Saturday | January 04, 2003
Watching Bush Mishandle North Korea
Steve Soto here, wishing all of you a happy and healthy New Year. We can only hope that our esteemed foreign policy team can overcome the hole they have dug for themselves on North Korea before our allies begin losing faith again in our true agenda. That is, assuming they want to dig out of this hole right away.
In the last week, the story has seeped out from David Sanger of the NYT and others that the Bushies now admit that North Korea caught them off guard with their boldness in declaring their intent to resume their Yongbyon reactor and kick out international inspectors. In response to this bungling, we now have something called “tailored containment”, another fig leaf from the high-powered policy shop of Condoleeza Rice and Dick Cheney. This strategy is based on the premise that North Korea can be solved over time through maximum political and economic stress. Yet this approach is based on the need for maximum international cooperation with allies who already don’t share our view of the alleged difference between the relative threats of Iraq and North Korea and the solutions to those threats. Tailored containment is also based on the questionable premise that Iraq and North Korea must be treated differently, because Iraq has demonstrated a ruthless ability to harm its own and its neighbors, whereas North Korea has not. Yet as Billmon has pointed out to me in a separate email, North Korea isn’t exactly a wallflower in this area: as evidence we can point to their instigation of the Korean War, the USS Pueblo hostage-taking, the partially successful plot to blow up the entire South Korean cabinet (1983), and the sabotage crew landed by submarine in South Korea in the late 1990’s.
Today, we see that as a result of our dumping of this issue to the world community, the South Koreans are trying to facilitate talks between the North and us. We also see that Undersecretary of State John (“Cuba has WMDs”) Bolton will be heading to the region next week to convince our allies of the wisdom of tailored containment. Neither effort is likely to succeed.
So aside from the uncomfortable feeling that this top-notch foreign policy team has blundered into another mistake, we should also consider another possibility. By adopting the untenable position that we will not have a dialogue with North Korea until they give up their only negotiating cards, we ensure that no progress will be made by third parties (the South Koreans) or the UN for months, while the North builds their capabilities to develop or sell nuclear weapons. So we contribute to the exact thing we claim to be against, which is a nuclear threat from North Korea. As the architect of this approach, Dick Cheney is dead set on a course that creates a more dangerous environment in that part of the world than we have now, all because he and Bush don’t want to reward the North’s in-your-face behavior.
But what if Bush and Cheney actually prefer to deal with the cold war scenarios unleashed through nuclear proliferations rather than deal in the post 9/11 world we face, a world requiring delicate and nuanced diplomatic analysis and maneuvering? After all, military actions and oil grabs like Iraq are more fun for these guys and gals when you have the toys yourself to implement them than having to eat crow to build and maintain multilateral coalitions, and admitting that you are just as much a screwup as those you act superior to.
What if this team actually wants the automatic Star Wars justification, the burgeoning defense budgets, and the 2004 Rovian political cards presented by allowing months of doomed tailored containment? What if Bush finds it politically beneficial to deal with an actual nuclear threat from North Korea months from now instead of losing face at this time and cutting a deal to stop a future nemesis?
Posted January 04, 2003 01:14 PM | Comments (25)