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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on Oct. 13)

All News 07:06 October 13, 2016

Hillary's NK policy
If Sherman is any guide, either disaster or status quo is likely.

Wendy Sherman, a strong candidate for secretary of state if Hillary Clinton becomes U.S. president, said during a forum here Tuesday that a military option shouldn't be ruled out in dealing with North Korea.

"We will not allow North Korea to have deliverable nuclear weapons, which can happen in the near future," she said. "We need to use every tool we have ― military, intelligence…"

Sherman served as a North Korea policy coordinator during the Bill Clinton government and worked as undersecretary of state, the fourth-ranking officer in the Obama administration, and is widely seen as a key advisor to Hillary Clinton, who is increasingly likely to win the Nov. 8 election.

However, Sherman's remarks sounded like another participant's whom she was least expected to resemble at the World Knowledge Forum ― Dick Cheney. Vice president of George W. Bush and a believer in neoconservatives' theory of the U.S. being an uberman at the end of history, he pushed for the policy of anything but Clinton (ABC). In the forum, Cheney repeated Bush's mantra that a military option shouldn't be ruled out.

The Sherman-Cheney similarity is ominous because of the fear that the new Clinton administration might follow Bush's failed North Korea policy either by pushing for a settlement through military confrontation or wasting a precious window of opportunity at the initial stage of her presidency.

In 1994 after a close call for a preemptive strike on the North, Clinton lured the repressive country to sign a deal rewarding the North for agreeing to freeze its nuclear program, the predecessor to the Iran deal.

By the tenor of her remarks, it can't be ruled out that Secretary Sherman would start over from scratch. Given the progress the North has made in the past 20-plus years ― five nuclear tests and numerous ballistic missile tests ― that is a luxury that can scarcely be afforded.

It is also doubtful whether Sherman had any fixed idea, when she talked about the military tool. Is it a preemptive strike, the idea that was forsaken by the ex-Presidents Clinton and Bush and is now being given a new lease on life? Or is it allowing South Korea to develop its own nuclear arms or bringing tactical U.S. nuclear weapons back into the Korean Peninsula? If she meant any of them, she may regard herself not fully updated.

Ambiguity can serve a strategic purpose but the Obama administration has turned it into a policy of patience toward the North, a lame excuse for doing nothing. We are now witnessing how it has fed the nuclear monster that is North Korea.

Sherman also disclosed she shared the "mistaken" U.S. view of lumping China and the North together as enemies when she predicted in the same breath the North's provocation and China's challenge early next year when the new U.S. president takes office.

When this is interpreted in the same context of her view of deputizing Japan as a key policy of encircling China, it can mean that the North would be pushed down its priority list and be made more dependable to the U.S.-China hegemonic contest. This would also likely mean the worsening of the North Korean confrontation before it gets better, if it ever does so.

Now speaking in private capacity, Sherman should be given the benefit of doubt about how she would influence U.S. foreign policy. Besides, any projection of her idea into reality depends on Clinton's election. As for Clinton, she can learn from her presidential rival, Donald Trump, a willingness to do something untried such as dialogue with the North Korean leader. If she can't stomach him, at least she could pick up where her husband left off. It's not sure whether Sherman could do that for her.
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