"I think it is important to send a clear message to North Korea that provocative actions have consequences," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said May 21 while visiting her Japanese counterpart in Tokyo.
Less than two months later, any talk of "consequences" has vanished. From "The Cable" at ForeignPolicy.com:
Fast forward to [9 July], when the United Nations released a presidential statement which not only does not specify any consequences for the Kim Jong Il regime, but doesn't even conclude that North Korea was responsible for the attack in the first place.
The statement acknowledges that the South Korean investigation, which included broad international participation, blamed North Korea, and then "takes note of the responses from other relevant parties, including from the DPRK, which has stated that it had nothing to do with the incident."
"Therefore, the Security Council condemns the attack which led to the sinking of the Cheonan," the statement reads.
And how did the Obama Administration react to the U.N.'s collective shrug?
The White House's spokesman on such matters, Mike Hammer, issued a statement clearly stating that the Obama administration believes North Korea was responsible and arguing that the U.N. statement "constitutes an endorsement of the findings" of the Joint Investigative Group that issued the report blaming North Korea.
To the U.S. and the South Koreans believe North Korea was guilty but the U.N. isn't willing to go that far. But what about the next step? Will there be any follow up, any "consequences" for North Korea, as Clinton seemed to promise in May?
"I think right now we're just allowing North Korea to absorb the international community's response to its actions," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday.
North Korea's representative to the U.N., Sin Son Ho, called the statement a "great diplomatic victory."
"That doesn't sound like a lot of absorption," one member of the State Department press corps shot back at Toner.
For once, the media--and Mr. Sin--got it right. This is (another) victory for Kim Jong-il. Once again, he has challenged his primary foes, the United States and South Korea, and escaped without any repercussions. Sure, it was a stretch to believe the U.N. Security Council would do anything. But, considering earlier vows of "consequences," the current silence from Seoul and Washington is deafening.
Unfortunately, it's hardly a surprise. The Obama Administration has a hard time challenging our enemies, saving most of its scorn for our friends. Mr. Kim is acutely aware of that tendency. Now, he'll return to the next step in his playbook, suggesting he might return to the bargaining table, provided the South Korea and Washington make a few concessions. And sure enough, some members of the striped-pants set are suggesting just that. Anything to get talks going again, so that North Korea can interrupt them again, at a time and place of its choosing.
Meanwhile, the families of those dead sailors would like some answers. How do you say "don't hold your breath" in Korean?