Sour wine in old bottles–US North Korea policy

The New York based Korea Society began its summer series of four or five lectures on the DPRK on 1 May–Internal Workers Day.

Patrick Cronin, senior advisor at the Center for a New American Security [a think tank close to the Obama administration] spoke.

Fresh from his 18 April appearance before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Cronin shared his ‘new, pragmatic’ approach towards dealing with North Korea.

Cronin looks younger than his years. He has a manicured, manufactured look which invites a winning smile. Intelligent, with a quick mind, he does not shy away from criticism of his ideas without dipping into gross ‘ad hominem’ arguments.

Less than 50 people attended the first TKS lecture. CNAS prides its self on a ‘strong, pragmatic, and principled’ approach towards national security. Cronin, if anything, is pragmatic and caution, though he advanced his new approach towards North Korea as a breakthrough of sorts.

It certainly is not. Baldly put, it is old wine turned sour in old bottles of past US North Korea policy.

Cronin’s approach–negotiation, strong defence, stealth use of computer technology, lid tight sanctions targeting key North Korean leaders overseas bank accounts, and a detailed study of the DPRK’s leadership.

Now none of his points is new: none can stake a claim to originality. In fact, they are part of a steady diet of trying to fathom and pierce the shroud of secrecy of the DPRK elite. And the results of more than 60 years of spending American taxpayers money have produced little of earth shattering information.

Cronin’s conception is ahistorical and very narrowly defined. In a word, it takes the tree for the forest. If this is the best the US has to offer, oy vey, spare us the worst of Bush 43 off the wall policy!

The security expert did admit that a new president in the Blue House in February 2013 will mark a shift from the extremely hard line policy of Lee Myung bak which almost reignited the Korean War in November 2010 to one which may revive a modified ‘Sunshine Policy’.

If true, Cronin’s suggestions do not rescue America’s North Korea policy which is heavily outsourced to the current regime in Seoul and looks towards China as a crutch to rein in its North Korean ally [even though he admits China has little wiggle room].

If anything, a sharp departure by South Korea from today’s US dependence on Lee, would leave the US right back where it always has been—klewless. Cronin’s plans simply put window dressing on a US North Korea policy that has been looped, looped again, and looped still for any number of times without any other design than ‘regime change’ in the North. And that doesn’t look as though it is going to be for tomorrow.

Cronin when confronted by deeply skeptical questions and comments to his remarks, will fudge on the essentials when necessary in order to uphold US orthodoxy on the matter of North Korea. No digression possible, thank you very much.

It may be hoped that he would report to his handlers in government the growing voices of doubt of seven decades of failed policies. Sadly, he couldn’t refrain from raising the big bad bear of critical evaluation of US policy towards the DPRK–Bruce Cumings.

It is evident that Cumings is persona non grata among the US North Korea clerisy, but he his name is hardly the scarecrow to frighten doubters of Washington’s received wisdom on North Korea.

Cronin’s bright, but stale ideas won’t make a new US DPRK policy, sad to say.

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