A key reason that Obama was elected President was his promise to abandon the Bush doctrine of unilateral foreign policy, meaning that Obama would work with other countries toward a more cooperative, peaceful world. The threat of war in Korea exposes Obama -- yet again -- as a dangerous copycat of Bush's approach to global politics.
A simple way for Obama to live up to his campaign promise would be to immediately agree to China's request to continue the six party talks over the Korean situation, involving North and South Korea, Russia, Japan, China, and the U.S. The last such meeting was held at the end of Bush's term. Here is what Obama said about the six party talks on Veterans day while visiting Seoul:
"President Lee [right wing President of South Korea] and I have discussed this extensively and our belief is that there will be an appropriate time and place to re-enter into six-party talks, but we have to see a seriousness of purpose [concessions] by the North Koreans in order to spend the extraordinary time and energy that's involved in these talks. We're not interested in just going through the motions with the same result."
Obama thus uses the same Bush-like logic with North Korea as he does with Iran: The U.S. will not talk with Iran or Korea until they first give into extensive U.S. demands. Obama places the cart in front of the horse and acts shocked when the horse -- North Korea -- does not budge. Never mind that it would be absurd for North Korea to abandon its only real deterrent, nuclear weapons, after the U.S. invaded two non-nuclear nations.
Oddly, when it came to North Korea, Bush acted much more responsibly, i.e., multilaterally, than Obama; he attended the six party talks and took the threat of nuclear war seriously (while starting non-nuclear wars elsewhere). After naming North Korea part of the "axis of evil," Bush back-stepped and took North Korea off of the list of countries that are "state sponsors" of terrorism.
Obama on the other hand, began his Presidency with a "get tough" attitude on Korea, outgunning Bush from the right- wing. The first shots were fired when Obama pressured the U.N. to adopt harsher, provocative sanctions against North Korea. These are on top of the already strict, cold war-era sanctions that Obama refuses to remove, in the same way he maintains the embargo against Cuba that, in both countries, produces innumerable miseries.
On top of maintaining past conflicts, Obama's get-tough policy is producing the conditions for a potentially catastrophic war.
After employing the new sanctions, Obama agreed to large-scale war games with South Korea that both China and North Korea protested. During these war games, a highly sophisticated South Korean war ship sank, and a western-only investigatory team concluded that an unsophisticated North Korean submarine was the culprit, a claim disputed by Russia, China, and other prominent sources.
Recently, the U.S. blamed North Korea exclusively for the fighting that broke out during a South Korean-only war games. But the Associated Press told a different story:
"The skirmish began when Pyongyang [i.e. North Korea] warned the South to halt military drills in the area, according to South Korean officials. When Seoul [i.e. South Korea] refused and began firing artillery into disputed waters, albeit away from the North Korean shore, the North retaliated by bombarding the small island of Yeonpyeong, which houses South Korean military installations...." (November 23, 2010).
How did Obama respond to this crisis, which could very possibly evolve into a nuclear war? By ignoring the Chinese call for a resumption of the six party talks and by announcing that the giant U.S. aircraft carrier, George Washington, would come to the contentious area to participate in yet another U.S.-South Korea war games, the equivalent of pouring gasoline on a blazing fire.
War games are a direct provocation to the surrounding area, which includes China and North Korea. They are a show of force in a disputed area that China is claiming as its sphere of influence. The U.S. has no right to be in the region but floods the sea with warships all the same.
Obama has vowed to defend South Korea in case of war, while the assumption is that China would intervene if North Korea were under attack, a situation that could easily spiral out of control into nuclear conflagration.
The people of North and South Korea want to be united into a single country but are held hostage by larger forces outside of their country, while their situation is exploited by ruling political groups domestically.
If Obama were serious about his multilateralism, he would immediately remove all 29,000 U.S. troops from South Korea and re-join the six party talks with no conditions. North Korea has been vocal in wanting to repair relations with the U.S. Obama's current approach inevitably leads to a regional war, with China and the U.S. eager to jump in.
Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (http://www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at Email address removed