The Obama administration has a new plan to fix the North Korean problem. It has offered to lower American missile defenses in exchange for a Chinese guarantee to restrain Pyongyang.

The New York Times explains, “BEIJING — Secretary of State John Kerry flew to China on Saturday and sought to elicit China’s help in dealing with an increasingly recalcitrant nuclear armed North Korea by saying that American missile defenses could be cut back if the North abandoned its nuclear program.”

In a news conference, Mr. Kerry suggested that the United States could remove some newly enhanced missile defenses in the region, though he did not specify which ones. Any eventual cutback would address Chinese concerns about the buildup of American weapons systems in the region. … In a news conference, Mr. Kerry suggested that the United States could remove some newly enhanced missile defenses in the region, though he did not specify which ones. Any eventual cutback would address Chinese concerns about the buildup of American weapons systems in the region.

Kerry’s proposal elicited immediate criticism to which the Secretary responded with a clarification. They were only proposing a return to normalcy. “The president of the United States deployed some additional missile defense capacity precisely because of the threat of North Korea. And it is logical that if the threat of North Korea disappears because the peninsula denuclearizes, then obviously that threat no longer mandates that kind of posture. But there have been no agreements, no discussions, there is nothing actually on the table with respect to that.”

Kerry also declared himself ready to “reach out” to North Korea.

The lengths to which the administration will go to defuse Pyongyang was underscored by Kerry’s statement that “he might consider using someone other than an official U.S. government envoy to reach out to the North and he left the door open to a negotiation with the North that might not require them to take denuclearization steps in advance”.

It was an approach which John McCain criticized as leaving America vulnerable to a “take the money and run” scam, especially since Pyongyang has publicly said it had no intention of abandoning its atomic arms programs.

But it is sometimes argued in policy circles that the North Koreans are bluffing; that they are puffing out their sunken chests for publicity purposes. What they really want, deep down, because they must surely want it is a non-nuclear Korea. Therefore we must not believe their threats. Like right thinking men they men in Pyongyang really want to buy the world a Coke.

Some may think there is a logical contradiction in arguing that we can trust Pyongyang precisely on the grounds that they are liars. But if there is any contradiction, it has not occurred to the Obama administration.

We are fortunate to be a long way from the caveman like days of the Treasure of the Sierra Madre when intercultural communication was so difficult. Imagine a dialog with Kim Jong Un as Gold Hat and John Kerry as Dobbs.

Gold Hat: We aren’t trying to do you any harm. Why don’t you try to be a little more polite? Give us your gun and we’ll leave you in peace.

Dobbs: I need my gun myself.

Gold Hat: Oh, throw that ol’ iron over here. We’ll pick it up and go on our way.

Dobbs: You go on your way without my gun and go quick!

Gold Hat: Look here, amigo. You got the wrong idea. We don’t wanna get your gun fer nothin’. We wanna buy it. Look. I have a gold watch with a gold chain, made in your own country. The watch and the chain – they worth at least two hundred pesos – I ‘change it fer yer gun. Y’better take it, thatsa good bizness for you!!

Dobbs: You keep your watch. I’ll keep my gun!

But in these more sophisticated times the West knows how to be polite. And as for the two hundred pesos — well what about two hundred billion pesos instead — the North Korean peso being so low against the dollar?

In any case the administration has become depressingly predictable.  In domestic politics it is reliably aggressive, using law or even twisting law to gain every advantage against American political rivals. But abroad, where the language of debate is more often force or threat than law, it has proved to be incredibly timid. It approached the Arab Spring in the manner of a scavenger, content to “lead from behind”. Yet it was content to retreat — to abandon Libya, to abandon Egypt, to withdraw to the margins in Syria — at the slightest sign of determined resistance.

Is it any wonder that North Korea and is patron, China, are so confident in their demands. They have been conditioned, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, to seize every scrap of meat from the grasp of their keeper, even to the extent of biting the hand that feeds them. The problem is whether North Korea might not learn Kerry’s new lesson too well: that thuggery pays. That there is no one the administration is more willing to reach out to then the somebody who threatens it.


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