Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Forgive me, but it seems to me that President Bush is making an ass of himself over North Korea.
Situation A: A state that has been revealed to have a secret nuclear weapons effort, that we believe already has two nuclear weapons, that is still technically at war with a close ally, that has threatened nuclear war if we don't do what they want, that has just expelled international monitors and reopened a nuclear facility that our government said we would destroy unilaterally if it was reopened.
Situation B: A state that we believe to have a secret nuclear weapons effort (but we haven't revealed hard evidence yet), that we do not believe has yet developed nuclear weapons, that is believed to have engaged in terrorist operations against the United States and its allies (but we haven't revealed hard evidence yet), that has just reinvited in international weapons inspectors and against whom we may be obliged (depending on your interpretation of the most recent Security Council resolution) to move against through the U.N. rather than unilaterally.
We're rattling the sabre in against the state in Situation B and declaring that Situation A is resolvable by diplomacy and "economic pressure." This against a state with virtually no economic links with the outside world.
I fear we're going to become a laughingstock. The Administration policy of downplaying the Korea threat is going to seriously undermine its case on Iraq. This is the scenario everyone was worried about when we abandoned the "two war" policy of the first Bush Administration and reduced force levels to the point where we expected only to "win-hold-win" (and that, it seems, is optimistic). This Administration is moving in the direction of being more appeasement-minded that the Clinton Administration, allowing North Korea to openly go nuclear with no consequence whatsoever. And it is revealing to the world that (a) America cannot handle two problems at once; (b) once you have nuclear weapons, America will be decisively deterred from attacking you. We are also suggesting, incorrectly, that our war in Iraq stems from ulterior motives.
This can't go on. The United States military has got to start making visible preparations for fighting two wars at once. The North Koreans have got to start worrying that if they start up their plutonium reprocessing facility, we will blow it up. And we have got to start lining up the diplomatic ducks - not for a round of negotiations with North Korea, but for the reentry of weapons inspectors, peacefully if possible but by force if necessary. The Chinese need to get the message: we will not tolerate a nuclear North Korea. And we will not rely on the regime to "declare" itself non-nuclear. We will rely only on Western observers, on the ground, with full access to the country, to prove that there's no nuclear program going on. If the Chinese don't want a military confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea, they should have a confrontation of their own.
This, it seems to me, is the minimum for us to be credible. It is the minimum for us to be able to launch the necessary war against Iraq with at least a fig-leaf of international support, and the minimum to keep North Korea from coming to the conclusion that it is home-free and blackmail will always work. In which case, triple the list of countries on the list to buy some of that North Korean nuclear technology. If we keep going down this road, I'm afraid John Derbyshire is going to be proved right on Iraq, and that Iran is going to go nuclear within months, with North Korean help. That'll leave us 0 for 3 against the Axis of Evil at the dawn of 2004.
Happy New Year.