Biden’s CIA: Back to the Future with North Korea

While the media lens seems myopically focused on only two issues – all things Trump and pumping up the Covid-19 crisis – there are a lot more things going on in the world.  Some are as – if not more – important than the blow-by-blow reporting on the former President and sensationalized fearmongering even as the Covid-19 numbers show significant improvement.

For example, North Korea.

When President Trump conferred with President Obama after winning the 2016 presidential election, the outgoing President told his successor that North Korea would be his biggest problem.  Whether Pyongyang is a “big” or the “biggest” problem is a distinction without a difference.  It is a HUGE problem.

What to do about North Korea has been a vexing issue for several past Presidents. And their strategies have been feckless and ineffective.  The core of American policy toward North Korea was that nuclearization was totally unacceptable. 

America pronounced that policy before North Korea had nuclear weapons.  It was re-stated repeatedly as three generations of the Kim family proceeded to develop nuclear bombs.  It is the current U.S. policy even though North Korea has an unknown number of nuclear warheads and an undetermined capability of delivering them tactically.

Diplomatic jawboning has not worked.  Sanctions have not worked.  President Clinton even tried a billion-dollar bribery scheme. It did not work.  Not to mention, America did not even get a thank you note for the money.

With all the diplomatic establishment’s acceptable options having failed, President Trump tried something new. 

Top-down diplomacy and flattery.  Love letter diplomacy did not work either.

President Biden appears to have only three arrows in his quiver – more sanctions, military action and a return to the talk-and-do-nothing policies of the past.

Judging from who he has put in charge of the North Korea problem, it is back to the old ways. Talk loudly and throw away the stick.  That means the most essential question in terms of North Korea is how should he behave as Kim Jong-un becomes a major adversarial nuclear power.

Biden’s pick for director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and point man for the Korean peninsula is William Burns.

Burns is a long time establishment diplomat.  He will be leaving his post as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  He has served in a number of diplomatic posts – including ambassador to Russia and Jordan.  Burns was also deputy secretary of state under Hillary Clinton during the Obama administration.

If you look over his resume, you’ll see a history of little accomplishment –unless you consider Obama’s policy Iran policy.  After John Kerry took over as Secretary of State, Burns was in charge of Iran.  It was a highly secret effort to negotiate through back channels with the terrorism sponsors in Tehran.  In fact, next to finding Osama Bin Laden, the Burns clandestine negotiation with Iran was America’s best kept secret. 

But had the negotiations been publicly exposed, it would have likely created a major backlash. It would have provided further evidence of Obama’s shift from a pro-Israel to a more pro-Arab policy.

The culmination of Burn’s back-channel efforts were the negotiations that led to the Nuclear Deal.

It was purchased with billions of dollars of taxpayer money.  The Iran Nuclear Deal was so bad that even an establishmentarian like Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has called it a bad deal. He recently advised Biden to not get back into it.

You must recall that in 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released thousands of purloined documents that showed Iran had been pursuing their nuclear ambitions secretly. This is just what the Iran Nuclear Deal was to prevent.

In the spirit that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, it would appear that Burns is about to travel the same road to Pyongyang that he blazed to Tehran.  He has said as much.  In many ways, Burns will be dealing with the same mentality in North Korea as he was in Iran – agree to anything but keep pursuing the nuclear ambition.

In appointing Burns to the CIA post, Biden said, “Bill Burns is an exemplary diplomat with decades of experience on the world stage keeping our people and our country safe and secure.”  It is that “experience” that should scare us.  Just look what he accomplished with Russia, Jordan and Iran.

“Back Channel” Burns may not be the best choice if you really want America’s anti-nuclear proliferation policies implemented.

So, there ‘tis.

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