Cheap Talk

by TOM MCLAUGHLIN August 31, 2017

Actions speak louder than words. Talk is cheap. Put up or shut up. Prove it.

There are many ways to say it, but they all come down to one thing: Do you mean what you say? For anyone claiming to be a leader that means warn once, then execute. Never bluff. 

When Saddam Hussein first took steps develop nuclear capabilities in the Iraqi desert, Israel sent jets in to destroy his facility at Osirak. In and out went the planes - a surgical strike. That was June, 1981. When Bashar Assad built a nuclear facility in Syria called Al Kibar for the same purpose, Israeli jets destroyed that too. In and out went the planes - another surgical strike. That was September, 2007.

With the destruction of Osirak, Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin established his doctrine: "prevent confrontation states ... from gaining access to nuclear weapons." Both Iraq and Syria had tried to invade Israel after declaring it had no right to exist.  

When the Kim dynasty was threatening the United States and simultaneously building nuclear facilities in North Korea, American military officials advised sending jets in to destroy them. President Clinton instead deployed former President Carter and a lead negotiator named Wendy Sherman for talks. They came up with the 1994 deal under which North Korea promised to freeze its nuclear program. In return, the United States gave $4 billion to develop nuclear reactors that would ostensibly be for generating electricity. We also gave them $100 million in oil and some food. 

Then in 1998, two things happened: One - North Korea was caught sending missile technology to Pakistan, itself a nuclear power. Two - it tested an ICBM. Four years later in 2006, North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon. That same year, Israeli intelligence photos showed North Korean workers helping to build the Al Kibar reactor in Syria the Israelis later destroyed. Clearly, the Clinton/Carter/Sherman agreement was a disaster and North Korea couldn't be trusted. In the middle of all this, however, Carter won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize. 

All through the George W. Bush administration, aid to North Korea was suspended and restarted, talks were restarted and suspended and restarted over and over. Long story short, North Korea continued testing missiles and nuclear devices, just as it is today. One thing Bush did was declare Iran, Iraq, and North Korea "The Axis of Evil" which the left criticized as too simplistic. President Obama repeated the bluffing and talking cycle during his eight years with about the same results.

Thus did the Kim Jong Il learn how gullible the United States and the United Nations could be. He continued promising to stop developing nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them - and the USA continued sending aid for his starving citizens. When he wasn't making fools of US presidents, he would stay up late watching old Daffy Duck cartoons. Meanwhile, his chubby son Kim Jong Un was taking notes. 

So were the Mullahs in Iran. They played the same game with Presidents Bush and Obama and got everything they wanted. Obama even used the same chief negotiator, Wendy Sherman, that President Clinton used for the 1994 debacle. Obama and Kerry insist Iran will not have nukes for ten or fifteen years. Can we trust Iran to comply until then? About as much as we can trust North Korea - which is not at all. We cannot send inspectors into Iran to verify compliance because Iran inspects itself under the Wendy Sherman/John Kerry agreement - and they get back their $150 billion in frozen assets up front

Why didn't anyone get tough with the Kims? Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon said out loud what everyone suspected just before he resigned: "Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about. There's no military solution here; they got us." He was talking, of course, about the 10,000 mobile artillery pieces aimed at Seoul, South Korea. We have no way of neutralizing them. 

How about in Iran? Were we ever able to take out Iranian nukes militarily? Yes, but not without pain. Iran has Hezbollah proxy armies in Lebanon and Syria ready to use rockets and other assets against Israel, not to mention another proxy army in Gaza under Hamas. Nonetheless, Israel was ready and willing to attack Iran's nuke facilities just as it had Iraq's and Syria's. Saudi Arabia would have allowed Israeli planes to fly over its air space to Iran. If the USA had supplied two things: in-air refueling for Israeli jets and bunker-busting technology for destroying underground facilities, Israel would have attacked. Many expected President Bush to help out, but he never did. Nobody ever expected President Obama to. 

In Bush's Axis of Evil triumvirate, North Korea has nukes and Iran will soon. Thanks to Israel, Iraq won't. Now it's all in Trump's hands. Contributing Editor Tom McLaughlin is a (now retired) history teacher and a regular weekly columnist for newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire. He writes about political and social issues, history, family, education and Radical Islam.  Email him at


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