Mr. Kim, Tear Down This . . . Wait, What?

By far the most remarkable article of the week was Richard Haass in the Wall Street Journal on Christmas eve, saying it is time for American foreign policy to seek . . . regime change in North Korea! They don’t make ‘em much more Capital-E “Establishment” than Haass, who is president of the uber-establishment Council on Foreign Relations. The CFR is hardly a nest of adventurous Bushoisie neocons. Still, Haass has this to say:

The serious threat posed by North Korea far transcends cyberspace. Only one approach is commensurate with the challenge: ending North Korea’s existence as an independent entity and reunifying the Korean Peninsula. . .

So what needs doing? The priority must be to persuade China that the demise of North Korea need not be something to fear. Washington and Beijing should convene talks about how they could manage scenarios, including North Korean collapse and aggression. Nuclear weapons and materials would need to be secured. Governments need to make plans to ensure U.S., South Korean and Chinese forces do not come into conflict.

The U.S., China and South Korea also need to discuss the terms of reunification. The peninsula should be denuclearized. The disposition of U.S. troops should be on the table. There would be no need for U.S. troops on the 38th parallel of a unified country. Also a matter for discussion should be the number, mix and mission of any remaining U.S. forces.

While Haass doubtless means everything he says here, I think this piece has a larger subtext: the neglect and incompetence of the Obama Administration in foreign policy. Some time back—I can’t just now recall where—I noted that Obama’s desire (shared by Rand Paul, let’s be clear) for the United States to reduce its expensive commitments as the world’s policeman is a plausible goal, but that it would require serious statecraft of a decade or more to accomplish in a sensible way, with a president of foreign acumen like Nixon and diplomats of genius and insight commensurate with the “wise men” such as Acheson, Marshall, Nitze, etc., who knitted together our Cold War strategy in the decade after World War II. There is no evidence that Obama has any foreign policy insight besides faculty room liberal guilt about America as the root of all evil in the world, and as for diplomats of ability and insight, we were offered Hillary Clinton and now John Kerry. Obama’s theory is that if the United States just goes away, the world will sort itself out in a benign way. Somehow the Syrians and the nice people of ISIS didn’t get the memo from the faculty meeting.

By now even establishmentarians like Haass are noticing and starting to be alarmed by the abdication of American leadership that Obama represents. Whether Haass’s view that our explicit object should be regime change in North Korea can be debated, but it is a moot point right now. Clearly neither Obama nor anyone on his foreign policy team has any interest, let alone ability, in engaging the Chinese and other Asian powers in such a purposeful and sustained way. The only foreign policy object Obama and Kerry care about is sticking it to Israel. Haass’s memo is intended to catch the attention of Obama’s successor.