles Pritchard, who has advised both the Bush administration and the Clinton administration, admitted that Barack Obama's policies toward North Korea have been a miserable failure. Because if you say you're going to hold food, you better do it. Then you look horrible to withhold food from people who are over there eating grass, and even the cows are eating better than the people in North Korea. It's a horrible situation, and it's not going to be made worse, and the U.S. will get the blame, and they're going to keep looking for ways to build those missiles anyway.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel blasted the administration for having a "schizophrenic foreign policy," and wrote: "The only prudent policy is for the White House to junk its speak softly, carry a little stick approach, but don't count on that happening in an election year."
However, national security experts have rejected that criticism.
Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, "a national nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies," told Media Matters via email that "[i]n general terms the Obama administration's pursuit of the 'leap day' deal was the smart thing to do, given the fact that additional long-range ballistic missile test, further nuclear tests, and accelerated uranium enrichment by North Korea are contrary to ou[r] national and international security interests. The problem is that North Korea never intended to abide by the terms of agreement not to launch long-range missiles from the get go." But, he added, "[w]e lost nothing by trying to do this."
Paul Pillar, a 28-year veteran of the U.S. intelligence community and a professor of security studies at Georgetown University, wrote that such criticism of the nuclear deal with North Korea "misses several things." He explained:
Hardly anything was given up in the deal reached in February. The food aid would consist of nutritional supplements that would be difficult for the regime to divert from the civilian population to the military and that meets a legitimate humanitarian need entirely apart from the weapons issues. Not to have taken this initiative would have missed an opportunity to test North Korean intentions following the leadership succession from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un. A policy of not engaging Pyongyang was tried for several years under the previous administration, without success in preventing North Korea's first nuclear tests. Most important, there is no reason to believe that not concluding the agreement would have brought about any better results today. An anonymous senior administration official understandably complained, "There's a lot of 'shoulda, coulda, woulda' now from outsiders."