Saturday, October 14, 2006


Gerard Baker wonders how the world has come to the scary place where states like North Korea and Iran have nuclear weapons:
Of course the world’s pundits are sure it is all America’s fault. The US has failed to be sufficiently engaged. The refusal to talk directly to Pyongyang and to focus all its efforts on Iraq have allowed North Korea to cruise unmolested to nuclear status.

This is, essentially, drivel. The problem with North Korea has not been an insufficiency of multilateralist diplomacy in the past ten years but an overabundance. Beginning in 1994, the Clinton Administration started the US down a course of an engagement with Pyongyang that was all carrots and no sticks. Every time the North Koreans thumbed their noses at the US and its allies, they were punished with — what? Sharp intakes of breath and shakes of the head.

Not only was the US unwilling to make good on its threats, but effective multilateral action also required serious efforts by other countries with real leverage over North Korea to do something. But for the past six years China has been playing a dangerous double game. It never wanted North Korea to become a nuclear power but it was quite happy that its ally kept the US, Japan and South Korea off balance with its burgeoning ambitions.

The same story of hand-wringing futility has been played out with Iran. Russia and China have both placed short-term diplomatic and commercial gain over long-term stability. The Europeans were, well, European.

As for Iraq, I don’t recall the Russians, Chinese or Europeans urging the US to divert its regime-changing attentions to North Korea. They wanted the US to perform the same foot-dragging, futile, pointless dance with Baghdad that they were pursuing over Pyongyang. Would that have been any better? Now, belatedly, the talk is of tough UN sanctions against Iran and North Korea. But it is too late.

Not only is it too late, but it ain't gonna happen, late or not. The international community (i.e., the UN) could not deal with Iraq; it isn't dealing with Darfur; it won't deal with Iran--why should it deal decisively with North Korea? There is no reason for either China or Russia to support and sanctions that would be effective, precisely because of the game they are playing with regard to Iran--that is, they don't want sanctions on Iran, so why should they set a precedent with North Korea? No, they still believe it is to their national advantage to oppose the US on this issue.

And, why would we have any confidence that, even if the world got its act together, that sanctions would work? What does Kim Jong Il care if his starving population continues to starve? Any sanctions that might be imposed won't last for long due to "humanitarian" concerns.

Meanwhile, this action might blow some sand in the face of the bully Kim, but is far from altering the reality of his nuclear weapons capability.

The world is indeed scary as Baker suggests. But not because of current US policy toward either North Korea or Iran. Previous administrations have brought us to this point in time and it was already too late when US diplomats over two decades believed that North Korea could be stopped by words and promises (see here).

Diplomacy has not and will not work with regimes like North Korea or Iran--unless such diplomacy is backed up by credible threats that personally threaten the power of their megalomaniac leaders. These guys are way too good at splitting and manipulating. They will exploit even the tiniest of loopholes in any agreement and when there are none, they will outright lie because they think it is their perogative to do so.

The game currently being played by both North Korea and Iran with the international community is not much different from the trickery and haplessnes that characterized Lucy and Charlie Brown from the old Peanuts comic.

Charlie Brown, dupe that he is, believes Lucy every time she promises that next time it will be different. So, he keeps going back for more only to discover that, no matter what the promises, Lucy does not change her behavior.

I always felt sorry for poor Charlie Brown. He was, after all, a kid; and kids have a hard time learning this sort of life lesson.

Still, the supposed adults of the west should know better. Lucy is persuasive in her maliciousness; and I have doubts that Charlie Browns in the UN or the Democratic party in this country will ever grow up or learn from past experiences and betrayals. That would require some self-reflection and insight--psychological characteristics they are not strong on; as well as requiring the courage to confront a difficult and messy reality.

As Baker suggests, it is far easier to blame the current US administration for the short-sighted and incredibly delusional and counterproductive behavior of previous administrations and the entire world community.

"Lucy" has the ball set up for us to try to kick yet again.... When Kim and Ahmadinejad laughingly pull the ball away again will we once again react with a sharp intake of breath and more strongly worded communiques? Engage in the hand-wringing and blaming with endless whining that the Charlie Brown Democrats are particular good at these days?

Or will we finally face the reality of who and what we are dealing with, and act accordingly?

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