North Korea and the Qaddafi Double Cross

With the Trump Administration engaged in a soft conflict with North Korea, it is worth noting how the actions of the Obama Administration have made it a harder to reach a resolution with North Korea.

When a country attempts to secure nuclear weapons, it is of course extremely difficult for the United States and other countries to prevent them from entering the nuclear club.  A country gains a tremendous amount of military power, influence, and prestige from having nuclear weapons.  And so it would be expected that it would be difficult to persuade them not to do so.  Various administrations from both parties have not done well in handling the North Korean situation, from the Clinton, to the Bush, to the Obama administrations.

But it is worth noting how badly the Obama Administration contributed to the problem through one of its signature failures – Libya.  Most people focus on Libya as a failed policy because it deposed of a dictator with no plan for the country to be governed afterward (even after the criticisms of the Iraqi invasion on that ground by the same people), which led to a significant ISIS presence in the country.  Other people focus on the Benghazi.

But it is often forgotten that the deposing of Qaddafi involved a broken promise by the United States.  Qaddafi agreed to surrender his WMD program in exchange for guarantees that he would not be attacked by the West.  Yet, the Obama Administration responded to this deal with the Bush Administration by double crossing Qaddafi.  The New York Times recognizes how this behavior has made it more difficult to deal with North Korea:

Tempting as the analogies to Cuba may be, Mr. Kim is probably thinking of another nuclear negotiation — with Libya, in 2003. Its leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, agreed to give up his nascent nuclear program in return for promises from the West of economic integration and acceptance. It never really happened, and as soon as Libya’s populace turned against the dictator during the Arab Spring, the United States and its European and Arab allies drove him from power. Ultimately, he was pulled out of a ditch and shot.

Notice how the New York Times omits to mention that it was President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton who set United States policy that “drove him from power.”

One might also believe that another Obama precedent – the arguably sweet heart deal with Iran – has  made things more difficult in dealing with North Korea.  If a country with nuclear capability is given such a deal, it makes it less likely that North Korea will willingly accept so much less.

To be clear, I’m not saying that North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons in response to pressure if the United States had not broken its word and toppled Qaddafi (or if the Obama Administration had not entered into the Iran nuclear deal).  But it does appear that the Obama Administration’s action have made it more difficult for the U.S. to achieve its objectives with the North Koreans.

Mike Rappaport

Professor Rappaport is Darling Foundation Professor of Law at the University of San Diego, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for the Study of Constitutional Originalism. Professor Rappaport is the author of numerous law review articles in journals such as the Yale Law Journal, the Virginia Law Review, the Georgetown Law Review, and the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. His book, Originalism and the Good Constitution, which is co-authored with John McGinnis, was published by the Harvard University Press in 2013.  Professor Rappaport is a graduate of the Yale Law School, where he received a JD and a DCL (Law and Political Theory).

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