Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the losing 2008 presidential candidate, called for “regime change” in North Korea on Sunday and said that the brewing crisis on the Korean peninsula was “a lesson” that “continued appeasement of North Korea that we've done under both Republican and Democratic administrations” doesn’t work.
McCain, one of the Senate’s leading hawks, did not specify how the communist regime in Pyongyang should be replaced, but he added: “I’m not talking about military action.” McCain said the “key” to resolving the crisis, which has seen open hostilities between North Korea and South Korea in recent days and prompted President Obama to send Navy ships to the region, was cooperation from China, the North’s closest ally. China "could bring the North Korean economy to its knees if they wanted to," McCain said in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union. “Unfortunately, China is not behaving as a responsible world power."
The United States and South Korea on Sunday began naval exercises intended as a warning to North Korea after deadly artillery attacks last week on a Yellow Sea island inhabited by South Koreans. China, meanwhile, called for an emergency convening of the six party talks involving Beijing, the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Russia and North Korea.
McCain’s accusations about appeasement come after a period in which the Obama administration has refused to negotiate with North Korea until it moves to relinquish its nuclear program—a policy known as “strategic patience.” The Bush administration also resisted negotiating with North Korean leader Kim Il Jong for years before launching talks in 2007 that ultimately failed.
U.S. officials have also consistently underestimated the staying power of North Korean totalitarianism, which has resisted decades of sanctions and isolation. The North Korean regime's ideology, called juche, is a mix of Korean nationalism, Confucian respect for authority and utopian Marxism-Leninism. Exploiting this confluence of philosophies and experiences, the Kim family has created "an impermeable and absolutist state that many have compared to a religious cult," one longtime Korea observer, Don Oberdorfer, wrote in his 1997 book, "The Two Koreas." The current leader, Kim Jong Il, the son of former supreme leader Kim Il Sung, is currently believed to be preparing his son, Kim Jong Eun, to take over for him.