Dear Leader Brings It On

As with the sordid saga of Iraq and the "missing" WMD, the devil is in the details obscured by the ugly glare of tyrants such as Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il.
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Well, Bush showed them, didn't he?

Over the past six years, our "my way or the highway" president blew up a crucial nonproliferation agreement which was keeping North Korea's plutonium stores under seal, ended bilateral talks with Pyongyang, squashed Japan's and South Korea's carefully constructed "sunshine policy," which was slowly drawing the bizarre Hermit Kingdom back into the light, and then took every opportunity to personally insult the country's reportedly unstable dictator because it played well politically at home.

If you shun them, they will shape up--this was the essence of President Bush's non-diplomacy, as it was in regards to Iran, Lebanon and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The result? Cold War-style brinkmanship that has left the United States helpless.

The policy options left are dumb and dumber: Either passively accept Pyongyang's defiant threats and ability to slip weapons-grade plutonium around the world, or launch an invasion that could spark a devastating attack on Seoul.

Thank you, Mr. President. I feel so much safer now that we have a wannabe cowboy in charge of the free world.

In the ongoing story of Bush and Co.'s dangerous leadership, the North Korea chapter is one of the least understood--and potentially the most disastrous. And, as with the sordid saga of Iraq and the "missing" weapons of mass destruction, the devil is in the details obscured by the ugly glare of tyrants such as Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il.

Republican cheerleaders are now making the case that, as with every other problem in the world, this is all Bill Clinton's fault; the line is that former President Clinton caved to the North Korean communists, who then broke their agreements. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, what happened is that Jimmy Carter, on Clinton's behalf, had negotiated an historic deal back in 1994 to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to seal Pyongyang's plutonium in exchange for major energy assistance in the form of fuel-oil shipments and the building of safe nuclear reactors. (Incidentally, Donald Rumsfeld was a director of one of the companies that profited from the reactor deal.)

Clinton then followed the lead of Japan and South Korea in trying to lead paranoid North Korea into the world community through baby-step agreements. (See two great timelines here and here)

Nearly a decade later, with the plutonium still safely under seal, however, Bush repudiated this approach, effectively driving North Korea to abandon all agreements and return to its pre-1994 pursuit of plutonium-based nukes. The White House rationale was that North Korea had broken the agreement by trying to enrich uranium enough to use it in weapons. However, not only are any such intelligence claims coming from this administration now highly suspect, but such a program would take a level of energy production and technical ability that seems to be beyond Pyongyang.

In any case, now Kim Jong Il and his scientists don't have to worry about the enormous difficulties posed by enriching uranium: They have back their far, far more dangerous plutonium reserves--thanks to Bush--with enough material to make between four and 13 bombs (see this article [.pdf file])--and have missiles capable of carrying them into Alaska. Even worse, we know now that this rogue nation also benefited from key nuclear technology training provided by Pakistani nuke scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who then inexplicably was pardoned by our "war on terror" allies in Islamabad and has never been made available to U.S. investigators.

What did tough-talk Dubya do in response to this international outrage? He dropped the sanctions previously imposed on Pakistan because of that country's nuclear weapons program.

While there is every reason to be alarmed by North Korea's cultish police state, it is still best to pursue a realpolitik pragmatism instead of the ideological and confrontational approach Bush and his neocons have pursued for six long years now.

The North Koreans' test also underscores that nuclear proliferation is a growing menace to the survival of life on this planet, and that the menace of WMD should not have been turned into a partisan political ploy. The recklessness of this administration's foreign policy is marked by the trivialization of the WMD issue, an approach epitomized by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's lauded (at the time) speech to the United Nations, in which he blurred the devastating consequence of a nuclear blast with the dangers of a meaningless vial of white powder.

Sensible Republicans must rein in the Bush administration and demand that progress take precedence over empty threats. They could start by listening to James Baker, secretary of state in Bush's father's administration. "I believe in talking to your enemies," Baker said a few days before the Korean nuclear test, endorsing the resumption of bilateral talks with Pyongyang and noting pointedly that he had taken 15 trips to Syria while serving Bush's father.

Unfortunately, the White House will almost certainly ignore this commonsense truth. It's much easier to blame Bill Clinton.

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