California Forum

Bera has it all wrong. U.S. diplomacy has to be tough to work with North Korea and Iran

An undated photo from North Korean News Agency released in August shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visiting a Korean People’s Army unit, in an undisclosed location in North Korea. North Korea has warned that a nuclear war “may break out any moment.”
An undated photo from North Korean News Agency released in August shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visiting a Korean People’s Army unit, in an undisclosed location in North Korea. North Korea has warned that a nuclear war “may break out any moment.” TNS

Americans are realizing the true dimensions of the Obama Administration’s lack of resolve in dealing with North Korea and Iran.

During two terms, North Korea’s efforts to strengthen its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capability continued unabated. Regarding Iran, under the guise of an agreement that delays some aspects of its nuclear program but that literally pays Iran while areas key to understanding Tehran’s true intentions remain shielded from inspections – are we safer today?

I’m no fan of the president leading by tweet, but he’s not asking for my opinion. (“I am gravely concerned that the president’s actions could lead us into war,” Forum, Oct. 15). As a Marine, former diplomat and intelligence officer assigned to the North Korea threat, however, I know that real diplomacy with North Korea involves acting tough.

The United States should not look to start a war, but we should not look to deescalate tensions essential to removing a significant threat to world peace.

It’s calculated tough – but tough nonetheless – backed with courage to not accept the regime’s threats. Given North Korea’s recent actions, we should not accommodate Kim Jong-un by providing near-term options for deescalation. North Korea has conducted nuclear tests, shot missiles over Japan and threatened Guam. Is it really time to signal a desire to sit down and discuss our issues?

I see great value in maintaining ambiguity on our next move. Our Cold War success was partly due to keeping intentions uncertain – forcing the Soviets to second-guess – while never letting them question our strength.

This is diplomacy vis-à-vis North Korea; creating extraordinary conditions to remove the threat of nuclear weapons. We back our effort with the resolve of the U.S. and our allies to deal with a country that has remained at war with us since 1950, proliferates weapons and sponsors terrorists. To tone down our message is to create conditions all too familiar to North Korea, with equally bad results. That means letting North Korea join the nuclear club, which I’m not ready to accept.

Threat of military action is integral to diplomacy required to pressure the regime. We deliver part of that message with the 40,000 U.S. military members currently in South Korea and we make clear to North Korea that we maintain a strong strategic deterrent.

The United States should not look to start a war, but we should not look to deescalate tensions essential to removing a significant threat to world peace. More pressure – through military, diplomatic and economic channels – is critical to creating the conditions that truly protect America and its allies.

Andrew Grant is a candidate for Congress for District 7 in Sacramento County and a Marine Corps combat veteran. He served as a senior official in the U.S. State Department and is a former intelligence officer with expertise in North Korea.

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