Category Archives: U.S. Politics

Congress wants answers on N. Korea and terrorism. The State Dep’t doesn’t have any.

As you may have heard somewhere, President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Since I collected and published that overwhelming evidence last year, I was looking forward to the day when the State Department would be called to Congress to confront it. Today was that day, and it did not go well for the State Department.

It’s only Thursday, but I don’t think it’s too early to nominate Ms. Hilary Batjer Johnson, the State Department’s Deputy Coordinator for Homeland Security, Screening, and Designations, for “worst week in Washington.” At today’s hearing, before the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, an increasingly exasperated Rep. Ted Poe (R, Tex.) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D, Cal.) tried to get straight answers out of Johnson about the rationale behind State’s position, its reaction to the evidence — including this federal court decision — and an explanation of how State applies the law.

I’m sure Ms. Johnson is a nice person, but I’ve been watching these hearings for about a decade now, and I’ve never seen an agency witness so ill-prepared to answer member questions. Watch it all if you can bear it. Or just watch Poe’s questions at 30 to 34 minutes in. Or Sherman’s at 46 to 50 minutes in, until he just gives up.

Perhaps it wasn’t Ms. Johnson’s fault that things went this way. She seemed to have no authority to dignify the members’ questions with straight answers, falling back on stock statements that State would have to “review the intelligence.” But then, she didn’t seem to understand either the designation or rescission processes, either. She was unfamiliar with the court decisions finding North Korea liable for acts of terrorism, so she wasn’t prepared to discuss them. She didn’t understand the consequences of an SSOT listing, including the transaction licensing requirements that would apply under 31 C.F.R. Part 596, the probability that securities issuers would have to disclose their North Korean investments in their SEC filings, or the loss of loans from international financial institutions.

It got so ugly that Sung Kim, State’s Special Representative for North Korea Policy, even stepped in to save her a couple of times. The hearing ended with frustrated members having more questions than answers. Rep. Sherman wanted State to send a written explanation of how it applies Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act. Both Sherman and Poe openly contemplated whether the statute needs to be amended for clarification (it does). There will be another (classified) hearing, and without the cameras present, it could be even uglier.

The key outcome of today’s hearing, however, is that the evidence forced State to retreat from its refusal to designate Pyongyang:

The United States continues to review intelligence to determine whether to put North Korea back on the list of states that sponsor terrorism, Washington’s top envoy on the communist nation said Thursday.

Amb. Sung Kim, special representative for North Korea policy, made the remark in a written statement submitted for a terrorism subcommittee hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as he outlined U.S. policy on the communist nation.

“We also continually review the available intelligence to determine whether North Korea is subject to additional measures. Naturally, this includes reviewing available information to determine whether the facts indicate the DPRK should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Kim said. [Yonhap]

This was the second time Kim has been called before Congress this week. On Tuesday, Special Coordinator for North Korea Policy was at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making the case that the Obama Administration has a North Korea policy:

“Holding North Korea responsible for its own choices does not mean just waiting and hoping the regime will one day come to its senses,” Kim said. “We are committed to using the full range of tools — deterrence, diplomacy, and pressure — to make clear that North Korea will not achieve security or prosperity while it pursues nuclear weapons, abuses its own people, and flouts its longstanding obligations and commitments.”

The envoy also said that the North’s bad behavior has earned no benefits from the U.S.

“Instead, we have tightened sanctions and consistently underscored to the DPRK that the path to a brighter future for North Korea begins with authentic and credible negotiations that produce concrete denuclearization steps,” Kim said. [Yonhap]

For a detailed legal analysis of why that’s complete twaddle, see this. For those interested, here’s a link to the video of the full Senate committee hearing. (House hearings make better television.)

Kim said the U.S. has also sustained pressure on the North to “increase the costs” of its destructive policy choices. He cited an executive order that Obama issued in January to impose fresh sanctions on Pyongyang in the wake of the regime’s hacking of Sony Pictures.

Yes, and so far, the Obama Administration has used that sweeping new Executive Order to sanction a grand total of 13 entities — ten low-level arms dealers (no doubt, ten other low-level arms dealers have since taken their places) and three entities that had been sanctioned years ago.

He stressed that sanctions enforcement has improved over the past two to three years, causing some pain in the North.


[Can you believe it? This was the biggest yacht he could afford!]

He added that revenues from North Korea’s illicit activities overseas have gone down as a result.

“Our financial sanctions are always more effective when supported by our partners, and so we’ve also focused on strengthening multilateral sanctions against North Korea,” he said. “We will continue to press for robust implementation of U.N. sanctions and enhanced vigilance against the DPRK’s proliferation activities worldwide.” [Yonhap]

But not to worry, says South Korea’s U.N. Ambassador. Doing approximately nothing should work just fine. Eventually.

U.N. sanctions and human rights resolutions will eventually cause pain to North Korea, even though such effects are slow in coming, South Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations said Tuesday.

“The way I see it, sanctions work, but they work only in an accumulated form. So, you continue sanctions year after year and eventually it takes a toll,” Amb. Oh Joon said during a security seminar, pointing out doubts about the efficacy of sanctions on the North. [Yonhap]

Or so says the representative of a government that’s piping real dollars into the DPRK Central Bank’s vault through the Kaesong Industrial Park, for God-knows-what budget priorities. I don’t see how you make a coherent policy by sanctioning and subsidizing the same target at the same time. You can do one or the other, but not both. That isn’t a policy; it’s a diagnosis.

To further fuel your skepticism, recall last July’s Wall Street Journal report that the Obama Administration was “working on increasing pressure on Pyongyang through a range of measures designed to stem money flows to the regime, such as cracking down on illegal shipping and seeking to tighten controls on North Korea’s exports of laborers that work in near slave-like conditions around the world.” Which hasn’t happened.

It’s not just that they seem congenitally incapable of making decisions. It’s the sinking feeling that they just don’t know what they’re doing.

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House, Senate will both hold hearings on North Korea policy this week* (updated)

If you ask senior Obama Administration officials about the policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea today, they will bristle and recast it as something else, but this wasn’t the case in 2010, when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained her policy in a visit to Seoul:

“What we’re focused on is changing North Korean behavior,” one senior U.S. official said. “We are not focused on getting back to the table.” “We recognize that diplomacy, some form of diplomacy with North Korea, is inevitable at some point,” another official said. “We’re really not there.” [Glenn Kessler, Washington Post]

That visit followed North Korea’s second nuclear test by a year, and North Korea’s attack on the ROKS Cheonan by a month. It clearly wasn’t working then, and it certainly isn’t working now. Expect “strategic patience” to come under attack in both houses of Congress this week.

Wednesday’s event, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Asia Subcommittee,** is entitled, “Assessing the North Korea Threat and U.S. Policy: Strategic Patience or Effective Deterrence.” Senator Cory Gardner, the Subcommittee Chair, will preside. If this speech and this resolution are any indication, the junior senator from Colorado will have some difficult questions for the Panel One witnesses, including Ambassador Sung Kim and Ambassador Robert King.

[Update: the hearing notice now says that the hearing has been postponed. I’ll update this post when the hearing is rescheduled.]

Panel Two witnesses will include Ambassador Mark Minton, President of the Korea Society, and Jay Lefkowitz, King’s predecessor as former Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights. I confess that King’s message discipline has made me miss Lefkowitz, who was willing to stray from the party line to prevent his portfolio from being steamrolled by the State Department bureaucracy.

The hearing follows the introduction of a sanctions bill by Senator Bob Menendez (D, NJ) and Senator Lindsay Graham (R, SC), even before we’ve heard from the Chairman and Ranking Member of the full committee, Senators Bob Corker (R, TN) and Ben Cardin (D, MD). For the Senate, it will be the first major hearing on North Korea policy since March 2013, shortly after North Korea’s third nuclear test.

On Tuesday afternoon,* two subcommittees of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the subcommittees dealing with Asia policy and nonproliferation, will hold their own hearing, “The Iran-North Korea Strategic Alliance,” a topic I addressed to a limited extent in “Arsenal of Terror.” The hearing announcement does not include any witnesses from the administration, but will include (among others) investigative journalist Claudia Rosett and Larry Niksch, formerly with the Congressional Research Service.

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In retrospect, it was North Korea’s third nuclear test in February 2013 that collapsed congressional support for “strategic patience.” Congress never showed much enthusiasm for it, but until 2013, its skepticism was mostly expressed by Republicans. Even the comically short-lived Leap Day Agreement failed to raise much organized opposition in 2012. Still, it was obvious to anyone who paid attention that the administration was paralyzed and out of ideas. Even prominent former administration officials admitted as much.

Congress’s 2013 revolt, led by the new Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, was bipartisan, organized, and expressed in the form of comprehensive sanctions legislation.*** Royce was joined by Ranking Member Elliot Engel, many other prominent Democrats, 147 co-sponsors in all, and eventually, the full House.

This year, the Senate has joined the House in questioning the State Department’s lack of a credible response to North Korea’s continued proliferation, to the Commission of Inquiry report, and to the Sony cyberattack and threats — in short, its apparent lack of any coherent North Korea policy whatsoever. Contrary to the concern I’d expressed last week, the controversy over Iran will not monopolize Congress’s energy for the foreseeable future after all.

This week’s hearings will likely cement congressional frustration with the administration’s policy (or lack of one). Only time will tell if that frustration, in turn, will be enough to frustrate any grasp at Agreed Framework 3.0, but it certainly won’t make it any easier.

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* If you’re reading this on Wednesday, please don’t go to the Rayburn Building this afternoon to see this hearing. It was actually held on Tuesday — sorry! I’ll link the video when it’s published on line.

**  I clarified the original post to indicate that this is a subcommittee hearing, not a full committee hearing.

*** Full disclosure.


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Sen. Cory Gardner just gave as good a speech about North Korea policy as I’ve ever seen

Senator Cory Gardner* of Colorado is the new Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy. When I first heard that a freshman Senator had been picked to lead such an important subcommittee, it concerned me. Delving into Gardner’s background, however, it became clear that he’s highly intelligent — he graduated from college summa cum laude, and (at least according to his Wikipedia page) speaks fluent German. He has graduated from law school (never a bad thing for a lawmaker) and served as Legislative Director for Sen. Wayne Allard (ditto). He’s also a relative moderate in a party whose image has been dominated by the likes of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz recently. So why not? An ounce of judgment is worth a pound of seniority. But then, a friend directed me to this:

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 8.21.45 AM

Aside from the fact that it was a torpedo, not a missile, that sank the Cheonan, that was just about pitch-perfect. It’s about as good a speech as I’ve seen any politician deliver about North Korea, and quite possibly the best articulation I’ve seen of what a better North Korea policy would be. The confidence of the Senate leaders in Senator Gardner certainly exceeds his seniority. Now I see why. I expect good things from him.

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* A previous version of this post misspelled Sen. Gardner’s first name. My apologies for the error.

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In 2006, Ashton Carter called for blowing up a N. Korean missile on the launch pad

At the time, I wasn’t especially enthusiastic about the idea, and I’m still not enthusiastic about it today, but had I known then that George W. Bush and Barack Obama would let things get to where they’ve gotten today, I might have agreed with the idea of an aerial intercept.

One thing we know about Ashton Carter is that he talks a good game.

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Must read: RFK Center calls for a “rights up front” policy toward N. Korea

The report, by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, along with the Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea,* calls on the U.S. to defer its pursuit of Agreed Framework III, and instead confront the very reason why Pyongyang shouldn’t have nuclear weapons, and why diplomacy with it will continue to fail:

Only when North Korea begins to develop a record of improvement on human rights can it engage with the U.S. on other issues, including security, the economy, a peace treaty, or eventual normalization of diplomatic relations. Indeed, improving North Korea’s human rights record should be the litmus test of North Korea’s credibility to engage on other issues. After all, if a government has no regard for the lives of its own people, what regard does it have for the lives of others? What deters it from provoking a war, or proliferating missile technology and weapons of mass destruction to terrorists? [Robert F. Kennedy Center]

In doing so, the report also challenges an exhausted and paralyzed foreign policy establishment that, at least with respect to North Korea, has become a hospice for dying dogma and hasn’t had an original idea since 1989:

For a quarter of a century, U.S. diplomatic strategy has sought to separate and narrow its disagreements with North Korea, to solve them sequentially. Yet the path to solving all of these disagreements is barred by the same obstacle – North Korea’s isolation and secrecy. The agreed framework of 1994 and 2007 agreement both broke down over verification. Similarly, without transparency, the World Food Program cannot monitor the access to food aid, the International Atomic Energy Agency cannot monitor disarmament, and North Korea will deny that its prison camps even exist – including one that is directly adjacent to its nuclear test site. Without transparency, there can be no verification. Transparency in humanitarian matters such as food aid and the treatment of prisoners cannot be sidelined if there is to be a verifiable denuclearization of North Korea.

The report recites Pyongyang’s lengthy history of ignoring U.N. requests to cooperate with human rights inquiries—a history that illustrates the disingenuousness of its recent, often inartful, efforts to “engage” the EU and other U.N. member states.

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Claudia Rosett hopes the Obama Administration won’t screw up Iran …

policy with a bad deal the same way the Clinton and Bush Administrations screwed up North Korea policy with their own bad deals. Rosett isn’t the only one making the comparison:

“Like North Korea in the 1990s, Iran will use a weak deal as cover to get nuclear weapons,” said Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, a prominent skeptic of the negotiations. [CNN]

The historical record yields little cause for optimism, and the common thread that runs through much of that record is Wendy Sherman. In an exquisite understatement, CNN says that President Obama wants a nuclear deal with Iran to burnish his legacy because he “lacks a defining foreign policy triumph.”

No doubt, George W. Bush was thinking the same thing in February 2007, and I doubt that Bush’s presidential library devotes much space to Agreed Framework II. That may help explain why most observers agree that Obama isn’t about to stick his neck out for Agreed Framework III, and why the President himself shows no interest in doing so. If his policy shifts, it will shift in the opposite direction, either at Congress’s initiative or (ironically) the U.N.’s.

If the shape of the Iran debate is any indication of where the North Korea debate is headed, the Republican takeover in the Senate suggests that Congress will be skeptical about agreements and more active on sanctions legislation. Whether you believe that Congress will push North Korea policy depends on whether you believe Yonhap’s American experts, who say nothing will change, or the Joongang Ilbo‘s sources in the Korean foreign policy establishment, who worry that “[s]anctions on the North could be tightened.” As if that’s a bad thing.

The actual answer will depend on events. If Kim Jong Un does something stupid enough, or if U.N. action builds a big enough head of steam, Congress will put a bill on the President’s desk. The President probably won’t veto it, but the real question will be whether he enforces it.

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How the mid-terms will affect foreign policy

I haven’t had time to finish this piece by Michael Barone at The American Interest, but what I’ve read so far is consistent with what I observed when I was on The Hill. I expect a big fight about Iran sanctions that will pit the President against a broad, bipartisan majority in Congress.

At some point, I expect Kerry to be sacrificed for the President’s continued weakness on foreign policy (update: I mean as measured by the polls), just as Rumsfeld was sacrificed after the 2006 election.

In the final years of their presidencies, presidents tend to move toward their opponents on foreign policy, while grasping for some achievement to burnish their legacies.

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Whatever you want to say about the election, say it here

I’m sad that my friend, Suzanne Scholte lost, but glad that she managed a credible performance despite having no history of running for, or holding, elective office, and despite lacking any money for TV or radio ads, or to raise a large and experienced campaign staff. She also did it despite redistricting that followed Connolly’s very close win in 2010, something I only heard about a few weeks ago, when a federal court held that the plan was unconstitutional. The redistricting made Va-11 much more democratic; one wonders whether the next plan might be friendlier if Suzanne decides to run again, and if the Republicans decide to back her financially. Obviously, she didn’t run on the issue that caused me to support her, but I hope that when her disappointment fades, she’ll regroup and consider another try in 2016.

I’m not at all unhappy at the idea of being represented by Gerry Connolly, and I wish him well. Connolly is also good on the issue caused me to support my long-time friend, Suzanne. In a more perfect world, I wouldn’t have to choose between them.

I’m very happy that former House Foreign Affairs Committee staffer Young Kim won her election to the California State Assembly, partially because I hope will be her stepping stone to Congress one day. I saw her two weeks ago in L.A., when I addressed a Korean-American organization, as did several political candidates of both parties. Kim is a natural politician, one of those rare people who can enter a room filled with hundreds of people and make every one of them feel important, including the short, dumpy, unimportant ones. Kim carries herself with a natural elegance more often seen in movie stars, something you almost have to bask in to fully appreciate. But then, it is southern California.

It will be interesting to see how this result affects the prospects of H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, in the Senate. Despite its bipartisan support in the House, I don’t think there’s much question that its short-term prospects improve under a Republican Congress and a Democratic President. Despite the administration’s likely concerns that it forces the State Department’s hand too much, the Administration may be tempted to ask Senate Democrats to pass a weaker version in this Congress, in the hope of drawing off some of the impetus for the next Congress to pass something more robust.

As far as the broader election result is concerned, I’m sure you can find better places to talk about that, but for those of you who are disappointed this morning, in a spirit of offering consolation, I’ll link to my post following the 2006 elections. That election was a backlash against a botched war (and other botched things); this one is a backlash against a botched peace (and other botched things). Aside from that difference, much of what I said about that result is true of this one, too. I don’t think either election was really about ideology so much as buyer’s remorse, and the punishment of incompetence.

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Update: One of the most interesting election stories to me was a massive swing by Asian voters toward Republicans. Asian voters still only made up 3% of the electorate, but their votes were split evenly between the two parties this time. Historically, they’ve favored Democrats. I wish I could see a better statistical breakdown by ethnicity. For example, we know that Japanese-Americans are usually loyal Democrats and Vietnamese-Americans are most likely to vote Republican, but how did Korean-Americans vote?

For all voters, the most important issues were the economy (48%), health care (25%), illegal immigration (14%), and foreign policy (13%). It wasn’t a foreign policy election, but foreign policy is back in the top four.

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The WaPo has noticed how Korean-Americans’ political power

… in northern Virginia has grown dramatically in recent years, and accuses politicians of “pandering” to them. To that, I’d ask you to name any well-organized constituency that can’t make a politician pander now and then, and I’ll show you a constituency that isn’t organized at all. We have the worst political system there is, except for all of the others, and in our political system, constituencies matter very much.

The WaPo dwells on what it doesn’t like about the uses of this new power, but as one who has personally encouraged Korean-Americans to embrace and harness that power, I think the editors also overlook the extent to which Korean-Americans are emerging as a powerful liberating force on their ancestral homeland (second item) and on our government’s policy toward North Korea. Inevitably, as the generations change, the sensibilities and priorities of Korean-Americans will increasingly mesh with those of other Americans, but that doesn’t have to mean forgetting Korea’s interests, history, and perspective.

No, I suppose I’m no more excited about “East Sea” than I would be about asking Koreans to call the Gulf of Mexico the South Gulf, because place names should have universal descriptive value, but I have a very different view of recognizing the comfort women, only some of whom were Korean. If the fear of making German tourists uncomfortable didn’t prevent us from building a Holocaust Museum on the National Mall, I don’t see why Japanese-Americans (except deniers) should feel any discomfort about a comfort women memorial government behind the Fairfax County Government Center. The test for any historical recognition should not be whom it might offend, but whether it is true.

I also have to wonder if we’d be seeing any of this controversy today if it weren’t for the stupidity of Shinzo Abe.

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Rand Paul: You people got me all wrong about this non-interventionism stuff.

Paul’s shift may be even less credible than Clinton’s, and just as mercenary. Unfortunately for Paul, isolationism, emotional authenticity, and financial puritanism are his brand image. Without those things, he’s just Mike Huckabee with better hair. It is Paul’s misfortune that we’re re-awakening to the dreary truth that the low characters of our world won’t let us ignore them away.

I’m still waiting for someone — anyone — to advocate sustainable, plausible strategy for defeating ISIS. The only such strategy I can see is to offer the Sunnis diplomatic support for autonomy and military support for a re-awakening that would deprive ISIS of a haven. For the same reason a doctor wouldn’t treat half a tumor, this same offer has to apply to Sunnis in Syria, which might result in a regional alliance of moderate, autonomous Sunni para-states stretching from Aleppo to Mosul, liberated by Arab tribes with American-supplied weapons, and backed by U.S. air power — and not by U.S. infantry.

Only the Arabs can exterminate ISIS now, but no one has a greater interest in doing so. In due course, a backlash against the brutality of ISIS will build. Our imperative is to be ready to take advantage of that backlash.

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Congress marks 20th anniversary of Agreed Framework I, asks how that’s working out

The House Asia-Pacific Subcommittee commemorated the 20th anniversary of Agreed Framework I by calling Ambassadors Glyn Davies and Bob King over for a hearing this afternoon, and it was a tough day for Team Foggy Bottom.

If you want to see how congressional oversight should work — if you want to see a well-informed, well-prepared legislator completely, verifiably, and irreversibly dismantle 20 years of bad policy — then watch Subcommittee Chairman Steve Chabot’s opening statement. Chabot made great use of John Kerry’s description of North Korea as “quiet,” and his critique of State’s obtuse position on North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism was devastating:

Chabot isn’t a mesmerizing speaker, but he’s an effective one, and in the ten years I’ve been watching these things, I don’t know when I’ve ever seen a more effective opening statement. His questions of Ambassador King made it clear that the Administration has done nothing about the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report, and nothing King said suggested that that’s about to change.

Your comedy gold, however, came from Scott Perry of Pennsylvania questioning Ambassador Davies about what everyone but the State Department calls “strategic patience.” Skip to 1:06, where he begins by asking Glyn Davies about what, exactly, he’s accomplished.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Davies’s reaction to this was arrogant and snippy. Perry threw him off-balance, and off his diplomatic demeanor.

If you have time, watch the whole hearing, and strain your ears for any inkling that State has anything to show for its efforts, any confidence in its plans — indeed, any plan at all. Davies, in particular, sounds weary and resigned. They’ve all been running out the clock ever since the Groundhog Day Agreement failed.

Sherman (D-Cal.) was (as always) mercurial, and less hawkish than in the past; Bera (D-Cal.), who ordinarily comes across as very bright, didn’t seem confident in his knowledge of the subject, and Connolly (D-Va.) didn’t get anyeonghasseyeo quite right, but his questions were insightful and penetrating. He tried to get Davies to react to the House’s passage of H.R 1771, but Davies wouldn’t bite.

Members of both parties sounded unimpressed with State’s performance, both on nukes and human rights. The idea we’ve fought for years is that North Korea policy has to be a zero-sum competition between those objectives. But what if State can’t get anything done on either? What Congress saw today was a State Department that ran out of ideas 20 years ago, and that had no record to defend.

The hearing began just as Treasury announced its new round of Chong Chon Gang sanctions, something I at least partially foresaw in this morning’s post (and which I’ll say more about tomorrow). So if even I foresaw it, why couldn’t someone have at least let Davies announce them in his opening statement? Given the strong bi-partisan pressure for tougher sanctions, having that news to deliver might have helped Davies’s day go better.

Update: Yonhap’s take, here.

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H.R. 1771 passes House of Representatives on a voice vote

Chairman Royce (R, Cal.) and Congressman Gerry Connolly (D, Va.) both spoke strongly in favor. No member was opposed, and no member asked for a vote. The “ayes” had it just after 3 p.m.

If there’s any aspect of this that’s bittersweet, it’s that a lot of people who worked hard for this outcome could not be there to see it because the vote was scheduled on such short notice.

Here is the version that passed the House today.

Now, on to the Senate.

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Update: Jean Arthur explains congressional procedure to Jimmy Stewart in the classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

I love that clip.

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H.R. 1771 scheduled for a House floor vote on Monday

It’s on the calendar. And while I doubt there will be serious opposition in the House, we’ll need Kim Jong Un’s help to pass the Senate this year. But if not this year, next. Eventually, he’ll do something stupid, and when he does, we’ll be ready.

By itself, passage in the House would be a major symbolic victory. No one will ever be able to say there’s no alternative to standing by and watching a nation be slaughtered, strangled, and starved to death.

You hear a lot about how polarized this Congress is politically, but the Foreign Affairs Committee is a haven from that. The (relative) partisan and ideological balance in this bill’s support reflects that even in the Congress, there’s still a place where the two parties can work together. Royce himself has called our North Korea policy “a bipartisan failure.” H.R. 1771 represents a bipartisan recognition that we need a better strategy.

I can’t overstate my appreciation for so much hard work by Korean-American and other groups that mobilized to pass this bill: the Federation of Korean Associations, the North Korean Freedom Coalition, the Korean Church Coalition (which ran an outstanding event to support this bill two weeks ago), and of course, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

[The Korean Church Coalition, 2014 Leadership Conference, Washington]

Finally, I can’t overstate my appreciation to Chairman Royce for delivering, and to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s talented, overworked, underpaid, and often unrecognized staff members — of both parties, and in the Asia Subcommittee — who did the hard work that made this bill possible.

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Suzanne Scholte takes her case to Northern Virginia’s Korean-Americans

Last Saturday, Suzanne Scholte and I appeared at a panel sponsored by the Korean-American Association of the Washington Metropolitan Area and the Korean Freedom Alliance. Scholte, who is now running to represent Virginia’s 11th District in Congress, addressed the group and made an impassioned case for why Korean-Americans should lead their fellow Americans and the world in opposing North Korea’s crimes against humanity.

WKTV, northern Virginia’s Korean-language TV channel, was also there. Video of Suzanne starts at about 4 minutes in.

I’m a proud supporter of Suzanne’s candidacy. Conservative voters will not need any persuasion from me to support Suzanne, so I’ll address this brief argument to those who see themselves as liberals or moderates, and who are interested enough in human rights in North Korea to read this site. I have nothing against her opponent, Gerry Connolly, whom I’ve met and liked. I see this as a race between good and best, and all I ask is that just one of our 535 legislators care about this issue as much as Suzanne does.

Voters with an interest in women’s issues should respect Suzanne’s work on behalf of North Korean victims of sex trafficking. I don’t doubt that her advocacy has saved hundreds of them over the years she has devoted to this cause.

Suzanne’s campaign is also on Facebook and Twitter. If you feel the same way about this issue as I do, I hope you’ll friend and follow her.

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Suzanne Scholte for Congress (bumped)

My friend, Suzanne Scholte, the leader of the North Korean Freedom Coalition, has won the Republican nomination to run for a seat in the U.S. Congress, representing Virginia’s 11th District, in the suburbs of Washington, DC. I’ve known Suzanne since October 2003, the same month I left active duty with the Army and started the antecedent to this blog at a long-forgotten place called Geocities.

Suzanne Scholte, a well-known U.S. activist on the North Korean human rights problem, has become a Republican candidate for November’s congressional election, according to her campaign website.

She will take on Democrat incumbent Gerry Connolly seeking a fourth term in the House to represent Virginia’s 11th district where there are relatively many Korean-American residents.

“This is time for all of us to come together to preserve what makes America the greatest nation on earth, our Constitution, our rule of law and our freedoms,” Scholte said on Saturday in a speech after defeating her party rivals in a nomination race. “We will bring together people from diverse backgrounds and build a unity of purpose to achieve greater opportunity and hope.” [Yonhap]

Suzanne’s nomination is big news in Korea, as it should be. More here, at The Joongang Ilbo.

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I have only kind words to say about Gerry Connolly, Suzanne’s opponent. I’ve met him and I like him. If he were running against any ordinary candidate, he’d probably be the best candidate on this issue. Connolly has shown commendable behind-the-scenes leadership on this issue this year. I’m glad this isn’t a partisan issue anymore. Maybe it never was.

The 11th District has a large Korean-American vote that has traditionally hewed toward the Democrats, despite its conservative values, mainly because of immigration. A Democratic candidate who doesn’t win the Korean-American vote in this district decisively could be in for a very close race, especially in a year that already looks bleak for swing-district Democrats (in 2010, Connolly was reelected by less than 1,000 votes out of 227,000, or 0.4% of the total, less than the vote totals of the Independent and Libertarian candidates).

The point of this is that, despite descriptions of her as the “underdog,” Suzanne could actually win this race.

All of this leaves us with a welcome relief from our binary love-hate politics. Instead of a contest between good and evil, we’re fortunate enough to have a contest between good and best. Connolly’s leadership on this issue has been good this year, but in past years, this issue hasn’t had the traction it deserved in Congress because it lacked a dedicated leader from within — someone who would push this issue day after day, year after year, and not just during election years. Ed Royce probably comes the closest, but now that he’s Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the span of his agenda is as wide as the world itself. Royce’s leadership on this issue has been essential, but he simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to be its battle captain in Congress. Suzanne could, and she would.

On this issue — the issue of saving the North Korea’s next generation from its own government, and saving American’s next generation from whatever weapons Pyongyang will eventually sell to terrorists — Suzanne Scholte has led, year after year, often as an underdog, and usually when the issue was either unpopular or forgotten, because of the inexhaustible drive of her conscience. That leadership has made Suzanne an influential “outsider” among members of Congress in both chambers, and in both parties. She knows how to build a coalition that spans cultures and continents.

In the contest between good and best, Suzanne Scholte is not only the best, but also the best we’ll ever see. If Suzanne weren’t one of my closest friends precisely because of her enduring leadership on this issue, I wouldn’t have written this post. It has been my policy for the last decade that I don’t endorse candidates — based largely on the knowledge that you don’t care who I endorse — but a candidate this great demands an exception, and perhaps calls the whole rule into question. (There are also great Democratic candidates, such as Albio Sires of New Jersey, who also deserve our support.)

Until today, I had never imagined that I could support a candidate because of a single issue. Once again, I’m about to make an exception, because on this issue — an issue I care so deeply about, and which many of you also care very deeply about — Suzanne is an exceptional candidate. I don’t have to agree with Suzanne about every issue. All I ask is that just one member of Congress out of 535 cares about this issue as much as I do.

Knowing Suzanne Scholte as well as I do, I’ve watched her dynamism, her integrity, her compassion, and her leadership. And, above all else, I’ve observed her extraordinary determination, which seems to have no half-life. I can’t fail to use this site to support her. What a terrible lost opportunity it would be to fall to put our strongest champion into the corridors of power. Image the possibilities with Suzanne Scholte in Congress, and one day, sitting on the Foreign Affairs Committee. I hope you’ll support her, too.

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Correction: A previous edition of this post said that in the 2010 election, Gerry Connolly won by 1% of the vote. The actual percentage was 0.4%. This post was originally published on May 17, 2014 at around 1800 hours, and was “bumped” by changing the posting time.

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