The Bush administration, bless its secure and undisclosed heart, wasn’t good at much. But it was awesomely awesome at one thing.
No one, and I mean no one, could needlessly insult foreign nations as skillfully as the Bush administration.
The all-time classic, of course, was when Bush responded to the 9/11 attacks by calling Iran, Iraq and North Korea an “Axis of Evil” that needed to be stopped before it threatened “the peace of the world.”
Never mind that none of the three countries had anything to do with 9/11, much less one another. It was a great put-down, and, gosh dangit, Bush wasn’t gonna cut such a zingy zinger out of a speech because of something as silly as factual accuracy.
Axis of Evil wasn’t the Bush team’s only quality put-down. Who can forget the time Rummy dissed European leaders who opposed the Iraq war as “Old Europe.” Aww, snap! Never mind that the U.S. has spent every day since then begging Old Europe to commit more money and more troops to U.S.-led missions around the world.
The Bush administration’s nastiest, most personal put-downs were reserved for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il.
Bush called Kim a “pygmy” and was widely quoted as saying he loathed the man. Kim is, indeed, loathsome, and though I’ve never stood next to him, is probably comparable in height to the average pygmy.
But the name-calling did nothing to further the U.S.’s chief North Korea objective: to halt its nuclear weapons program. In fact, it did the opposite. Bush’s intense personal hostility toward Kim clearly motivated North Korea to accelerate its nuclear program and, in 2006, test a nuclear weapon. North Korea loves it some pissing matches.
Foreign policy by verbal insult simply doesn’t achieve our objectives. President Obama’s promise to stop saying stupid stuff was why so many foreign policy establishment types lined up behind him early in his campaign.
So imagine my shock and horror when his chief foreign policy officer, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, tore a page from the Bush playbook and began calling North Korea names again.
Speaking July 20 on "Good Morning America," Clinton said of North Korea, “Maybe it's the mother in me or the experience that I've had with small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention — don't give it to them, they don't deserve it, they are acting out.”
I can’t imagine Chelsea was too happy about being compared to a genocidal nuclear dictatorship. To her credit, though, she did not respond to the remark.
North Korea, however, tatted that tit.
A statement published on the Korean Central News Agency website said Clinton “is by no means intelligent.” The statement went on to call her a “funny lady” who is “unaware of elementary etiquette in the international community.”
They made fun of her appearance, too, saying “[s]ometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping.”
And perhaps to prove at least one thesaurus has made it through the embargo, North Korea accused Clinton of “vituperation.” Ouch. Seriously. Look it up. It’s totally an ouch word.
On the surface, it appears the Obama and Bush stances toward North Korea — private talking peppered with public insults — have yielded similar results — a North Korea that builds its nuclear capability while the rest of the world watches in horror.
But there is a glimmer of hope. Despite the insults, the Obama team has done a much better job than Bush’s people at quickly uniting key Asian nations behind anti-North Korean sanctions. It took Bush seven years to figure that out. It took Obama less than six months.
And after North Korea’s recent missiles tests, the UN quickly acted to allow international inspections of North Korean ships.
So far, international sanctions have proven the only effective way of getting North Korea to a negotiating table. Will Obama do a better job at reining in North Korea than Bush? We’ll know soon enough.
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