What South Korea, Japan, and Israel have in common is some considerable degree of dependence on the United States, reinforced by pledges of unfaltering loyalty.

 
South Vietnam might also be added to the list, but with a difference. The US paid a high price for its defense, but was not sure about the reliability of its client, and how determined the South Vietnamese were to fight for their own security.
 
Currently commentators are playing back the comments of Bill Clinton about assuring that North Korea would not achieve nuclear weapons.
 
"North Korea will freeze and then dismantle its nuclear program. South Korea and our other allies will be better protected. The entire world will be safer as we slow the spread of nuclear weapons. South Korea, with support from Japan and other nations, will bear most of the cost of providing North Korea with fuel to make up for the nuclear energy it is losing, and they will pay for an alternative power system for North Korea that will allow them to produce electricity while making it much harder for them to produce nuclear weapons. The United States and international inspectors will carefully monitor North Korea to make sure it keeps its commitments."


Clinton spoke in October, 1994. Eight years later North Korea exploded a nuclear device.
 
We needn't expect a simple repeat of that performance, but neither should we be encouraged by Iran's greater economic and technological resources, nor the motivations provided by the political/theological doctrines of Shiite Islam.
 
Even skeptics about North Korea can respond with the comment that "So far, so good." Despite occasional threats, missile tests, and encounters on sea or land with casualties, the North Korean-South Korea-Japan neighborhood has been below the level of serious violence. While neither South Korea nor Japan have tested nuclear weapons, both can probably reach weapons capacity within a short time, and both have enough conventional clout to dissuade North Korea from a nuclear adventure.
 
Israel is arguably in a worse situation or a better situation with respect to Iran than are South Korea or Japan with respect to North Korea, depending on which details we examine. Israel is a small country with a highly concentrated population, and a nuclear attack would be devastating. Yet the concentration of 10 million people in and around the South Korean capital of Seoul (more than a fifth of the total population) only a few miles from the North Korean border raises the possibility of occupation by a foreign army as well as devastation. 
 
Japan's major cities are not much further from North Korean launching sites.
 
Israel's threat/retaliatory capacity is at least as great vis a vis Iran as the combined capacity of South Korea and Japan vis a vis North Korea. If we believe what is said, Israel can destroy the centers of Iran's population and economy. 
 
The United States did not abandon South Korea and Japan, and has not threatened to abandon Israel. 
 
There remain some 75,000 US troops in the Korean/Japan area, as well as considerable wherewithal to help with the devastation of North Korea.
 
Israel has no US combat troops beyond occasional visitors, specialists sent to learn and/or teach, and the Marine guards at the Embassy and Consulates, but the US provision of munitions is impressive.
 
One can argue without end as to which recent American President was the most unreliable. 
 
Obama's shaky reputation rests partly on his speech about Syria's use of chemical weapons.
 
First came the revulsion and the threat.
 
"Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children.  The images from this massacre are sickening . . .what happened to those people -- to those children -- is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security. . . .  This is not a world we should accept.  This is what’s at stake.  And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.  The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use." 

Then came the backstep.
 
"That's my judgment as Commander-in-Chief.  But I’m also the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.  So even though I possess the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress.  . . . . First, many of you have asked, won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war?   . .   I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria."
 
Now the President's latest claims about Iran.
 
"(T)he United States, together with our allies and partners, has reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. . .
Many key details will be finalized over the next three months. And nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed. . . . If Iran cheats, the world will know it. If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it. Iran’s past efforts to weaponize its program will be addressed. . . .
In return for Iran’s actions, the international community has agreed to provide Iran with relief from certain sanctions. . . .  This relief will be phased, as Iran takes steps to adhere to the deal. If Iran violates the deal, sanctions can be snapped back into place.
Meanwhile, other American sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile program, will continue to be fully enforced. . . . 
Now let me re-emphasize, our work is not yet done. The deal has not been signed. . . .
success is not guaranteed. But we have a historic opportunity to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in Iran and to do so peacefully,"

The President detailed key features of the understanding, and the relative merits of pursuing a political accord as opposed to military action or relying on continued sanctions.

Overall, he addressed the issues raised by Prime Minister Netanyahu. He did not accept Netanyahu's position, and admitted that his own choices had yet to be tested.

Should we chalk that up to Obamian candor, or see this as an effort to claim credit for  an oral understanding that came after a  failure to reach even an interim agreement, and differed on important matters from the oral understanding perceived by Iran?
 
The President was also introspective in a long interview with Thomas Friedman. It showed that Netanyahu had penetrated presidential space, perhaps with some effect
 
Obama will have to do better with Iran than he did with Syria. The arrangements that followed his speech of 2013 did not keep Assad's forces from using chlorine gas, and did not stop the slaughter of civilians as well as combatants by other means.
 
He'll also have to do better than what followed Bill Clinton's claims of having ended North Korea's nuclear aspirations.
 
Optimists are hoping for a more intrusive set of inspections than imposed on North Korea.
 
Pessimists see the much greater incentives for European and American companies to do business with energy-rich Iran, which will hamper any dogged insistence on a strong final agreement, or the facile snapping back of sanctions should Iran slip out of the framework that is perceived.


Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


The most commendable feature of President Obama's comments on Iran was his lack of certainty. 


None of us commoners can be more confident.


The cartoonist for Ha'aretz is not optimistic. He portrays an Iranian scene, with a missile, posters of Ayatollahs, and mothers in traditional covering, with one holding a small boy and saying, "I registered him for a group that teaches enriching uranium."


 


 


Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of The Jerusalem Post. Blog authors are NOT employees, freelance or salaried, of The Jerusalem Post.

Think others should know about this? Please share