Foreign Policy Chat: What To Do About Syria, North Korean Nukes, And Foreign Policy In The 2012 Election

Today we're launching a regular feature called Foreign Policy Chat. I'll be highlighting a few daily stories that are driving the chatter in foreign policy circles, providing interesting links, and offering some brief analysis. I welcome your feedback and comments. Stay up to date throughout the day via Twitter by following @BradEEB and #FoPoChat. 


As the Syrian rebels have been forced into a “tactical retreat” from Homs and the SNC struggles to establish the ability to effectively represent the Syrian people, debate continues in the US about aid and possible intervention. GOP presidential candidates have criticized the President’s failure to act militarily, but proponents of intervention have failed to confront the stated logistical concerns of nearly all top policy makers from the White House, Capitol Hill, and NATO. A CNAS report by Marc Lynch, published last week, convincingly argues that intervention or arming the rebels stands little chance of improving the situation on the ground and would likely make the conflict far more bloody. Until the hawks can articulate a reasonable path forward that addresses all of the tactical and strategic problems, their position simply isn’t credible.

Foreign Policy and the 2012 Election

With the economy slowly improving and polls trending positively for Democrats, GOP operatives are beginning to suggest moving the national debate onto issues of foreign policy. Two of the political architects behind George W Bush’s failed foreign policy misadventures, Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, recently penned an article arguing that the President is weak on security issues and vulnerable on foreign policy. The irrationality of their arguments, however, has been exposed by two compelling rebuttals: One by Stan Greenberg and Jeremy Rosner; the other by Michael Cohen. While Rove and Gillespie’s assertions about Obama’s vulnerability are largely baseless, this debate suggests that we’re going to be hearing a lot more about foreign policy between now and November. NDN’s own Simon Rosenberg recently explored how Obama’s Middle East strategy will likely fit into forthcoming Republican attacks.

North Korea

This week saw a surprise announcement that the US had struck a deal with the North Koreans to freeze their nuclear program, discontinue missile tests, and allow UN inspectors in exchange for significant food aid. Secretary Clinton characterized the move as a “modest step forward,” while North Korea experts Victor Cha and Ellen Kim argued that this may be a bad-faith ploy from a Pyongyang leadership with no real intention to make lasting changes. Critics are right to be skeptical. The long-running pattern of North Korean behavior suggests that the cat and mouse game over their nuclear program is far from over. This latest move occurring so closely on the heels of Kim Jong Un’s ascension, however, is almost certainly positive. Many analysts were afraid that the younger Kim would feel compelled to flex his military muscles in order to earn the respect of the military establishment. The fact that he feels comfortable enough to make any nuclear deal with the US seems to suggest that it’s unlikely the regime will aggressively lash out in the near term.