Jeffrey Lewis writes: When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson showed up in Asia this month, he announced that the United States would take a “new approach” to North Korea. Tillerson avoided any specifics of how he planned to get a different result, but he was well armed with platitudes — he spoke of decades of failed “diplomatic and other efforts,” joined the Japanese foreign minister in calling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs “totally unacceptable,” and urged the North’s leaders “to change your path.” Shortly after Tillerson departed, North Korea attempted yet another missile launch.
Poor Tillerson. Someone forgot to tell him that a new administration promising a new approach it can’t quite articulate is, in fact, the old approach. Previous administrations even used the same words, calling North Korea’s actions “unacceptable” and pointing to a different “path.” And yet, even though President Barack Obama pledged to “break that pattern” of North Korea getting away with belligerent behavior, and President George W. Bush compared the country’s dictatorship to a toddler who throws food on the floor, the sad truth is that promising to break the pattern is part of the pattern, and we always pick up the food. We, too, could choose a different path. But we don’t. [Continue reading…]