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When Bill Clinton Threatened to ‘End’ North Korea
Paul Kengor
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The liberal media is going ballistic over President Trump’s UN speech, launching into collective orbit over Trump again mocking little man Kim as “rocket man.” This time, President Trump made that jab not from his Twitter account on a Sunday morning but from the world’s biggest international stage: the vaunted assembly of the United Nations in its diplomatic splendor on the East River. The media exploded over Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” North Korea if crazy Kim attacked the United States or its allies.

The New York Times news article on Trump’s UN speech no less than seven times singled out his words “totally destroy,” though not once did it give the complete context. Here’s the passage, which must be read in full:

The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary. That’s what the United Nations is all about; that’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do.

It’s a remarkable passage and an intriguing one. Read it twice, carefully. Note the initial “but if.” It’s couched within a scenario of America being “forced to defend itself or its allies.” It’s a defensive, not offensive, scenario — one in which the United States is left with “no choice.” That’s a “no choice,” says Trump, which “hopefully … will not be necessary.” Moreover, Trump even put that ball in the UN’s court, stating that such is what the “United Nations is all about.” It’s what the “United Nations is for.” He even offered, “Let’s see how they [the United Nations] do.”

When read carefully, as this passage needs to be, we see that isn’t an instance of Trump recklessly bloviating from his Twitter account with no staffer able to filter him. No, this was pre-written and pre-approved and crafted by advisers with deliberate intentions.

But the liberal left isn’t likely to react to it that way. Liberals will portray Trump’s “totally destroy” remark as unprecedented warmonger toward North Korea.

Well, before they get too hysterical, they might want to go back a couple of decades and read the words of Bill Clinton.

It was July 1993, and Hillary’s husband, a mere half year into his presidency, was dealing with little Kim’s little grand-pappy, another Marxist madman, the progenitor of this communist-totalitarian hereditary dictatorship. On July 9, 1993, as the Washington Post reported at the time, Bill Clinton, amid a major swing through Asia, told the media the following of U.S. policy toward North Korea under his administration: “We would overwhelmingly retaliate if [the North Koreans] were to ever use, to develop and use nuclear weapons. It would mean the end of their country as they know it.”

For the record, he also added, “North Korea is just one of many renegade nations that would like to have nuclear weapons and be unaccountable for them, and we can’t let it happen.”

Well, it did happen. And presidents like Donald Trump are today left to deal with the failures of presidents like Bill Clinton (and his bipartisan successors) who couldn’t stop it from happening.

Clinton’s comments were widely covered at the time, including by the New York Times, which reported: “On his weekend visit to South Korea, President Clinton warned that if North Korea developed and used an atomic weapon, ‘we would quickly and overwhelmingly retaliate.’” He said, “It would mean the end of their country as they know it.”

To repeat: the end of their country as they know it.

I remember all of this very well. I keep Clinton’s statement in my lecture notes on North Korea. In fact, I’ve never forgotten because of the reaction by Washington liberals that I witnessed firsthand. I was at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a non-partisan think-tank with a good balance of Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, hawks and doves. My policy area at CSIS was nuclear proliferation. I had the daunting task of daily tracking all news related to the development of WMDs by nations like Iraq and North Korea. And I’ll always remember the response of Democrats and liberals to Clinton’s bold threat to “end” North Korea.

What was their response? They loved it. They pumped their firsts. They pounded their chests. They gave high-fives. They yelled “Woot! Woot! Woot!”

Yes, the very same peaceniks who throughout the 1980s had derided Ronald Reagan as a trigger-happy cowboy and nuclear warmonger, who had run George H.W. Bush out of office after he drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, suddenly yanked the daisies from their hair and gun barrels and were ready to storm out to SAC headquarters to board their Super-fortress for Pyongyang. They had become Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove.

Personally, I liked Bill Clinton’s tough talk at the time, just as I had liked Reagan’s rhetoric when he called the USSR an “Evil Empire” or spoke of “peace through strength.” I was consistent. They weren’t.

The hypocrisy made me sick. Now that their guy was in the White House, Democrats were yukking it up and back-slapping one another as their president threatened to “end” a country. These anti-Reagan doves had morphed into pro-Clinton hawks.

So, here we are again — a Republican president talking tough with another North Korean nut-job. And here we go again — liberals once again applying different standards depending on whether the guy in the White House is a Democrat or not.

Yeah, yeah. We know their excuses and what they’ll say. This is different; that’s different. This is Trump; that was Clinton. Whatever. Sure, guys.

Paul Kengor
Paul Kengor
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Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa., and senior academic fellow at the Center for Vision & Values. Dr. Kengor is author of over a dozen books, including A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism, and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
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