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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Tuesday, September 02, 2003



This Op-Ed On North Korea Was Offensive And Annoying

That said, I basically agreed with it. Here, the authors describe the tension in the Bush Administration:

...[the] administration ...continues to be badly divided between hard-liners who have pushed to isolate the North (with the eventual goal of regime change) and other officials who favor engagement because they believe isolation could lead to a catastrophe.

Well, fine. But how dumb is this next bit?

The costs of a military confrontation are unimaginable — politically and economically. In 1994, the United States military commander in South Korea estimated that a war with the North would result in one million deaths (including tens of thousands of Americans) and cost the United States at least $100 billion.

The pro-engagement camp argues that these costs are too high...


Uhh, are we being asked to believe that the hard-liners do not think these costs are too high? May I have a break, please?

That said, I agree that we don't have any great military options. The US is muttering darkly about a naval blockade, but that is, strictly speaking, an act of war, and it may not prevent the North from smuggling out the odd atomic weapon, or the stray bit of nuclear fuel.

Stanley Kurtz has a Corner comment about verifiability, which is the weakness of any proposal put up by non-hard-liners (soft-liners? engagers?). He also gives a nod to this TAP piece, which we will come back to, after we offset it with an NRO piece.

Now, my flash of diplo-insight: North Korea wants the US to enter into a non-aggression pact with North Korea before doing anything else; we want North Korea to live up to its earlier agreements, and dismantle its program, before discussing anything else. Irreconcilable?

Bold stroke - let's have a six-way non-aggression pact. All six countries participating in the talks agree not to attack each other, which is, for most pairings, a no-brainer. No mutual guarantees, however - if Japan attacks China, the other signatories are not obliged to come to China's defense.

The point? Well, the US will have agreed, among other things, not to attack North Korea, which is what they want. OTOH, the fig leaf is that the US will not have given North Korea exactly what it wants, which seems to be a bilateral deal with the US.

With the multi-lateral non-aggression pact in place, other agreements follow, hopefully with intrusive inspections as noted above.

MORE: Back to the TAP piece. The ritualistic Bush bashing no doubt comforts TAP readers. It would be even more convincing if the authors took the trouble to connect assertions with evidence. For example:

...[Bush's] strategy for dealing with North Korea -- and most other foreign-policy issues -- has thus far proceeded from three principles. The first might be described as the "ABC" principle -- Anything But Clinton. Bush entered office deriding Bill Clinton's foreign-policy stewardship. The mere fact, then, that Clinton was willing to talk with Pyongyang was enough to persuade Bush to rule out further discussions. "One of the things that is important to understanding North Korea," Bush said recently, "is that the past policy of trying to engage bilaterally didn't work."

OK, we'll bite - is TAP contending that the past policy of bilateral engagement did work? And did TAP even notice the word "bilateral" in Bush's comment? If they did, why did they say that the ABC policy "was enough to persuade Bush to rule out further discussions", without the appropriate modifier?

Pressing on:

Bush's second guiding principle has been to shun negotiations with evil leaders.

And how is that reconciled with Bush's ongoing demand for multilateral negotiations with North Korea? Oh, never mind.

Unfortunately for Bush -- and the world -- his North Korean strategy has proven disastrous. ABC is not a policy. While the administration was applauding itself for refusing to give in, North Korea became the world's ninth nuclear power.

Well, the timing of North Korea's ascent into the nuclear club is uncertain. And to say that the Bush policy is disastrous implies that some other policy would not have been disastrous. As to what that policy might have been, TAP seems to suggest we should have engaged in bilateral negotiations, as North Korea demanded. Why this would have been effective, given their past history of cheating, is left unexplained.

...Unwilling to negotiate and reluctant to risk war, Bush opted to hope and pray.

This stands in contrast to what we presume to be the TAP suggestion, which is to talk and pray.

The time has come for Bush to abandon the failed hope-and-pray strategy.

Failed? Contrary to many critic's expectations, we now have six-party talks, and five of the parties seem to be nicely aligned on one side of the table. Although we are reluctant to predict tomorrow's news from North Korea, today's news looks good.

MORE: Well, the next day's news is less good - the Chinese say it is US inflexibility that is holding things up. (Faux link)






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