Perhaps the White House should hold a viewing of "The Interview." Or perhaps Hollywood should produce a blockbuster thriller film about "The Interview." Or perhaps the military should just drop tens of thousands of tablets preloaded with "The Interview" over North Korea.
These are some of the madcap and far-fetched suggestions otherwise serious observers are proffering to the Obama administration in the wake of the hacking of Sony Pictures. The hack eventually led to the cancelling of "The Interview," a Hollywood comedy centered on a loony plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and the Obama administration says North Korea is behind it.
But what how should the United States respond?
Serious options exist, and the administration is compiling a list of options, President Obama says. But none appear satisfying. They would take time to put in place, and their effectiveness remains in question – as suggested by decades of mostly unproductive measures against the North Korean regime.
So University of Maryland economist Peter Morici suggests the president should host a White House “command performance” of “The Interview,” not only inviting prominent Americans to the viewing but also allowing Sony to post the film on the White House website with a pay-per-view link. Think “America goes to the movies”!
Then there's Boris Johnson, a columnist for The Telegraph in London, who laments that American impotence in this latest episode leaves one “feeling like Jaws has ended with the shark eating Quint.” His suggestion: a quick-turnaround in which Jennifer Lawrence plays the daughter of a missing-in-action agent tortured by the Kim regime’s henchmen – but also happens to be (conveniently) a lowly Sony script reader. She smuggles out a copy of “The Interview” and the movie becomes a huge success. Think "Rocky" meets "Mission: Impossible."
While Mr. Obama’s options perhaps lack the “True Grit” for which Mr. Johnson is pining, they at least savor of the real world. That means they are likely to focus on financial actions that hit North Korea’s crony-communism, or on steps to deepen the North’s diplomatic isolation.
For example, the State Department could list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. The Bush administration removed North Korea from the list in 2008 as part of a diplomatic effort to reign in the North’s nuclear program.
With some members of Congress, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, pronouncing the Sony hack an act of “terrorism,” relisting North Korea could become a logical step.
Administration officials say restoring the North to the list is under consideration, but Obama told CNN Sunday that such a designation would have to follow a review process that revealed a “systematic” recourse to terrorism.
“We don’t make those judgments just based on the news of the day,” Obama said.
Perhaps a more likely option is for the Treasury Department to slap new sanctions on the banks and trading companies that allow North Korean officials and elites to launder proceeds from illicit trade.
By targeting the elites, including the military leadership, that allow the Kim regime to maintain power, such measures have been among the most effective in the past, North Korea analysts say,
But any US actions need international cooperation to be effective, experts also say. That means some measure of cooperation from China, North Korea’s only significant ally and its longtime protective shield from external pressures.
The Chinese have shown signs of tiring of their problematic charge of late, but at the same time they do not appear eager to punish Pyongyang over the Sony hack.
The Chinese government said Monday that Foreign Minister Wang Yi had “reaffirmed” China’s opposition to “all forms of cyberattacks and cyberterrorism” in a phone conversation Sunday with Secretary of State John Kerry. But a foreign ministry spokeswoman also said China saw no proof of North Korea’s involvement in the hacking case, and would wait for a full investigation to decide any action.
Japan, a close US ally in the region, said Monday that it supports the US in the Sony attack, but like China also refrained from laying blame on North Korea.
As for North Korea, it again denied having any part in the cyberattack even as it praised the “Guardians of Peace,” the group that claimed responsibility for the Sony hacking, saying they were “sharpening bayonets not only in the US mainland but in all other parts of the world.”
The statement also promised that any US punitive measures would be met by attacks on the White House, the Pentagon, and across the mainland US – which it described as “the cesspool of terrorism.”