In one of those strange twists of fate TV writers love, Ashton Carter, the current deputy secretary of defense, advocated bombing North Korea seven years ago when he was safely in his bunker at Harvard University.
Along with Clinton-era defense secretary William Perry, Carter urged in Time in 2006 that the Republican George W. Bush Administration conduct a “surgical strike” on a North Korean missile as it was readied for launch:
Such a strike could be seen by the North Korean leadership for what it is: a limited act of defense of the U.S. homeland against a gathering threat, and not an overall attack on North Korea…
For the U.S., the risk of inaction will prove far greater. The Pyongyang regime will view its stockpile of missiles and nuclear material as tipping the regional balance in its favor and providing a shield behind which it can pursue its interests with impunity. Worse, North Korea has a long history of selling its advanced weapons to countries in the Middle East, and it operates a black market in other forms of contraband. Like Pakistan’s rogue nuclear engineer A.Q. Khan, North Korean officials might be tempted to sell the ingredients of their arsenal to terrorists. Finally, many expect North Korea’s failed economy to lead one day to the regime’s collapse. Who then might get its loose nukes?
…We won’t know whether North Korea’s ambitions can be blunted by anything short of the use of force unless and until the U.S. takes the danger seriously and gets in the game.
Sure, there are more North Korean missiles today — some of them perhaps mobile — but they remain legitimate targets that the world’s finest military should be able to destroy.
It’s funny, in a poli-sci kind of way, how quickly bold proposals are self-squelched once their advocates move into power.
But don’t underestimate Carter.
After all, he volunteered to take a pay cut more than a month ago, just like Pentagon civilians will have to under sequestration, even though he is not subject to it.
On Tuesday, his new boss, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, made clear he would be doing the same thing.
And Wednesday, White House aides let it be known that President Obama would follow in their footsteps. He will be returning 5% of his $400,000 salary to the Treasury to demonstrate his willingness to share the pain being felt by some federal workers.
Perhaps Carter’s seven-year old notion about attacking North Korea will prove similarly contagious in the coming days.