Cheney Was Right: The Sorry History of Our North Korean Policy

Since Donald Trump took office, the growth of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and the increasing capability and diversity of its ballistic missile force have made that country the most urgent threat to U.S. national security. Observers as diverse as Mark Bowden in the Atlantic, Michael Auslin of the Hoover Institution, and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon agree that all military options available to the president are bad. How exactly did we get to this point? What policy decisions led to an emerging intercontinental ballistic missile capability and a nuclear arsenal that could rival that of the U.K. by the middle of the next decade? How did we end up with a North Korean leader seemingly more willing to run enormous risks than his father or grandfather? The answer demonstrates once again the venerable adage that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” One of the few national figures who consistently raised alarms about U.S policy towards North Korea was former vice president Dick Cheney, and he has proven prescient. The United States now faces the real prospect of a war that Secretary of Defense James Mattis says would be “catastrophic.” This story should be studied carefully before it repeats itself—say, in Iran.