Sanctions On North Korea? President Obama and Republicans Clash Over Sony Hack

Heading into his seventh year of the presidency, President Obama knows that the GOP will, 97 percent (inaccurate, but not untrue) of the time oppose whatever he says or does. So it doesn't come as a surprise that Republicans and Obama clashed over characterizing the Sony hack.

In an interview with Candy Crowley on CNN, Obama labeled the hack "cyber vandalism," but said it was not an act of war. The interview was his last of the year, as the First Family took a winter vacation in the president's native state, Hawaii. Obama told Crowley:

No, I don't think it was an act of war. I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately, as I said.

Later that day, House Intelligence Chairman and Republican lawmaker Rep. Mike Rogers recommended sanctions on North Korea for hacking Sony, and said that the cyber attack required a "very serious" reaction from the U.S. Speaking on Fox News Sunday hours after the president's CNN interview, Rogers had scathing criticism for Obama's comments. He said:

I don’t think that’s enough. North Korea attacked, then threatened violence. I would argue you’re going to have to ramp up sanctions. It needs to be very serious. Remember: a nation-state was threatening violence.
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In late November, Sony was hacked, leaking internal information that was deeply embarrassing and worrying for the company — from employees' salaries to the executives' disdain for Adam Sandler movies. The hackers, determined by the FBI to be the North Korean government, threatened the company if they refused to pull "The Interview," a satirical movie depicting the assassination of North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong-Un, demanding that the company cancel its release.

North Korea has denied that they were behind the hack, and even offered to conduct a joint investigation with the U.S. into the incident.

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In his final press briefing of the year, President Obama called Sony's decision to not show the movie in theaters a "mistake," and during the CNN interview reiterated his views:

We believe in free speech. We believe in the right of artistic expression and things that powers that be might not like. And if we set a precedent in which a dictator in another country can disrupt, through cyber, you know, a company's distribution chain or its products and, as a consequence, we start censoring ourselves, that's a problem.”

Quickly after Obama's appearance on CNN, Sen. John McCain, long known for his hawkish stance on foreign policy, went on the same program and expressed his opposition. According to Bloomberg Politics, McCain said:

The president does not understand that this is a manifestation of a new form of warfare... It's a new form of warfare that we're involved in, and we need to react and react vigorously.

A reminder, though, that the president isn't dismissing the cyber vandalism. He did say the hack is being taken "very seriously." Obama's comment about reacting proportionately, while characteristic of the cautious, often wary, moves that he has taken during his presidency in matters of foreign policy, is crucial when dealing with the bizarre and isolated North Korean regime.

Images: Getty Images (2); NBC News/Screenshot