By Mike Whitney | After seven years of nonstop belligerence and saber rattling, the Bush administration has given North Korea everything it has demanded. In return, the US gets nothing. The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, will not get access to Kim Jong-il’s nuclear stockpile or its “Top-Secret” file on weapons programs or be allowed to conduct surprise “go anywhere, see anything” inspections. Kim will continue to develop his long-range ballistic-missile delivery system, the Taepodong 2, just as he will (presumably) continue to export nuclear weapons technology to allies in the Middle East and elsewhere. The Bush administration has made a very dangerous enemy and the present agreement does nothing to mitigate that threat. It merely sends a message to America’s rivals around the world that the US can be blackmailed if the stakes are high enough. The United States has been humiliated by a man who many believe is an unstable megalomaniac and a ruthless tyrant. Was that the goal?
There was a time when George Bush would have nothing to do with Kim Jong-il, he privately scoffed at the reclusive dictator and called him “a pygmy” behind his back. He placed North Korea on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, froze their foreign bank accounts, refused to honor the terms of the Agreed Framework (which was negotiated by Bill Clinton) and threatened to take military action if Kim did not comply with US demands.
What a difference a few years and a few nuclear weapons make. Now the blustery bravado and swaggering insolence has changed to hand-wringing and hyperactive backroom diplomacy. The Bush team has suddenly shifted from its ritual chest-thumping into damage-control mode, but the change comes too late.
On Thursday, Bush announced that he would remove North Korea from the terrorism list and lift other economic sanctions. This follows an earlier decision to provide Kim with massive quantities of oil to meet the North’s energy needs; a fact that is ignored by the establishment media. On virtually every issue, the sullen despot in the oversized Foster-Grants has gotten whatever he’s asked for. This has infuriated many of Bush’s biggest supporters. Last week, former United Nations ambassador John Bolton blasted the agreement saying:
“I think it’s actually a clear victory for North Korea.” They’ve gained “enormous political legitimacy by being taken off our list of state sponsors of terrorism and out from under the prohibitions of the Trading With the Enemy Act. … It’s a very sad day for supporters of the president. It’s the final collapse of Bush’s foreign policy.”
Indeed, North Korea is second the biggest policy failure of the Bush presidency. (Iraq is still the first, by far) Bush has staked his legacy on his ability to “keep the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world’s most worst dictators”, but his mule-headedness and incompetence have only made matters worse and pushed the world closer to nuclear Armageddon. Now that Kim has nukes at his disposal, South Korea and Japan will be forced to escalate to maintain military parity. Bush’s botched diplomatic efforts signal the beginning of another nuclear arms race. At the very least, it is the end of the NPT.
A nuclear-armed North Korea also creates bigger challenges for the US in the Middle East. The Wall Street Journal summed it up like this in an editorial on Friday:
“Most troubling is the message all of this sends to Iran, or other rogue states. The lesson is that when you build a weapon, your political leverage increases. Play enough brinkmanship, and you can even receive diplomatic absolution without admitting to having the kind of nuclear device you exploded less than two years earlier. We understand that diplomacy often includes winks and nods, but it shouldn’t require denial.” (Wall Street Journal, “Leap of Faith”)
There’s no doubt that Tehran is watching Bush’s backpedaling with great amusement or that the Mullahs have figured out that the only way to stop the relentless hectoring of the US is by building a nuclear weapon. The only difference between North Korea and the last-remaining member of the “axis of evil” (Iran) is five or six 15 megaton nuclear warheads. If that’s what it takes to gain the respect of the “international community”; so be it.
The western media has described Bush’s capitulation as “a triumph” because Kim blew up the already “out of commission” cooling tower at Yongbyon. Big deal. The celebratory photos can be found in any of America’s leading newspapers. But North Korea did not develop its nuclear weapons at the plutonium plant, but in a parallel, underground program which made bomb fuel from enriched uranium. No one denies this. The demolition of the tower was meaningless public relations photo-op to confuse the American people and help Bush save face. The people who follow developments with North Korea know the truth, that the Bush administration has once again dragged the US through the mud.
The harshest critics of the new deal have been Bush’s far-right supporters, like Claudia Rosett, of “The Rosett Report” (a favorite at the Weekly Standard and the American Enterprise Institute) Here’s what she says:
“The lesson to date is that America, faced with nuclear blackmail, will bow down, dignify and fortify tyrants, fork over loot, and celebrate the process as a victory for diplomacy. Were North Korea to detonate a nuclear bomb over Los Angeles tomorrow, I start to wonder if Condi Rice and Chris Hill, would describe the cataclysm as “troubling” and then re-cast it as a candid and informative addendum to North Korea’s promised declaration of its nuclear program.”
Rosett is right. The message to foreign leaders is clear; the only way to change minds in Washington is by putting a loaded gun to their heads. Countries without WMD simply have no bargaining power. That’s the real lesson here and other countries are bound to draw the same conclusion. In 2002, Dick Cheney made his famous statement, “We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it”.
Immediately after the North detonated a nuclear bomb in 2006, Bush administration officials met in a face-to-face meeting in Berlin. The meeting was kept secret to conceal the administration’s willingness to meet one-on-one with their North Korean counterparts. Up until then, the arrogant Bushies had refused to negotiate in person; choosing instead to hide behind the 6 party talks. Kim’s nuclear experiment changed all that and brought about a sudden reversal in the administration’s approach.
“According to Japan’s Asashi newspaper, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding under which North Korea would make steps towards denuclearization at the same time as the US resumed annual shipments of 500,000 tonnes of oil, which were halted in 2002.” (UK Guardian) Bush was only too happy to oblige.
So much for Cheney’s “We don’t negotiate with evil”. In fact, we don’t negotiate; we cave in and give away the farm.
Other parts of Clinton’s “Agreed Framework” are still being hammered out, but one thing is certain, Kim is not going to back-down on the one thing he wants more than anything else; written assurances that the United States will not preemptively attack North Korea. The Bush administration has resisted providing “security guarantees” in the form of treaties because they conflict with the so-called Bush Doctrine which asserts that the US can attack whoever it chooses to protect its own vital interests. That doctrine is about to meet its greatest challenge; a loony autocrat with a fistful of nukes. Kim would be crazy to accept anything less than a signed treaty, and he will probably get it, because no one in Washington wants to see the Korean Peninsula transformed into a WMD-production factory. That’s the nightmare scenario that everyone wants to avoid.
The crisis with North Korea could have been avoided with skillful diplomacy and a willingness to compromise on the central issues. Now Bush has backed himself into a corner and will have to grovel his way out. That means he’ll have to engage in two-party negotiations and work out a deal at the bargaining table. Good luck.
Presently, Kim Jong-il has a stockpile of 6 to 10 nuclear warheads. With a few finishing touches to his Taepodong ICBM-system, he’ll be able to wipe out the 9 western states with a flip of the switch. Bush’s bungling has put half the country in the crosshairs of a man whose sanity has always been in doubt.
You’re doin’ a heckuva job, Georgie!