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Category: North Korea

The Right Iran Question

DIck Cheney said on Sunday:

The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences. The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

In other words, he would rather guarantee a regional war than have Iran possess a single nuclear weapon that is not likely to be used in a war.
Of course, this is how the question will likely be framed for the next two years: would you “allow” Iran to have a nuclear weapon (or have the “knowledge” to build a nuclear weapon), or would you go to war first?
What we shouldn’t allow is having the Iran issue framed this way.
Lest we soon forget, the Bush Administration just “allowed” North Korea to have a nuclear weapon.
And there was no nuclear holocaust.

It is by no means a good thing that North Korea has nukes, which could have been prevented with aggressive diplomacy.
The risk of proliferation, potentially to terrorist groups, was raised. Our ability to influence North Korea and promote democratic reform was diminished.
But the fact remains that the nukes were not used. Having nukes is not the same as using nukes.
Governments generally want a nuke for political reasons, protect themselves from regime change and maximize their regional leverage. But they know if they actually use a nuke against us or an ally of ours, they’ll be incinerated by us the next day.
Further, when we finally did engage North Korea diplomatically this year, it began to pay off.
Having a nuke, let alone the knowledge to produce a nuke, does not automatically lead to nuclear war.
Of course, make that argument, and the neocons will quickly claim that North Korea is already breaking the deal and trying to help Syria get nukes — just thwarted by an Israeli air strike — as suggested by a recent New York Times article.
But as the Center for American Progress observes:

One cannot help but notice a lack of on-record quotes …
…There are further questions that have been missing from the general mainstream media coverage of the Syrian bombing. For instance, why is there such an extraordinary level of secrecy about this? The names and locations of Iranian and North Korean facilities are public knowledge, so why the veil of secrecy surrounding an alleged Syrian program? Why hasn’t the administration been able to provide any satellite photos or agency reports? If there were well-founded suspicions that such a facility existed, why wasn’t the International Atomic Energy Agency contacted first to conduct inspections?

Arms Control Wonk adds that a subsequent ABC report doesn’t match key technical aspects in the NYT piece, and notes:

The hard evidence seems a little, well, soft to me. AP’s George Jahn, by the way, reports that the IAEA is now looking at commercial imagery, but hasn’t seen anything that screams nuclear reactor[.]

Raw Story reported (also, for what it’s worth, largely based on anonymous sources) last week:

According to current and former intelligence sources, the US intelligence community has seen no evidence of a nuclear facility being hit.
US intelligence “found no radiation signatures after the bombing, so there was no uranium or plutonium present,â€? said one official, wishing to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the subject.
“We don’t have any independent intelligence that it was a nuclear facility — only the assertions by the Israelis and some ambiguous satellite photography from them that shows a building, which the Syrians admitted was a military facility.â€?

And Steve Clemons said right after the NYT piece was published:

David Sanger’s and Mark Mazzetti’s piece on Syrian nuclear plant activities does disturb. Mostly because I don’t buy it. . .at least not yet. My intel sources don’t concur that this was a nuclear plant — but rather that it was a machine tool operation to modernize Syrian scud missiles with air burst capacity warheads. Such warheads could ‘eventually’ be outfitted with some nasty kinds of things — including chemical, bio, and nuke warheads.
I hate to be at odds with Sanger and Mazzetti as I admire them both a great deal — but they need to make sure that they are not being “Judith Miller’d”. I leave open the door that my sources could be wrong, but bombing a nuke site as opposed to a machine operation to raise the level of potential terror that Syria could rain on Israel (far more cheaply) are vastly different in scale.

Even if the troubling scenario that North Korea was proliferating to Syria, the point would still remain that having nukes has yet to equal using nukes.
Whereas publicly trying to hold Iran to a standard the Bush administration had not even held North Korea to (as Fareed Zakaria notes, “If I had to choose whom to describe as a madman, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il or Ahmadinejad, I do not think there is really any contest.”), only sends the signal to Iran that we’re gunning for them no matter what the facts are.
That’s not the way to prevent Iran from going nuclear. That’s the way to put them on the fast track, so they can prevent regime change.
The question to ask is not: will we “allow” Iran to go nuclear.
The right question to ask: what approach is most likely to prevent Iran from going nuclear and prevent broader regional war?

Something Bright on Bush’s Watch (and the Dark Underside)

The successful Korean summit and step toward reconciliation may not have happened if the Bush Administration — after counterproductive snubbing and saber-rattling — hadn’t engaged North Korea diplomatically and made progress on denuclearization.
This may end up being the only positive foreign policy legacy left by Bush.
But this bright spot very likely comes with a dark side.
As Steve Clemons noted earlier this year that there’s a link between progress in Korea and confrontation with Iran:

[Washington Post reporter Glenn] Kessler’s two essays … confirm independent information that this blogger has received from others close to the Iran-US diplomatic game suggesting that not only Cheney’s office quashed a positive reaction to Iran’s [2003] proposal [to negotiate the end of its nuclear program] but that Powell and his team did.
Powell essentially “traded” progress in North Korea for a regressive stance on Iran that Cheney’s gang ws dominating.
Powell did not want to antagonize Cheney with negotiations initiatives at the same time with not just one “Axis of Evil” nation — but TWO. That was the deal made nearly four years ago.
It is ironic that just yesterday, serious progress was logged in the US-North Korea nuclear standoff, while Cheney’s team continues to dominate the rhetoric and approach to dealing with Iran.

And as LIberalOasis noted at the time:

…remember that the Bushies loved to hold up their (anti-democracy) deal with Libya, so they could say they were not only interested in war and saber-rattling and unilateralism to solve international problems.
It’s possible that they will now hold up North Korea as evidence they are more than happy to talk, hoping to dampen American concerns about a rush to war, while they continue to ignore diplomatic openings in Iran so they can rush to war.

As Seymour Hersh reported this week, Iran remains very much in the White House crosshairs.
But there’s no reason we must passively let the Bushies claim that North Korea gives the credibility to attack Iran.
The opposite is true: the progress in North Korea shows the value in sincere negotiations even with abhorrent dictators.
And with Iran, there are far more openings to talk to relatively moderate and pragmatic factions that with North Korea.
Attacking and occupying Iraq isn’t working. Talking to North Korea is working.
Common sense would say, repeat what works. Common sense is not what this White House is based on.

North Korea Shift?

LiberalOasis has long insisted that the Bushies would never do the deal with North Korea, and that the six-party talks were just a show. Is LO proved wrong?
Maybe, though the jury is out. And even if this deal is for real, it may provide very small solace.
First, it’s not unusual for the White House to quietly undermine deals with North Korea shortly after they are announced.
In November ’06, Joseph Cirincione of Center for American Progress said:

Remember, Kim [Jong Il] conducted his fizzled nuclear test last month only after regime change ideologues in the administration led by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney successfully torpedoed the deal negotiated with North Korea in September last year.
How did they do it? Only days after North Korea and the five other countries engaged in the Six Party talks came to a breakthrough agreement on ending the Korean nuclear program, the hardliners in the administration launched a crackdown on North Korea’s limited access to foreign exchange, targeting a bank in Macao that held Kim Jong Il’s personal accounts.

Such tricks may still be played here.
Or, it’s possible that an actual change in course has happened in Korea.
But only to free up the Bushies to go Neocon on Iran.
Newsweek posts today:

Former senior administration members say the North Korea deal is evidence of two big changes: one, several key hardliners have left, and the influence of others, including Cheney, is waning; and two, that Bush is now consumed with Iraq, Iran and the Middle East.
“It was so clearly against the approach we had tried to impose,” says a former top Bush nonproliferation official. “Why now? I can think couple of reasons. One is that he is completely overwhelmed with the Middle East and desperate for a political victory anywhere. And a lot of people who were against engagement have either left the administration, like Bolton and Bob Joseph [Rice’s former under secretary for counterproliferation], or are otherwise preoccupied, like the vice president with the Scooter Libby trial…”

And as noted earlier on the LiberalOasis Wire (in the right-hand column), The Washington Note says more pointedly:

One hopes today that [negotiator] Chris Hill has not succeeded in securing a positive arrangement in North Korea in some sort of quid pro quo that State will acquiesce to Cheney’s desire for military action against Iran.

Now, things don’t have to go down that brazenly.
But remember that the Bushies loved to hold up their (anti-democracy) deal with Libya, so they could say they were not only interested in war and saber-rattling and unilateralism to solve international problems.
It’s possible that they will now hold up North Korea as evidence they are more than happy to talk, hoping to dampen American concerns about a rush to war, while they continue to ignore diplomatic openings in Iran so they can rush to war.
Further, the North Korea deal is far from comprehensive and final. It’s billed as a trust-building baby step.
Pragmatic neocons could rationalize it as a temporary stall tactic while their hands are full with Iran.
What does that mean for us?
1) Insist on good-faith follow through, and call out any attempts to undermine the deal.
2) Don’t let this give Bush cover on Iran.
The diplomatic openings with Iran stand on their own, from the 2003 “grand bargain” proposal to the 2006 offer of snap inspections to the recent political shift inside Iran away from Ahmadinejad.
The possibility that Bush may have finally wised up on the Korean peninsula, does not give him a free pass to launch a regional war across the Arab/Muslim world.

The latest installment of, featuring Bob Wright and Mickey Kaus, discusses recent LiberalOasis posts about North Korea. Watch it here.

Blame China Bandwagon

Monday I wrote that we should expect “pols and pundits” to follow Tom Friedman’s and the Bush Administration’s lead, and shift blame to China for a nuclear North Korea.
On Tuesday, Anne Applebaum obliged.

Blaming China

UN Ambassador John Bolton and Secretary of State Condi Rice dominated the Sunday shows, as the White House tried to shift the media’s focus away from the Mark Foley scandal and the increasing violence in Iraq.
But their performances were so lame, it may well serve to further diminish the GOP advantage on national security.
Bolton and Rice sought to spin the new UN resolution as a global call to economically squeeze North Korea.
But China had already interpreted the resolution’s vague language differently, leaving the two floundering.
This is was most clear in Bolton’s appearance on ABC’s This Week:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:You mentioned how important China is to making this work. Part of this resolution is an authorization for countries to inspect shipments going in and out of North Korea.
But China said they’re not going to do that … If they don’t join in the inspections doesn’t that mean that North Korea’s going to be able to get what they need?
JOHN BOLTON: Well, let’s remember, the inspections are a tool to effectuate the sanctions themselves. China voted in favor of the resolution … It made clear even during our negotiations they very strongly believe there should be sanctions on nuclear and missile transactions. They eventually agreed to even broader sanctions.
But this means China itself now has an obligation to make sure that it complies with the resolution. And it has full national authority on its side of the border to conduct any inspections it wants.
We’ll see what actually comes out of Beijing, perhaps when Secretary Rice is there next week. But let’s be clear, China voted in favor of that provision.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, they voted in favor of it but they say they’re not going to enforce it.
And they also went even a little bit further and said they feared that these inspections would cause a conflict that would have serious implications for the region. It sounds like they’re not committed to it at all.
BOLTON: You know, that’s – that’s the statement they made here yesterday. We’ll see what they say in further conversations.
he main point is that the sanctions themselves are in place. And I can’t believe you’re really predicting that China is not going to comply with the obligations that it voted for.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I’m just reading you what they said. I’m not predicting anything.
And so far the Chinese ambassador said they’re not going to go along with those inspections.
Tom Friedman of “The New York Times” this week wrote that basically unless China says to North Korea, we’re cutting off your energy, we’re cutting off your food, there’s no way that Kim Jong Il is going to give up his nuclear program. Isn’t Friedman right about that?
BOLTON: Well, I think if China were to take those kinds of steps, it would be powerfully persuasive in Pyongyang. They’ve not yet been willing to do it. I think that China’s got a heavy responsibility here.
And I must say, you know, this test by the North Koreans had to have been humiliating to China. After all of the efforts they’ve made over the years to protect North Korea from international approbation, for the North Koreans in the face of all that to test had to get quite a reaction in Beijing…
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Humiliating? Its sounds like you’re trying to goad China into enforcing this.
BOLTON: No, no, no. I think if you’ll recall, the Chinese used to describe the relationships between the communist parties of China and North Korea as close as between lips and teeth.
So that’s the – that’s the way they saw it. And now contrary to what China very expressly told North Korea, they went ahead with that test.

This is part of the Republican strategy to rhetorically shift responsbility of the North Korea problem to China. Why?
As noted here before, the Bushies have no intention in solving the North Korea problem, but can’t make it look like they’re not trying.
Pointing the finger at China takes the heat off of themselves, helps them make a case that while they’re really really trying, China is the real obstacle.
Of course, they know full well that China is highly unlikely to aid the Bush strategy, because that strategy’s end goal is to weaken China.
While China has interest in denuclearizing North Korea — since it could provoke other Asian nations to get nukes, diminishing China’s regional influence — it does not share the Bushies’ goal of North Korea regime change, which also is intended to diminish China’s influence.
Therefore, China isn’t expected to play ball.
The Bushies know this. They know that publicly scolding China isn’t going to solve the problem. It’s all a pathetic show.
But don’t be suprised if you hear pols and pundits follow their lead, like Friedman did in his 10//11/06 column, “The Bus is Waiting”:

…thanks to North Korea’s nuclear test, we’ve come to a moment of truth … [China and Russia] constantly advocate “multilateral” solutions. Well, will they sign up for the kind of biting multilateral sanctions that would work vis-a-vis Iran and North Korea and make “unilateral” U.S. military options unnecessary?
If Russia and China want to see the post-cold-war world continue, they can’t be free riders anymore — opposing both U.S. unilateralism and effective multilateralism that requires them to do something hard. They’ve got to start paying a price to preserve this world.

As an aside, Friedman also recommended the Bushies renounce regime change. But he did his readers a disservice and did not connect the dots.
Russia and China don’t get on the bus presicely because the Bushies are so committed to regime change, and in turn, the aggressive expansion of US influence at the expense of Russia and China.
Russia and China aren’t simply foolish “free riders” as Friedman claims; they’re making rational, albeit self-serving, political calculations when facing a major power looking to undercut them.
Good foreign policy finds a way to make it in other nations’ interest to do what’s best for the world.
The GOP’s reckless foreign policy ignores the interest of others supposedly to make the US stronger, yet by shattering our alliances, has made us weaker.
So yes, we need China’s help to denuclearize North Korea.
But with Bush and his fellow neocons in power, we’ll never get it.

Bush’s Latest Foreign Policy Failure

As LiberalOasis has noted several times in the last four years, the Bush Administration never was interested in a negotiated deal to prevent North Korea from getting nukes.
The neocons want regime change in North Korea, in an attempt to constrict the rise of China. And they see any deal as helping the North Korea dictator remain in power.
After initially suspending talks with North Korea, and unraveling the diplomatic progress made by the Clinton Administration, the Bushies then agreed to “six-party” talks.
But the move was not intended to make new diplomatic progress. It was intended to make the Bushies look like they tried diplomatic avenues, when in fact, they made no serious proposals.
We can now see the results of this so-called “hard-line” strategy. A nuclear North Korea. A greater risk of more nuclear proliferation. A more unstable world.
This is the latest Republican foreign policy failure, after the Iraq debacle, the freedom of Osama bin Laden, and the spread of the “global jihadist movement.”
Conservatives are trying to spin this to further their reckless, unilateralist agenda. The W. Post reports:

…a number of senior U.S. officials have said privately that they would welcome a North Korean test, regarding it as a clarifying event that would forever end the debate within the Bush administration about whether to solve the problem through diplomacy or through tough actions designed to destabilize North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s grip on power.

“Clarifying” is a favorite conservative code word for spinning bad foreign policy developments, meaning: “Now we don’t have to pretend to be diplomatic anymore.”
Having said that, this does not mean Bush will attack North Korea. After all, North Korea has nukes and could destroy South Korea. (Neocons may be crazy, but not that crazy.)
But as the W. Post piece indicates, we’ll probably see an attempt to economically strangle North Korea in hopes of undermining the regime.
The problem with that strategy is: it’s giving North Korea even more incentive to sell nukes to other countries or even terrorist organizations.
Economic sanctions can be an appropriate response to the nuclear test, but only if they are coupled with a sincere strategy of good-faith negotiations, which will never happen with this White House.
And bringing freedom to the North Korea people absolutely should be a goal of our government. (It’s the goal of the South Korea government, which desperately wants real talks with the North.)
But the Bushies don’t care about freedom, they care about geopolitical chess games.
And their poor strategic judgment is putting America and the world at risk.

Sunday Talkshow Breakdown

One of Condi Rice’s State Department undersecretaries, Nick Burns, was dispatched to four Sunday shows to discuss North Korea.
A small name was probably sent out so not to give North Korea the satisfaction of “getting the White House’s attention” by conducting missile tests.
Sending nobody would have accomplished that too.
But they needed to send somebody out to hog air time.
Otherwise, the Sunday air would be filled with analysis of how the Bushies have completely botched the North Korea situation over the last five years.
Burns, and his fellow Republicans from the Senate, had one main talking point: Don’t ask us to fix this. Ask China.

Within a minute on NBC’s Meet The Press, Burns sought to shift responsibility away from Bush and onto China:
…frankly we think it’s time for China to use its influence with North Korea. The Chinese have influence, certainly more than the United States and the other members of the international community, dealing with this problem. China now has an opportunity to put its best foot forward, to send the North Koreans a direct message that these missile tests cannot be tolerated…
Over on CBS’ Face The Nation, Sen. John McCain echoed the “not us” message:
I believe that China is the key. They’re the only ones that really have significant influence over North Korea. If we make it clear to China that we understand they’re emerging on the world stage as a super power, they should behave like one and this will be a defining issue in our relations with China.
And on CNN’s Late Edition, Sen. Lindsey Graham was even more pointed:
…the Chinese are the key to this. The Chinese are hanging by a thread politically with the Congress now over trade policy. If they don’t really come to the table harder with North Korea, they’re going to be hanging by a thread in terms of international diplomatic policy.
Why put the onus on China?
For one, it’s a legit place for the onus, as China does have leverage. So, folks in the foreign policy establishment will approve and give political cover.
At the same time, the Bushies don’t really want a deal with the North Koreans, and they’d rather have people blame the Chinese when failure persists.
Remember, as LiberalOasis has regularly noted, to conservatives, the North Korea issue is really about China.
They view China as a potential rival superpower that must be constricted.
They want the North Korean dictatorship to collapse, not to liberate its people, but so they can get a friendly unified Korean government, along with US troops, on the Chinese border.
They view any deal with North Korea to give up nukes in exchange for economic aid and/or security guarantees as shoring up the government.
They’d rather wait North Korea out. (Even the Bushies don’t have much stomach for Korea War II.)
But waiting around during a nuclear build-up looks ridiculous to the American public and the rest of the world. So they have to go through the motions.
They create the “six-party talks” that include China, which are designed to give the appearance of touchy-feely multilateralism, but are also designed to fail.
Why? Because the Bushies’ end goal is to simply keep China down (instead of engaging China and tying human rights to further economic growth.)
Ergo, nothing they propose gets much support from the Chinese.
Now, China doesn’t want a nuclear North Korea because it could lead to other Asian countries going nuclear, which would reduce China’s stature in the region. The regional destabilization would also hurt China’s economy.
But China also doesn’t want North Korea to collapse, because that could cause regional destabilization too, as well as lead to US troops on its border. So it cynically seeks to maintain the status quo of a divided Korea, half oppressed.
There is common ground to be had with China that would allow us to comprehensively pressure North Korea.
If the Bushies didn’t have a completely unrealistic approach to China that has strained relations, we could more easily focus on our shared goal of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
The elected official that came closest to articulating this dynamic yesterday was Dem Sen. Chris Dodd, on Face The Nation:
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, Senator, help me to understand: Why would the Chinese be
reluctant to go along on this? Why would they be reluctant to impose sanctions? Are they worried about taking down–or that government collapsing in North Korea?

DODD: Well, part of that, but not so much, that, I think, but they … don’t want to have a human wave pouring into that northern or southern border of China and northern border of North Korea
SCHIEFFER: If that government collapsed in North Korea.
DODD: If that would happen…Or, if you had terrific sanctions that would deprive the food, medicines — other things that the South Koreans and the Chinese provide…
…that’s why their agenda is a bit different than ours…And they’re worth listening to on this. China’s not our enemy on this.
They don’t want an arms race in that part of the world any more than we do. They don’t want North Korea posing any more difficulties than they already are.
Now, I’m not suggesting we ought to go along with exactly what the Chinese suggest, but listen to them.
What’s lacking in Dodd’s dissection is an explanation why the Bushies don’t work better with China:
Because the Bushies have a fundamentally flawed foreign policy vision that frustrates cooperation, stokes instability, and does nothing to spread freedom.
Dodd is by no means alone. Until Dems start making clear how their vision is better suited to solve international crises, there will be little debate about our foreign policy direction and Bush’s policies will continue unabated.