Archive for U.S. Politics

Suzanne Scholte makes her case at Mason District, in Fairfax

I’m not neutral in this race, but in the interest of fairness, I went looking on Congressman Connolly’s site for his speech from the same event, and found nothing recent.

On foreign policy, tea partiers are more hawkish than you might think,

… according to this analysis by David Adesnik, who breaks down the polling data on their views.

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.

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.

Suzanne Scholte will hold a town hall for veterans tonight.

At Woodbridge, from 7 to 9 p.m. Details here.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 8.02.22 PM

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.

Americans hate foreign policy, and also, the lack of one

One lovely April morning, the world awakened to find that its greatest power has fallen under the control of a cabal of perky Starbucks baristas. As it turns out, I am not alone in ridiculing the weaponization of tweets and hashtags as a substitute for tough and substantive national security policymaking as the world’s predators seize the day.

Conspiratorial minds will suppose that this is all somehow coordinated, and maybe some of it is, but I assure you that I’ve been excluded. This snub stings all the more, given that the illuminati’s standards of membership are permissive enough to include liberals (James Carville, Fred Hiatt), self-described “realists” (Richard Haass, see also), whatever you call David Brooks, and conservatives like Jonah Goldberg, whose criticism (unsurprisingly, to many of you) looks spot-on to me:

Step 1: Be Barack Obama (and not George W. Bush).

Step 2: ????

Step 3: World peace!

(With apologies to South Park.)

As a candidate, Obama held a huge campaign rally in, of all places, Berlin, touting his bona fides as a citizen of the world. The crowd went wild, as he talked at length about a world without walls (you had to be there). As president, in his first major speech abroad, Obama suggested to a Cairo audience that the fact America elected him was all the proof anyone should need that America had turned the page.

It all seems very strange now in retrospect, but in his defense, you can understand how seductive this notion must have been. The whole world — at least the parts of it that Obama listens to — was telling him that replacing George W. Bush with Barack Obama was just the ticket for what ailed the planet. The fervor was all so detached from facts on the ground that the Nobel Committee even gave Obama a Peace Prize for the stuff they were sure he was going to do, eventually. [....]

The problem, of course, is that Obama never had a Plan B. He never really thought he’d need one, and besides, he never much cared about foreign policy. Particularly in his first term, his top priority was to keep international problems from distracting from his domestic agenda. He ordered the surge in Afghanistan but then went silent about that war for years. He passive-aggressively let a status-of-forces agreement with Iraq evaporate. Even his controversial policies — targeted killing, drones, etc. — were intended to turn the war on terrorism into a no-drama technocratic affair out of the headlines.

If you prefer something more academic, then try this article by Walter Russell Mead in Foreign Affairs.

America has two political parties, but in the field of foreign policy, it has many warring tribes — Wilsonians, Jacksonians, liberal isolationists, radical leftists, paleoconservative isolationists, neoconservatives, and “realists.” (All of these labels are imprecise, misleading, and overlapping.) It’s rare that these warring tribes reach a consensus as quickly as the one they reached last month — that our President’s foreign policy has a viscosity somewhere between the gelatinous and the vaporous. The President’s ratings on foreign policy now stand at 38.7% approval and 52.7% disapproval, for a difference of -14%.

This is not just a case of the President’s approval ratings on foreign policy being dragged down by other unpopular policies. His ratings on foreign policy are lower than his handling of the economy (41.8% approve, 54.5% disapprove, net -12.7%), Obamacare (40.7% approve, 51.6% disapprove, net -10.9%), or his presidency as a whole (43.9% approve, 51.4% disapprove, net -7.5%).

For now, Obama can take some comfort from the fact that this still isn’t as bad as Bush’s approval rating on foreign policy in May 2006, the low point of the Iraq War. But now that he has been marked as a weak leader, his ratings will enter Bush and Carter territory if more power-grabs by tyrants fill the headlines, and if Republicans make an issue of his weakness before the mid-term elections.

But if they did, what would they argue for? Do these results tell us anything useful about the kind of foreign policy Americans want? As The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt noted here, citing Robert Kagan here, the voters have a much clearer idea of what they don’t want than what they do want. They want to disengage from the world, but they don’t like what disengagement looks like. They don’t want us involved in ground wars overseas, but they’ve also been reminded that they don’t want the kind of passivity and drift that invites aggression, war, and proliferation. They don’t want Russia invading its neighbors, China threatening to do the same, Iran nuking up, and North Korea nuking off. They won’t like it if the Taliban seize Kabul, if Al Qaeda seizes Mosul and Damascus, or if Assad gasses his way to victory. (This is why isolationist fads like those of Rand Paul and his zanier father are more popular in the abstract than in practice. In practice, his foreign policy would look a lot like Obama’s, only with fewer tweets, and without its unsettling Gidget vibe.)

In other words, Americans expect pax Americana, but deny it like closeted Baptist preachers, and hate paying its costs. Our allies (some of which are better described as “supplicants”) won’t call for it publicly, but they expect it, too (too much, as I’ve often argued). That’s why President Obama went to Asia — to reassure allies and supplicants alike, although it’s far from clear that they feel more reassured now. Even before the President returned, he found himself defending his foreign policy from critics across the political spectrum. That defense was the torch of a pyromaniac in a field of straw-men,* a cheap slander that called all of the President’s diverse critics war-mongers:

“Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force,” Mr. Obama said, “after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and to our budget. And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?”

The president did not name his critics, except to refer to them as foreign policy commentators “in an office in Washington or New York.” He also referred to the Sunday morning talk shows, where Senator John McCain of Arizona, a fierce Obama critic, is a ubiquitous guest.

“If we took all of the actions that our critics have demanded, we’d lose count of the number of military conflicts that America would be engaged in,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. [N.Y. Times]

Nonsense. It was Obama who intervened in Libya (which I supported) and who wanted to intervene in Syria (which I opposed, because I didn’t believe he had the will to see it through to a favorable conclusion).

Even this is beside the point, because some of the toughest and most effective strategies that President has overlooked don’t involve the direct use of military force at all; they involve strategies like more aggressive information operations, more support to resistance movements against hostile leaders abroad, and a more effective use of “hub-blocking” strategies, like financial sanctions.

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So after the backlash from Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re now seeing the back-backlash. No, Americans still don’t like taking casualties in foreign wars when they don’t understand what compelling interests justify those losses. Part of that is due to an insufficiency of explanation, explanation often being the greater part of leadership.

Now that Bush isn’t President anymore, our screens are seldom filled with funerals and casualty statistics, although the funerals and casualties continue. That double standard relieves Obama of the burden of reminding the voters that people based in Afghanistan and sponsored by our enemies attacked and killed 3,000 American civilians, and likely cost us trillions of dollars in damages, risk insurance, and domestic security costs. It also relieves him of the burden of explaining exactly what plausible outcome his Afghan strategy is supposed to achieve, aside from yielding uncontested domination of most of the Afghan countryside — and eventually, its cities — to the Taliban. It won’t relieve him of the swift and severe impact that Chinese aggression in the Pacific would have on our economy. And it won’t relieve the rest of us of the incalculable long-term costs of global anarchy.

Breaking: Royce will make an announcement at Subcommittee hearing today, on H.R. 1771

Once again, I apologize for the short notice. If you’re unable to attend in person, the event will be webcast live at this link. The witnesses will include Greg Scarlatoiu of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation, and Grace Jo, a very compelling and articulate young North Korean refugee who speaks fairly good English, and who recently founded the group NK in the U.S.A. The topic will be how to respond to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report.

Update: It’s now Yonhap’s lead story – Chairman Royce will take the bill to the next step, Committee markup, in May. That’s great, but the calendar isn’t a friend. This is an election year, and when Congress goes into recess in early August, we’re all done until the lame duck session after this fall’s election. So although Govtrack’s algorithm-generated odds-making is statistically worthless, this bill will have to get through other House committees with concurrent jurisdiction, get passed on the House floor, get introduced in the Senate, get through the Banking Committee, make it to the Senate floor, get a vote there, and make it to the President’s desk soon enough to avoid a pocket veto. (I doubt he’d veto this outright.) That’s a lot to do in very little time, so it still won’t pass without a lot of backing and support.

Fortunately, the Korean-American and human rights groups have put a lot of muscle behind this bill to overcome the pressure that Royce and others are no doubt feeling from what I’ll call “vested interests.” I can’t say enough for their dedication. Kudos to Royce, and to the Republican and Democratic members who have stood behind him on this.

Also, don’t miss the video of the hearing, with very strong testimony from Greg Scarlatiou, Bruce Klingner, and Grace Jo. Finally, I hope Priscilla Koepke, Chairman Chabot’s excellent staffer, won’t mind me recognizing all her hard work putting this hearing together.

Open Sources, March 6, 2014

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THANK YOU TO THOSE WHO CAME to this event on Capitol Hill yesterday and helped make it a huge success. We filled the room well beyond its capacity. There was an energy in the room that went beyond the question of numbers. It was who was there — young, old, in-between, conservatives, liberals, and a variety of ethnicities, including a very sizable Korean-American contingent. I don’t have words to express my admiration for the leadership of Suzanne Scholte, Greg Scarlatoiu, and Judy Yoo of the Federation of Korean-Americans. Human Rights Watch also made a very welcome contribution to the discussion.

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ADRIAN HONG, in The Christian Science Monitor:

We teach our children the heavy legacies of humanity’s grave past injustices: Nanjing. Auschwitz. The Killing Fields. Rwanda. Srebrenica. Darfur. Implicit in such education is the belief that had we been alive, or had we been in positions of influence while the great atrocities of the past century had been perpetrated, we would’ve acted decisively to stop them.

But the moral clarity with which we judge those who preceded us is elusive when we see our world today. Museums and memorials to the fallen victims of yesterday’s tyrants are meaningless if they do not translate to stands against the perpetrators of brutality today.”

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ANDREW W. KELLER, an American lawyer in Korea, writes in The American Thinker:

The United States Congress should pass H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013, which is currently in committee.  Sanctions restrict the export to and import from North Korea of goods and technology for the use, development, or acquisition of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.  Sanctions also ban the export of luxury goods to North Korea, a tactic that could help undermine the North Korean regime, which bribes its VIPs in Pyongyang with imported luxury goods while people in the countryside starve. 

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THE WASHINGTON POST writes a strongly worded denunciation of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, and of the isolationist escapism of too many Americans recently:

The urge to pull back — to concentrate on what Mr. Obama calls “nation-building at home” — is nothing new, as former ambassador Stephen Sestanovich recounts in his illuminating history of U.S. foreign policy, “Maximalist.” There were similar retrenchments after the Korea and Vietnam wars and when the Soviet Union crumbled. But the United States discovered each time that the world became a more dangerous place without its leadership and that disorder in the world could threaten U.S. prosperity. Each period of retrenchment was followed by more active (though not always wiser) policy. Today Mr. Obama has plenty of company in his impulse, within both parties and as reflected by public opinion. But he’s also in part responsible for the national mood: If a president doesn’t make the case for global engagement, no one else effectively can.

The White House often responds by accusing critics of being warmongers who want American “boots on the ground” all over the world and have yet to learn the lessons of Iraq. So let’s stipulate: We don’t want U.S. troops in Syria, and we don’t want U.S. troops in Crimea. A great power can become overextended, and if its economy falters, so will its ability to lead. None of this is simple.

But it’s also true that, as long as some leaders play by what Mr. Kerry dismisses as 19th-century rules, the United States can’t pretend that the only game is in another arena altogether. Military strength, trustworthiness as an ally, staying power in difficult corners of the world such as Afghanistan — these still matter, much as we might wish they did not. While the United States has been retrenching, the tide of democracy in the world, which once seemed inexorable, has been receding. In the long run, that’s harmful to U.S. national security, too.

These isolationist interludes are a feature of our history, just like our interventionist excesses. They remind me of Trotsky’s adage that you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you (hat tip). These interludes eventually end with unpleasant awakenings, and I worry that we haven’t seen the last of those yet.

While this certainly counsels against the dramatic reduction in our armed forces that the President has proposed, I also wonder when we’ll realize that the best way to protect U.S. interests abroad is often to ally ourselves with the people of the affected country who share our interests and values, arm them to the teeth, and train them well. If the Russian experiences in Finland, Afghanistan, and Chechyna tell us anything, it’s that the Russians are especially bad at fighting determined opponents who use unconventional tactics. If a messy border war eventually forces Putin out of power, Russia gaining control of the historically and ethnically Russian Crimea would be a small price to pay.

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I AM IN RARE AGREEMENT WITH JOHN KERRY when Kerry says that North Korea is “an evil place,” but then, there isn’t much we know about North Korea now that we didn’t know in 2003, when John Bolton made substantially similar comments about the North, and the North Koreans went histrionic on him. Now it’s Kerry’s turn. Does this disqualify Kerry as an effective diplomat?

“This is another vivid expression of the U.S.’ hostile policy toward the DPRK,” a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry said, according to Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency. DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Kerry’s remarks “are no more than a manifestation of his frustration and outbursts let loose by the defeated as the DPRK is winning one victory after another despite the whole gamut of pressure upon it over the nuclear issue,” the spokesman said.

“Before blaming others, Kerry had better ponder over what to say of the U.S., a tundra of human rights, as it commits horrible genocide in various parts of the world in disregard of international law under the signboard of ‘liberty’ and ‘democracy,'” the spokesman said.

Kerry should “bear in mind that no pressure is workable” on the North, he said. [Yonhap]

What’s dramatically different, of course, is that when Bolton said it, it was more evidence that Bolton was “a crazy neocon” and further reason to derail his nomination as U.N. Ambassador. Since Kerry said it, and since the North Koreans went histrionic on Kerry, there’s been almost complete media silence. Some of this is certainly because the consensus on North Korea has shifted, but the consensus has shifted because (quelle surprise) North Korea kept right on being North Korea after January 21, 2009. Bolton was right all along, but too many of us allowed our political polarities to blind us to the truth he spoke.

Update: The North Koreans make a similar comparison.

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NOW, THE U.N. PANEL OF EXPERTS is investigating Dennis Rodman’s gifts to Kim Jong Un.

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THE PANEL MAY ALSO DESIGNATE two more North Korean companies over the Cuba MiG-21 smuggling deal, which will eventually result in the blocking of their assets once Treasury and the EU get around to listing them:

The two include Ocean Maritime Management (OMM), a Pyongyang-based company with links to the North Korean government that is also the registered manager of the Chong Chon Gang. The other is Chinpo Shipping Co., registered in Singapore, allegedly used for the payment of costs for the Chong Chon Gang’s operation.

Chinpo Shipping? Really? So I take it the Urban Dictionary is blocked in North Korea. Pity.

I often ask myself why North Korea goes to so much risk and expense to buy up equipment that hasn’t had a combat advantage since the Johnson Administration. I often worry that North Korea’s doctrine for the use of these aircraft concentrates on low-altitude, one-way missions. After all, it’s clear that some of their airfields are fit for take-offs, but not really fit for landings.

~  8  ~

OVERALL, SANCTIONS ENFORCEMENT has a mixed record since the approval of UNSCR 2094, and my lapse of optimism about sanctions enforcement last summer was probably premature. First, via Yonhap and IHS Janes, we learn that North Korea is still able to trade in weapons, exporting $11 million and importing $63 million in weapons last year (that we know about). Admittedly, this isn’t very much, and some of these imports are probably pursuant to a loophole in the Security Council resolutions allowing North Korea to import light weapons from China. It isn’t clear whether that sum includes technology transfers and technical assistance, or North Korea’s recent acquisition of six road-mobile ICBM transporter-erector-launchers.

Second, and more worrisome, we see that despite signs of a banking crackdown last spring, trade between North Korea and China continues to increase. Obviously, the North Koreans have (1) found Chinese banks willing to accept their deposits and handle their financial transactions, and (2) avoided any significant financial disruption of their network of commercial agents in China after the Jang Song -Thaek purge.

This sort of rope-a-dope game is typical of China. They pretend to comply with sanctions for a few weeks, and go right back to the same old dirty business. That’s why we need H.R. 1771.

Please attend next Wednesday: House Foreign Affairs Committee to host event on U.N. Commission report

On March 5th at 3 p.m., the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold an event with a panel discussion featuring leaders of prominent human rights NGOs, including Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, and Human Rights Watch. The Federation of Korean Associations in the U.S.A. will also participate — they’ve emerged as strong and highly effective advocates for the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act this year.

Also present will be Suzanne Scholte, head of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, who, by the way, is running for Congress in Virginia’s 11th District. Not all of the panelists have been finalized yet, but I’ll update this post as they are. (Yes, events hosted by Congress after often scheduled on very short notice. They’re driven by events and public interest.)

The discussion will focus on the findings of the COI report, and will also discuss policy responses to it, in light of China’s certain opposition to any action in the U.N. Security Council, including targeted sanctions or a referral to the International Criminal Court. (It’s good that the ChiComs timed the announcement of their obstructionism almost contemporaneously with the report’s release. That way, the focus immediately shifts toward other options designed to bypass China, minimize its influence, and shame its leaders.)

The event will take place in Room 2255 of the Rayburn House Office Building, which may be the most confusing building in the entire city.

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See you there next week.

As long as we’re on the topic of the COI, and reactions to it:

 ~   ~   ~

FORMER GUARD AHN MYONG CHOL, on the fate of children in the camps:

Speaking of an attack on children who were returning from the camp school, the former guard said: “There were three dogs and they killed five children. They killed three of the children right away. The two other children were barely breathing and the guards buried them alive.” [The Express]

~   ~   ~

Elliot Engel, the (Democratic) Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has called for a referral of the U.N. Commission’s report to the International Criminal Court. Samantha Power was not available for comment, but John Kerry did call North Korea an “evil place” before changing the subject back to nukes. But the administration has not taken a position on whether it will push an ICC referral in the Security Council, or do anything else of significance:

“This is an evil, evil place. And it requires enormous focus by the world in order to hold it accountable. And I think every aspect of any law that can be applied should be applied,” he added.

The top American diplomat said he and Chinese leaders had in-depth talks on ways to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program. He traveled to Beijing two weeks ago for meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other top officials.  “We had very serious discussions there about the options available to us. And we are continuing to press for action,” he said. He did not elaborate.

Rhetorically, Kerry has now caught up with where George W. Bush was a decade ago. Both men have an equal record of success in doing anything about it. The State Department still appears to be paralyzed in formulating a policy response to the COI’s report:

“We’re still in the processing of reviewing the recommendations,” Zeya said. “We would like to see the U.N. Human Rights Council, working with our like-minded partners, like South Korea, adopt a resolution to implement and follow up on this groundbreaking report.”

The career diplomat, meanwhile, urged China to alter its view on North Korean defectors and discontinue its practice of sending them back to their homeland. “We certainly believe that they should not be forcibly returned to North Korea. They deserve protection as refugees fleeing an absolutely deplorable regime,” she stressed.

They manage to call North Korea’s human rights record “deplorable,” as if we didn’t already know that. I have to think that if they were serious about this and had a coherent policy vision, they’d have consulted with Kirby in advance of the report’s release, and Treasury would already have drafted an executive order to block the assets of known human rights violators — Kim Jong Un, and the members of the National Defense Commission and the Organization and Guidance Bureau of the Korean Workers’ Party. Like this one, maybe, in effect against Iranian and Syrian officials. The President could sign it with much fanfare. Vision! Action! Global leadership!

Instead, the administration appears to be (a) caught off-guard; (b) passive, directionless, and visionless; (c) outsourcing our North Korea policy to China, as if China shared any of our interests in North Korea, or (d) stalling, in the hope that things will just blow over, and that this will become just another foreign policy issue they won’t have to think about. As it stands, they’re not even able to say whether they will push a Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court, which would at least force China to veto it.

The good news is that a serious response to Kim Jong Un’s crimes against humanity has won over a critical mass of classical liberals and Democrats. This is no longer a partisan issue, particularly given George W. Bush’s abdication of credibility in 2008. It’s now a battle between conscience and the absence of conscience — between a rump faction of a foreign policy establishment that hasn’t had an original idea since 1994 and whose record speaks for itself, and the rest of us. The rest of us are winning. We just aren’t winning fast enough.

Royce goes to Seoul, calls for cutting off Kim Jong Un’s cash

So Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was in Seoul last week, and sat down for an interview with Yonhap to talk North Korea:

“It seems that the strategy that slows down North Korea the most is not allowing them access to the hard currency which they use in order to create their offensive nuclear weapons capabilities,” said Royce in an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul. 

Royce is now in Seoul along with a delegation from his foreign affairs committee. He met with President Park Geun-hye and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se earlier in the day. 

“We have tried various strategies and at this point, one of the problems is that if we give any additional support to the regime of North Korea, for example, we were to give them inducement in the form of currency, they would use that hard currency to further expand their nuclear weapons capabilities,” the lawmaker said. [....]

Royce also said the new United Nations report on the North Korean regime’s brutal human rights violations may help add pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program and may possibly make North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stand trial on crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court (ICC). [....]

“Perhaps there will be new opportunities (following the publication of the U.N. report) to have fresh pressure brought from governments such as Beijing on North Korea in order to try to slow its development of nuclear capabilities,” the U.S. politician said.

“I think it will galvanize international public opinion with respect to the conditions inside North Korea and hopefully can push to put North Korea on a different track.”

When the final report is submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council on March 17, the international community could take actions to refer the North Korean leadership to the ICC, he said, adding, “I know there’s much discussion of that at the U.N.”

If you’re one of those who wonders why people worry so much about North Korea’s nukes when other countries also have nukes, read the COI report. It isn’t the proliferation of nuclear weapons that scares me. It’s the proliferation of nuclear weapons to people who don’t value human life and who have no compunction about killing large numbers of people that scares me.

And lest we think that South Korea has completely recovered from the Sunshine fad, its interviewer hasn’t quite shaken it off.

“An issue for the Obama Administration and Congress is to what extent they will support – or, not oppose – Park’s possible inter-Korean initiatives,” the Congressional Research Service (CRS) said in a report posted on its Web site Thursday.

For instance, it pointed out, the Park government has indicated a desire to someday internationalize and expand the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a historic joint venture between the two Koreas located just north of their land border.

“These moves could clash with legislative efforts in Congress to expand U.S. sanctions against North Korea, such as H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act,” it added. [Yonhap]

As much as it cramps my fingers to write this, I actually believe there are ways that South Korea could make Kaesong into something most Americans would accept. As it is, Kaesong “wages” are not only paid directly to the regime itself, but they’re paid at a ludicrous, confiscatory exchange rate. Then, there are also various “taxes” the regime charges the tenant companies, which requires the South Korean government to subsidize those companies to keep them afloat. In effect, it’s a scam to launder money from the South Korean government to the North Korean government, with slave labor as the medium of exchange.

The other problem with these arrangements is that they’re increasingly at odds with U.N. Security Council resolutions that require transparency in financial dealings with North Korea. That’s particularly true of UNSCR 2094, which passed with a “yes” vote from South Korea, as a non-permanent UNSC member. Need I remind everyone that those resolutions were passed, in large part, to protect South Korea’s own security? If you doubt me here, read Paragraph 11 and tell me how you square a big, fat, no-questions-asked cash pipe with that. Korea isn’t in a very good position to complain that China is violating UNSC sanctions when it’s arguably guilty itself. 

As it was advertised, Kaesong was going to be an engine of reform. But if we don’t know there all that money goes — and we don’t — then it could be used, for all we know, for nukes, yachts, and ski resorts. But Kaesong could become palatable to Americans if Park Geun Hye extracts enough financial transparency from the North Koreans, and ensures that those workers really are getting the $70-or-so a month, and to ensure that the money isn’t being used to build centrifuges. If that happens, Kaesong might diminish as a potential irritant in U.S.-ROK relations. It might even become an engine of change — this time, of North Korea.

Congress funds more broadcasting for N. Korea, online gulags database

If you can stomach some appropriations law this evening, there are a few items in this year’s Appropriations Bill that should be of interest to the OFK readership. As of this hour, both the House and the Senate have passed the bill, and the President is expected to sign it on Saturday.

Those of us who were early (and naive) enthusiasts for the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 have grown gray and cynical over the last decade, as we watched the State Department repeal it by disinterpretation. Few executive branch officials would disregard Congress’s limits on appropriations so casually. To do so would violate the Anti-Deficiency Act, which in extreme cases, carries criminal penalties. Even unintentional violations require onerous reporting to OMB and Congress, and can cost senior officials their jobs.

Congress’s most important authority over federal executive agencies is the power of the purse. By limiting or restricting appropriations, Congress can force federal agencies to bend to its will. That’s why appropriations and authorization acts are such important tools of congressional oversight. There are some provisions in this year’s appropriations bill that show us hints that the House in particular is growing more assertive on North Korea policy.

Several of the provisions in this year’s Act are limits designed to prevent tax dollars from falling into Kim Jong Un’s hands. Provisions like these are common in appropriations bills, although most of them weren’t in State’s Fiscal Year 2013 appropriation.

SEC. 8042. None of the funds appropriated or other wise made available in this Act may be obligated or expended for assistance to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea unless specifically appropriated for that purpose. [Page 273]

The Fiscal Year 2013 Appropriations Act contains similar language. Everything else you’re about to see wasn’t in last year’s appropriation. For example:

SEC. 7007. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to titles III through VI of this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance or reparations for the governments of Cuba, North Korea, Iran, or Syria: Provided, That for purposes of this section, the prohibition on obligations or expenditures shall include direct loans, credits, insurance and guarantees of the Export-Import Bank or its agents. [Page 1203]

The titles referred to are within Division K of the Act, the State Department’s annual appropriation. Title II is called “United States Agency for International Development, Title III is “Bilateral Economic Assistance,” Title IV is “International Security assistance,” Title V is “Multilateral Assistance,” and Title VI is “Export and Investment Assistance.”

If you dig into the specific provisions of those titles, however, you’ll see only the most general correlation between the actual provisions and what the titles lead you to expect there. That means if you want to know how a specific provision affects a specific program, you have to know what appropriation the program is funded from.

Next, Curtis and I are about to get some competition from the government.

SEC. 7032(i) Funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ‘‘Democracy Fund’’ that are made available to DRL shall be made available to establish and maintain a database of prisons and gulags in North Korea, including a list of political prisoners, and such database shall be regularly updated and made publicly available on the Internet, as appropriate. [Page 1252] 

You will see a similar provision in H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act.

Congress is increasing funds for broadcasting to North Korea, which is also provided for in H.R. 1771. For years, the Broadcasting Board of Governors has suffered from a severe lack of funding. For years, Congressman Ed Royce made it a personal priority to fix that. With respect to North Korea, the drought is about to break. This is a much-needed boost for broadcasting as we learn that the BBC (this time, I mean the British one) will not fund broadcasts to North Korea.

SEC. 7043(d) NORTH KOREA.— 

(1) Of the funds made available under the heading ‘‘International Broadcasting Operations’’ in title I of this Act, not less than $8,938,000 shall made available for broadcasts into North Korea. 

(2) Funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ‘‘Migration and Refugee Assistance’’ shall be made available for assistance for refugees from North Korea, including for protection activities in the People’s Republic of China. 

(3) None of the funds made available by this Act under the heading ‘‘Economic Support Fund’’ may be made available for assistance for the government of North Korea. [Page 1312] 

The broadcasting appropriation is significant. The amount appropriated is infinitesimal in terms of the federal budget as a whole, but generous with regard to the Board’s needs. The migration assistance could remove an excuse for China to shun refugees who cross the border, but don’t count on it persuading China’s policy to change. It’s unlikely to be used unless there’s some severe crisis in North Korea.

The last provision I’ll mention is one that doesn’t mention North Korea by name, but could affect assistance to it.

SEC. 7021.


(1) None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by titles III through VI of this Act may be available to any foreign government which provides lethal military equipment to a country the government of which the Secretary of State has determined supports international terrorism for purposes of section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act of 1979 as continued in effect pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act: Provided, That the prohibition under this section with respect to a foreign government shall terminate months after that government ceases to provide such military equipment: Provided further, That this section applies with respect to lethal military equipment provided under a contract entered into after October 1, 1997. 

Section 7022 contains an “important to the national interest” exception, within the President’s discretion. Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act is a reference to the list of state sponsors of terrorism. North Korea is not listed, but Iran and Syria — both major arms clients of North Korea — are.

The question then becomes what aid really is being provided to North Korea. Certainly North Korea hasn’t accepted U.S. food aid for years. That was Kim Jong Il’s decision, not President Obama’s. With respect to any miscellaneous aid or exchange programs that are getting taxpayer support, and that are funded under Title III or Title IV appropriations, their funding is done for this year. Of course, Section 8042 arguably terminates all assistance to the North Korean government, although I can imagine how a program could be structured to pay the money to some gullible NGO, which would be an easy mark for the North Koreans.

Ordinarily, appropriations acts aren’t supposed to make positive law. That’s why ad hoc appropriations are a good start, but won’t be a substitute for H.R. 1771. On the other hand, without the backing of an assertive Congress that knows how to use the power of the purse, State will ignore H.R. 1771, too.

Ed Royce’s leadership of the Foreign Affairs Committee is starting to leave its mark on North Korea policy. An important part of that leadership is Royce’s ability to work effectively with tough-minded Democrats like Elliot Engel, Albio Sires, Ted Deutch, and Tulsi Gabbard, as well as with leading Republicans like Chris Smith and Steve Chabot (who leads the Asia Subcommittee).

Picture of the Day

Taken at L’Enfant Plaza, at about 11 a.m. today.


What’s that? Our fucking plan for North Korea, you ask? It’s called “H.R. 1771″

Update 2, 9/24: So now that I’ve noticed that I was reacting quite strongly to a seven year-old post, recently retweeted by another blogger–but still, sheesh–let me offer my apologies to Mr. Lewis for the tone of my reaction, and my compliments to Robert Gallucci for at least conceding that the old policy didn’t work.

Original Post: 

You know, Jeffrey, you ask that question with a boldness that seems to presume the absence of a ready answer. If reading the bill is too much to ask, then I’ll let Congressman Ted Deutch (D, Fla.) give you the Cliff notes version. (He’s one of 125 co-sponsors, and a respected member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.)

P.S.  I can’t speak for others who are also of the hard-line persuasion, but I’m not against talking to the North Koreans. It’s paying them I have a problem with. So now that we’ve framed the question that way, do you or do you not support paying North Korea when almost no one believes they’ll disarm? Because if we can agree that North Korea isn’t going to disarm–and just about everyone does–then I guess talking about paying them is a plan. Now tell me what you have a plan for.

P.P.S. Maybe I can put it this way:  our fucking plan for North Korea is actually a plan for fucking North Korea. Or rather, fucking Kim Jong Un, financially speaking.

P.P.P.S. I should be clearer whose plan it really is–and of course, that would be Chairman Ed Royce. Ranking Member Elliot Engel was an original co-sponsor. In the interests of full disclosure, I helped the Committee staff with the drafting and legal advice.

I should also clarify that Jeffrey Lewis is really echoing Robert Gallucci’s question–expletives included–although he does so with apparent approval.

Update: 9/24: Please note the disclaimers here. Anything I write on this blog represents nothing more than my views as a private citizen. I don’t work for the House or any of its Committees or members. I use the possessive “our” above not because I speak for anyone else, but as one of those presumably painted with Gallucci’s broad brush as having no plan because I oppose a continuation of failed “engagement” and “Sunshine” policies.

Although I’ve often disagreed with Gallucci’s policy views, I respect his integrity and the honesty of his appraisals, such as this recent concession:

“The policy we have pursued over the last 20 years — engagement, containment, whatever — has failed to reduce the threat posed by North Korea to the security of the region,” Robert Gallucci said in a keynote speech during a security forum held in downtown Seoul.  [Yonhap]

This makes Gallucci’s criticism seem especially strange.  What good is a plan that’s no different from the one that, by your own concession, doesn’t work?