When North Korea announced on Tuesday night that it had detonated a hydrogen bomb, Republican presidential candidates wasted no time in erupting in a frenzy of blame, lambasting President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for failing to deal with the North Korean nuclear program. But once again, they refused to acknowledge the fact that the reason this is a problem in the first place is thanks to the failures of Republican presidents – just like the Iranian nuclear program, which was also the product of Republican negligence.
North Korea first began producing plutonium in 1986, while President Ronald Reagan stood idly by. Under the tenure of the first Bush, they separated enough plutonium to make a few nuclear bombs. As usual, it took a Democrat to pick up the pieces left by Republican exceptionalism. President Bill Clinton took the first to steps to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, negotiating a treaty that “[froze] operation and construction of nuclear reactors suspected of being part of a covert nuclear weapons program in exchange for two proliferation-resistant nuclear power reactors” and prevented them from leaving the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
All of that progress was undone by the cowboy diplomacy of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. When they included North Korea in the “Axis of Evil” and invaded Iraq, Pyongyang felt threatened and promptly “restarted their reactor…by 2005 produced another 15 kg of weapons grade plutonium. In 2006, North Korea is believed to have had between 4 and 13 nuclear bombs and tested a nuclear weapon for the first time.”
During the same period, Cheney told the Iranians that he refused to negotiate with them, prompting them to restart centrifuge production. They had 213 centrifuges in 2003; just two years later, the Iranians had constructed 5,000 centrifuges, and had built 8,000 by the end of the Bush Administration. President Obama has made the most concrete steps towards resolving that crisis with his landmark nuclear peace deal, which is being implemented ahead of schedule. This is the first time that the number of centrifuges Iran operates will have been reduced. No other policy has achieved this. The critics can’t touch this” writes Trita Parsi at the National Interest.
So, once again, it has been left to President Obama to clean up the messes that past Republicans have left them – the very existence of which he is constantly crucified for by jingoistic opportunists on the right-wing, looking for any excuse to blame the President and discredit any foreign policy that doesn’t follow the demands set by their Israeli and defense contractor lobbyists. While seditious Republicans conspire with foreign governments against their Commander-in-Chief while constantly disparaging his diplomatic efforts, they have nothing more to offer than fear-mongering and empty pronouncements about how “strong” they would be – with little regard for the realities of international relations or the nuance that is required to keep our nation safe and prosperous.
The worry over the “hydrogen bomb” is probably overblown – nobody should ever take what comes out of Pyongyang at face value; analysts measuring the seismic signature of the detonation indicate that “the explosive yield was even smaller than that from the North’s last and third nuclear test, in early 2013.” A South Korean defense official stated that ““Even a boosted fission bomb produces a yield bigger than this, so we don’t think this is a successful test of a boosted fission bomb either.” While the North Korean nuclear threat must be taken seriously, it is not the cataclysmic crisis that the Republicans make it out to be – it’s just their petulant attempts to pass the blame for a crisis that their heroes engineered in the first place.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.