Juxtaposing US Policy Towards Iran and Korea

The President and the Secretary of State had some oddly contradictory statements this week.

Yesterday morning, I heard an excerpt from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech on Iran.  I was struck by the criticisms of the regime and implicit calls for regime change:

we will also advocate tirelessly for the Iranian people. The regime must improve how it treats its citizens. It must protect the human rights of every Iranian. It must cease wasting Iran’s wealth abroad.
We ask that our international partners continue to add their voice to ours in condemning Iran’s treatment of its own citizens.

The protests – the protests of the past few months show that the Iranian people are deeply frustrated with their own government’s failures.

[…]
Look, these problems are compounded by enormous corruption inside of Iran, and the Iranian people can smell it. The protests last winter showed that many are angry at the regime that keeps for itself what the regime steals from its people.

And Iranians too are angry at a regime elite that commits hundreds of millions of dollars to military operations and terrorist groups abroad while the Iranian people cry out for a simple life with jobs and opportunity and with liberty.

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I think that the Iranian regime deserves criticism and believe it would be in the interest of Iranians for their regime to liberalize, if not transform.  I was struck by these statements because I do not see how the actions of the US on the JCPOA, which has just given more influence to hardliners, helps further this goal.  I was further struck because of the administration’s approach to North Korea.

Indeed, President Trump reinforced my thoughts when I heard his comments from the White House yesterday:

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump went out of his way to guarantee Mr. Kim’s safety. “He will be safe. He will be happy. His country will be rich,” the president said.

So, the US government wishes regime change in Iran, and therefore withdrew from the nuclear deal. And, again, it is unclear how that withdrawal furthers that goal.  However, the administration so badly wants a deal with the North Koreans that the President of the United States is willing to make public statement guaranteeing the continuation of the Kim regime (not to mention making fantastical statements about how a nuclear deal might lead to widespread prosperity in North Korea).

From a normative point of view, I want the authoritarian regimes in North Korea and Iran to liberalize and to be replaced.  However, I do know that if I was forced to live in only one of two places, North Korea or Iran, I would pick Iran in a heartbeat given the far more dire and brutal nature of the North Korean regime.  While I understand that to get to the negotiating table, a photo op Trump now desperately wants, the President cannot criticize the North’s brutality, this entire display is quite bizarre and is utterly inconsistent.

Moreover, there seems to be no understanding of what these kinds of deals accomplish.  Getting rid of the JCPOA will not make the Iranian regime fall, nor will a deal with North Korea lead to happiness and wealth for the North Koreans.

It is as if the administration doesn’t really know what it is doing…

FILED UNDER: Asia, US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    It is as if the administration doesn’t really know what it is doing…

    Master of understatement!!!
    If you look at Dennisons stated reasons for violating the Iran deal…you realize he will NEVER get a deal from NK that he claims the Iran deal should have been.
    Will any deal he makes with NK be held to the same standards he claims the Iran deal should have been…doubtful. He’ll claim it to be an overwhelming success. The best treaty ever. And there is no one to hold him accountable.




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  2. It is as if the administration doesn’t really know what it is doing

    Captain Obvious Quote Of The Day!




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  3. Kathy says:

    I hate to pile on, but:

    It is as if the administration doesn’t really know what it is doing…

    “I went out in the rain without an umbrella and got soaked. It’s as if water is wet.”

    “I put my hand in the flame and got burned. It’s as if fire is hot.”

    With that out of the way, I’m willing to believe Dr. Taylor was being ironic.




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  4. Mark Ivey says:

    Iranian president Rouhani needs to buy 2 apartments in Trump Tower while Iran offers the Trump organization $800 million in a joint venture for a Trump Tower and golf resort in Tehran. Vola…………..




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  5. Dave Schuler says:

    From a normative point of view, I want the authoritarian regimes in North Korea and Iran to liberalize and to be replaced. However, I do know that if I was forced to live in only one of two places, North Korea or Iran, I would pick Iran in a heartbeat given the far more dire and brutal nature of the North Korean regime.

    I agree with that completely.

    Here’s how I would summarize the situation.

    1. Neither country is presently a threat to us.
    2. If we removed our troops from South Korea, North Korea wouldn’t even be a risk for u.s
    3. Iran is a risk to us.
    4. Israel treats every negative risk as a threat. Consequently, Iran is a threat to it.
    5. Israel is presently bombing Iranian facilities in Syria. That’s a risky behavior.
    6. The Israelis would very much like us to deal with Iran for them.
    7. They may well get their way.

    It makes sense to treat the two countries differently. I’m not convinced it makes sense to treat these two countries differently in this particular way. Defusing the situation in the Middle East would require the Administration to take actions that won’t be popular with a number of voters, including Trump voters. Dealing with North Korea is easier and the stakes for us, politically and militarily, are lower.




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  6. michael reynolds says:

    Either country could supply nuclear weapons to terrorists – Iran for ideological reasons, NK for cash.

    Both countries represent threats to allies, Israel and South Korea respectively.

    Neither country represents a serious threat to the US directly.

    Both present strategic challenges, though in very different ways – Iran could close the Straits of Hormuz and cause great economic damage. NK could make a separate peace with SK which would likely lead to us losing our position on the Korean peninsula, accelerating the decline of US power in Asia and the rise of China.

    But debating this issue as though it mattered is fun but pointless. None of this matters in the slightest to Trump. Trump understands nothing. He doesn’t understand that he’s picked sides in a religious war in the ME, and he doesn’t understand the convenient hypocrisy of our posture in SK. He is simply not capable of understanding the world as anything more nuanced than buying a cup of coffee – simple transactions, quid pro quo, show me the money with a side order of how are my ratings?

    Trump is for sale. He accuses China of currency manipulation, China grants him some trademark concessions and suddenly China is no longer a currency manipulator. He drives us toward a trade war with China, the Chinese swing a 500 million dollar loan for a Trump development, and suddenly we’re on a rescue mission for the Chinese phone giant and Xi is his best buddy. And of course we know that when the banks cut Trump off the Russians stepped in and suddenly the King of Debt was all about cash and loving him some Putin. And I suspect we’ll find Saudi and UAE money in Trump’s pockets within a few weeks or months.

    US foreign policy will be whatever is most personally profitable to Trump. It’s not a coincidence that all his best international friends are profoundly corrupt while he openly despises governments which have laws against such bribery. Trump doesn’t play chess, he doesn’t even play checkers, he plays Monopoly and has zero capacity to learn any other game.




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  7. @Dave Schuler:

    It makes sense to treat the two countries differently

    I do not disagree with this, as a general statement. I am mostly struck by the utter illogic of the administration in its choices of different treatment, however.




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  8. @Kathy:

    With that out of the way, I’m willing to believe Dr. Taylor was being ironic.

    Oh, dontcha know.




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  9. Franklin says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: For sure, the administration’s public reasoning is completely inconsistent, you’re not the first to notice this.




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  10. @Franklin:

    you’re not the first to notice this.

    If I only blogged things I was the first notice, I would probably blog nothing at all… 😉




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  11. gVOR08 says:

    When I saw the headline I was ready to write a comment protesting normalization by analysis. But I see you’ve analyzed this correctly, there is no real policy.




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  12. Gustopher says:

    The big difference between the two countries is that North Korea has nuclear weapons, and Iran doesn’t. And that appears to be driving the difference in approaches.

    It’s also worth noting the message that this difference sends to countries that might want a deterrent to US intervention — if you can last long enough to get the nuclear weapons, you’re fine. If I was in charge of Serbia (to pick a random country we have disapproved of in the past), I would be working on nuclear weapons like mad while everyone is focused on North Korea and Iran.




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  13. Joe says:

    On Tuesday, Mr. Trump went out of his way to guarantee Mr. Kim’s safety. “He will be safe. He will be happy. His country will be rich,” the president said.

    While I doubt he had this nuance in mind, Trump promised only that Kim would be safe and happy, and that his country would be rich. He didn’t promise Kim that he would still be leading that country.




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  14. @Joe: The context of his comments was that of regime security, however.




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  15. Kathy says:

    I’m just hoping it’s very long odds that Mangolini will invade Iran to shore up support for the midterms. Or that he’ll order some sort of attack for the same reason.




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  16. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:

    It’s also worth noting the message that this difference sends to countries that might want a deterrent to US intervention — if you can last long enough to get the nuclear weapons, you’re fine.

    Don’t tell the Orange Twit that Mexico has at least two nuclear facilities (I’ve visited one, though I never got close to the reactor). What if El Peje (aka the rich man’s Donald Trump*) threatens fire and fury over NAFTA?

    *In an ironic twist, Mangolini himself is the poor man’s Donald Trump.




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  17. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    On Tuesday, Mr. Trump went out of his way to guarantee Mr. Kim’s safety. “He will be safe. He will be happy. His country will be rich,” the president said.

    So…are we making NK the 51st state? How are we going to make NK rich? How much is this going to cost us?
    Dennison and his cult love to claim Obama gave Iran money…when he didn’t. The Iran deal allowed the release of Iran’s money that had been held.
    Now Dennison is going to do just what he bitches about…he’s going to give NK money?
    We are living in bizarro-world.




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  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Gustopher:

    The big difference between the two countries is that North Korea has nuclear weapons, and Iran doesn’t. And that appears to be driving the difference in approaches.

    That. And that the Saudis and Israelis aren’t manipulating and paying Trump for Korea policy.




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  19. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    @Joe: The context of his comments was that of regime security, however.

    True. But I’ve wondered why we don’t in the case of rogue autarchies just buy off the leader and a few key henchmen. We could have set Ghadafi up in the south of France for a fraction of what NATO spent intervening in the Libyan civil war.




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  20. mattbernius says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    4. Israel treats every negative risk as a threat. Consequently, Iran is a threat to it.
    5. Israel is presently bombing Iranian facilities in Syria. That’s a risky behavior.
    6. The Israelis would very much like us to deal with Iran for them.
    7. They may well get their way.

    The only thing that’s missing here Dave is that these equally apply to Saudi Arabia (just swap Yemen for Syria). In fact most of the Trump administrations complaints about Iran also can be applied to the Saudis.




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  21. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am mostly struck by the utter illogic of the administration in its choices of different treatment, however.

    It makes complete sense if you consider that Trump filters everything in terms of domestic politics. There are a lot of domestic political reasons to take a hard line with Iran but not North Korea.




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  22. Dave Schuler says:

    @mattbernius:

    I agree that the Saudis are not our friends. My view of them is he who sups with the devil must use a long spoon.

    However, the Israelis aren’t bombing the Saudis. We’ve already been drawn into the Saudis’ war in Yemen but there’s little danger of that participation growing out of control. Not that we should be involved at all.




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  23. TM01 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Since when does context matter when it comes to Trump?

    You animals.




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  24. TM01 says:

    Meanwhile, Iran is still developing long range solid fuel rockets.
    https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/05/23/world/middleeast/iran-missiles.html

    I wonder what Iran did with that pallet of cash.

    It’s almost as if the JCPOA was utterly worthless and we should have gotten at least something concrete in return instead of vague promises to be nice.

    But whatever. Trump is just doing the bidding of Russia. Or Israel. Or Saudi Arabia. Or China. Or whatever. It all depends on today’s story.




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  25. Matt says:

    @TM01: So now Iran isn’t allowed to do what space x and at least 20 other private companies are doing? So are you proposing we ban Iran from space too?

    See the thing is the article is full of “could be” “might be” “we think” and it’s from the NY Times which you have stated many times in the past is a liberal lying dying newspaper. It’s interesting that you’re suddenly so willing to take anything they say as the gospel…




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  26. David M says:

    @TM01:

    The dishonest GOP talking points about the JCPOA never end, do they. Just shameful how little some people care about something as serious as preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.




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