Former CIA Director Michael Hayden wrote a long essay this week directed at incoming President Donald Trump, warning that it might be unwise to continue Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” gambit as it pertains to North Korea.
“Let’s start with a basic truth: Despite our best efforts to stop North Korea’s nuclear program, an effort spread over three American presidencies, North Korea will likely be able to reach the Pacific Northwest with a nuclear-armed missile within a few years,” wrote Hayden. “Let me be clear. By the end of Donald Trump’s first term, we could be facing an isolated, pathological little gangster state able to obliterate Seattle.”
Hayden lamented that virtually everything short of armed conflict had already been tried.
“We’ve had four-party talks, six-party talks, the Agreed Framework,” Hayden wrote. “We’ve tried international isolation, U.S. sanctions, U.N. sanctions, Chinese pressure, even ‘strategic patience.’ Some political scientist is going to make a killing writing a book comparing and contrasting all these approaches.”
Hayden wrote that the one thing that all of these policies have in common is their utter failure to prevent Kim Jong-Un from developing his nuclear weapons program. After musing on what it would mean to take either a “hard right” or a “hard left” position on North Korea, Hayden suggested that the only unacceptable way forward was the status quo.
As far as his prescriptions, Hayden recommended that Trump focus his efforts on policies that will put pressure on China.
“China doesn’t [step in] because it believes that current circumstances are tolerable, or at least more tolerable than potential instability, refugee flows or a unified Korea integrated with the West,” Hayden wrote. “So we might want to allow the tooth to hurt more — not maliciously, but as a byproduct of steps logically taken because of North Korea’s actions.”
Trump has spoken little of North Korea, though he has also mentioned the importance of leveraging China in the right direction.
“China has control – absolute control – over North Korea,” Trump said in February. “They don’t say it, but they do. And they should make that problem disappear.”
If Trump can do what three presidents before him have failed to do – i.e. eliminate the nuclear threat of Pyongyang – he will cement a legacy of lasting peace that history will not soon forget.