When the North Korean regime began its nuclear program in earnest during the Clinton administration, President Bill Clinton tried to prevent it going forward by giving North Korea food and fuel to persuade it to follow a less belligerent path – it only advanced its work on nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles.
President George W. Bush called North Korea part of an “axis of evil.” As we observed in our article, “The Iran, North Korea, Pakistan Nuclear Missile Axis,” President Bush was right, but he left North Korea, perhaps the most dangerous arm of the evil axis, untouched.
And the feckless President Barack Obama?
Well, he talked a lot, but never even used all the sanctioning authorities Congress gave him, even as North Korea conducted four nuclear tests during his two terms, including detonating two nuclear weapons in 2016, and launching a series of increasingly sophisticated missiles.
Today, it looks like all those failed policies are changing.
With North Korean soldiers standing less than 100 feet behind him at the Korean Demilitarized Zone, Vice President Mike Pence told CNN that Pyongyang should understand that the Trump administration's approach toward the regime will be different than that of past US presidents.
"We're going to abandon the failed policy of strategic patience. But we're going to redouble our efforts to bring diplomatic and economic pressure to bear on North Korea. Our hope is that we can resolve this issue peaceably," Pence said in an exclusive interview at the Korean DMZ.
"I know the President was heartened by his discussions with President Xi (Jinping). We've seen China begin to take some actions to bring pressure on North Korea but there needs to be more," Pence said.
Now, some estimates are that North Korea may have the capability to launch a missile that could hit the continental US by the year 2020.
Asked about that, Pence paused for several seconds before answering.
"I know the President of the United States has no higher priority than the safety and security of the American people. The presence of US forces here in South Korea are a long-standing commitment to the Asia Pacific. And insuring the security of the continental US will be a priority in this administration.
"Look, we want to be clear: our hope and frankly our prayer is that by marshaling the resources of nations across the Asian Pacific -- not just South Korea, Japan, other allies -- and China bringing renewed pressure to bear," he said.
For the vice president, said CNN’s Dana Bash and Abigail Crutchfield, this first trip to the Korean Peninsula is an emotional one. His father, 2nd Lt. Edward J. Pence, Jr., US Army, was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in the Korean War.
US military officials prepared a briefing for Pence about the so-called Battle of Pork Chop Hill, where his father earned his medal.
"It's very meaningful for me and my family to be here. So many years after my father's service. To be honest with you, my dad didn't talk about his combat experience much until we were all grown up. It was a lot of tough fighting here," Pence told CNN.
"I think, in some way, my Dad just might be smiling from heaven to see the sacrifices that he and other American soldiers and South Korean soldiers made here are now passed on to my generation. That's not changed out our commitment to the secure and prosperity of South Korea."
To achieve this new strategy, the administration is relying heavily on China, however, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a daily briefing today that the onus was on all parties -- including the US and China -- to reach a peaceful solution.
"Resolving this issue requires all relevant parties, especially parties that bear major responsibility and play a key role in this issue, to work in the same direction and make a joint effort," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.
In the meantime, while many Americans don’t like the idea of a nuclear-armed North Korea, and recognize it as an emerging threat, no one has really asked how that squares with candidate Donald Trump’s critiques of South Korea’s under-investment in its own defense and national security.
Vice President Pence and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have both offered South Korea, and other countries in the region, US assurances of a continued security commitment, but the question of who is going to pay for it and why America should choose this time and place for a confrontation with North Korea remains un-explained.