North Korea’s purported miniaturized hydrogen bomb test on Tuesday evening has already become a political football in the 2016 presidential campaign, with Republican candidates citing the action as a direct result of the foreign policies of President Obama and by extension, Hillary Clinton.
Sen. Marco Rubio, who has made his hawkish national security record a centerpiece of his campaign, argued that the president had “stood idly by” while North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un expanded his nuclear arsenal.
“If this test is confirmed, it will be just the latest example of the failed Obama-Clinton foreign policy. Our enemies around the world are taking advantage of Obama’s weakness,” he said in a statement late on Tuesday. Rubio later called out former president Bill Clinton for considering giving speeches in North Korea.
Sen. Ted Cruz also linked the alleged test to the former president Clinton, suggesting that North Korea’s nuclear capabilities may have been buttressed by his former policy negotiator Wendy Sherman, who also played a role brokering Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush piled on, claiming that North Korea’s apparent aggressive tactics are an “example of a withdrawn America in the world.” And Carly Fiorina added in a Facebook post: “North Korea is yet another Hillary Clinton foreign policy failure.”
During an interview Wednesday on the conservative 1040 WHO radio network, the former Hewlett-Packard chief expanded on her impression that “no response” from the Obama administration to past provocations from North Korea has created a climate of international “bad behavior.” Fiorina argued that the U.S. needs a more “experienced” Commander-in-Chief who would “respond” more aggressively to the North Koreans. “I am, and clearly Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are not,” she said before resurrecting oft-repeated allegations that Clinton has “lied” about her role in the Benghazi U.S. embassy attack in 2012.
Although Clinton’s tenure as Obama’s secretary of state during his first term was widely praised at the time, even by many Republicans, some of her decision-making has been called into question now that she is a candidate for the presidency. With this latest antagonistic move from North Korea, her GOP rivals smell potential blood in the water.
Clinton released a statement on Wednesday saying she strongly condemned the apparent test and accused North Korea of trying to “blackmail the world into easing the pressure on its rogue regime.”
“As Secretary I championed the United States’ pivot to the Asia Pacific - including shifting additional military assets to the theater – in part to confront threats like North Korea and to support our allies. I worked to get not just our allies but also Russia and China on board for the strongest sanctions yet,” she added. “North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, its human rights record, the cyber hack of Sony this past December – highlight the continuing threat that North Korea poses.
But the fact is that authorities have not even been able to verify that a North Korean bomb test even took place. The U.S. has confirmed that a 5.1 magnitude seismic event did take place in North Korea on Tuesday, but what caused it remains unclear. Still, experts believe that Kim Jong Un is eager to demonstrate his power on the world stage.
“The dynasty which runs North Korea is a dictatorship — it’s dysfunctional in all sorts of ways — but it has its own rationale which is to display its invulnerability to outside pressure or aggression,” Francois Heisbourg, a special adviser at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, told NBC News on Wednesday. “This is a show of strength,” he added.
Still, according to Heisbourg, North Korea doesn’t have a nuclear arsenal but are years away, not decades, from acquiring that capability.
If it did indeed occur, the test would be North Korea’s first nuclear test involving a hydrogen bomb. It will be several days before the test can be confirmed, if at all. And while some, like Republican presidential candidate and front-runner Donald Trump, have begun pointing the finger at China for North Korea’s tactics, the superpower has joined a chorus of international voices condemning the alleged test.
“China is steadfast in its position that the Korean Peninsula should be denuclearized and nuclear proliferation should be prevented to maintain peace and stability in Northeast Asia,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a press briefing on Wednesday. “We strongly urge the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to honor its commitment to denuclearization, and to cease any action that may deteriorate the situation.”