More Bombs

Following up the last post, which is long enough already — here’s something I didn’t know. Selig S. Harrison writes for Newswseek:

On Sept. 19, 2005, North Korea signed a widely heralded denuclearization agreement with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. Pyongyang pledged to “abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.” In return, Washington agreed that the United States and North Korea would “respect each other’s sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize their relations.”

Four days later, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sweeping financial sanctions against North Korea designed to cut off the country’s access to the international banking system, branding it a “criminal state” guilty of counterfeiting, money laundering and trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration says that this sequence of events was a coincidence.

Frankly, as incompetent as the Bushies are, you can’t rule that out. But Michael Hirsch says,

Bush administration officials will not concede this publicly, but hardliners in Washington have long been pushing for a policy of regime change against Pyongyang. President Bush himself subtly underlined that threat when, at a Monday morning news conference, he said “the oppressed and impoverished people of North Korea deserve” a “brighter future.” Hence, only days after China orchestrated a framework agreement in September 2005 that promised the North it would be rewarded if it abandoned its nuclear program, including with a civilian nuclear reactor, the Bush administration imposed sanctions on the Macao-based Banco Delta Asia that effectively froze the accounts of Kim and other North Korean elites. The action is believed to have so riled Kim that he refused to return to the talks.

Let’s go back to Harrison for a moment:

Whatever the truth, I found on a recent trip to Pyongyang that North Korean leaders view the financial sanctions as the cutting edge of a calculated effort by dominant elements in the administration to undercut the Sept. 19 accord, squeeze the Kim Jong Il regime and eventually force its collapse. My conversations made clear that North Korea’s missile tests in July and its threat last week to conduct a nuclear test explosion at an unspecified date “in the future” were directly provoked by the U.S. sanctions. In North Korean eyes, pressure must be met with pressure to maintain national honor and, hopefully, to jump-start new bilateral negotiations with Washington that could ease the financial squeeze. When I warned against a nuclear test, saying that it would only strengthen opponents of negotiations in Washington, several top officials replied that “soft” tactics had not worked and they had nothing to lose.

If you know the history of the Bushies and North Korea, you understand that last sentence is a joke.

It was no secret to journalists covering the September 2005 negotiations, or to the North Koreans, that the agreement was bitterly controversial within the administration and represented a victory for State Department advocates of a conciliatory approach to North Korea over proponents of “regime change” in Pyongyang. The chief U.S. negotiator, Christopher Hill, faced strong opposition from key members of his own delegation at every step of the way.

You get the picture, I’m sure.

Back to Michael Hirsch:

Indeed by late last week, when U.S. officials grew increasingly certain that North Korea would detonate a nuclear device, there was a sense of resignation in Washington—almost a feeling of relief that, at long last, strategic clarity had arrived. “At least there would be a unified front against North Korea” if Pyongyang tested, one senior official told NEWSWEEK on Friday. “And it would light a fire under some parties.” He was referring to China. For the last year Washington had effectively subcontracted nuclear negotiations to Beijing, which was given the lead in the “six-party” talks that pitted Pyongyang against the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. China was key because, as Pyongyang’s longtime ally, it held the strongest hand against North Korea, controlling more than 70 percent of its energy supplies.

China has not been particularly tough with North Korea in the past. However,

The hope in Washington is now that Chinese President Hu Jintao will decide he’s finally had enough of his out-of-control former junior partner. With Sunday’s test Kim has now twice rebuffed Hu’s pleas for restraint. The last time was July, when Kim ignored the Chinese leader’s request not to test missiles. This time Kim insulted Hu the day after an important Sino-Japanese summit with Tokyo’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe—a nationalist who will no doubt be probing China’s strategic determination—and on the eve of a big communist party plenary session at which Hu’s reputation will be on the line.

For Washington, almost everything is riding on this hope.

In other words, President George W. “lone cowboy” Bush is hoping China will save his ass.

U.S. officials are talking tough about beefing up their Proliferation Security Initiative, which mainly involves interdicting suspect shipments on the high seas.

Remember the So San affair?

But last week they quickly walked back any speculation that Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill’s stark rhetoric from last week—“North Korea can have a future or it can have these weapons. It can’t have both,” Hill said—meant a threat of war. The Pentagon is extremely leery of any military options, with the heavily-populated South Korean capital of Seoul lying vulnerable to missile attack just across the North Korean border. What Hill’s comment meant instead, several U.S. officials said, was that the U.N. Security Council would move to impose sanctions, and key countries such as China, Japan and South Korea would join in, ensuring that the Pyongyang regime remains utterly friendless.

At the Guardian, Simon Tisdall explains there may not be much anyone can do about Korea.

A storm of predictable condemnation rained down on the heads of North Korea’s isolated regime in the wake of its first atomic weapons test today…. But the strong words did not disguise the weakness of the international community’s position now that North Korea has finally crossed the line and indisputably become what it has long claimed to be – a nuclear weapons state. In short, the big powers can huff and puff, but there is not a lot new in practical terms that they can do. This development was expected. They simply couldn’t stop it. …

… Sanctions are the obvious tool to which the US, Japan and other concerned spectators such as Britain will now resort. But such measures have been tried before and have failed to modify Pyongyang’s behaviour. In fact, they may have made it worse.

It is only a little more than a year since North Korea agreed in principle to abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for US technology, aid and security guarantees. But US financial sanctions imposed on North Korean banks and businesses operating via Macau last winter appear to have caused serious pain in Pyongyang. Intentionally or not, they scuppered any chance of resurrecting the six-party process once it hit renewed difficulties. …

… The prospect that, like it or not, the international community will ultimately have to deal with North Korea on its own terms has significant implications elsewhere. Iran, whose suspect nuclear activities will soon be brought before the UN security council, may be encouraged in its defiance if no effective punitive action is taken against North Korea. Conversely, those in Washington who argue against direct talks with Iran, and against offering the sort of incentives proffered North Korea last year, may be persuaded by today’s events that dialogue is the only viable future option. Arguably, it was the Bush administration’s refusal to persist with former president Bill Clinton’s “framework agreement” with North Korea that has led to the present impasse.

Mr. Tisdall is an optimist. “Those in Washington” who helped bring the present impasse about are more likely to redouble their efforts to make matters worse.

Tim Grieve sums it up
: The hard-liners in the White House were convinced from the beginning that a confrontational approach would bring North Korea to heel. Instead, the situation has deteriorated, and continues to deteriorate as the Bushies undermine their own diplomacy and throw away one opportunity after another to lower the temperature on a hot crisis.

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Well, folks, North Korea claims it tested a nuclear weapon last night. Chalk up another achievement for the Bush foreign policy. David Sanger writes in the New York Times:

North Korea said Sunday night that it had set off its first nuclear test, becoming the eighth country in history, and arguably the most unstable and most dangerous, to proclaim that it has joined the club of nuclear weapons states.

Yesterday I dug up a four-year-old news story in which Condi Rice told Wolf Blitzer that the Bush Administration knew just how to handle Ki Jong Il; it was Saddam Hussein people should be worried about.

Rice said Iraq’s history shows the Baghdad regime is harder to contain than North Korea.

“These are not comparable situations,” she said. “They’re dangerous, both of them dangerous. But we believe that we have different methods that will work in North Korea that clearly have not and will not work in Iraq.”

Meanwhile —

The North Korean disclosure comes as the Bush administration faces a possible military confrontation with Iraq over its efforts to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he considered North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and missile capability a bigger threat to the United States than Iraq.

Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged the White House to rethink its priorities.

[Update: Please note that Senator Graham, who is now retired, said this in 2002, while the Bushies were busy whipping up hysteria over Saddam Hussein.]

So far, has the Bush foreign policy team gotten anything right? If they have, I don’t remember what it is.

I’ve already spent considerable blog time and bandwidth explaining why the current, um, challenge posed by North Korea is George W. Bush’s doing, and not Bill Clinton’s and/or Jimmy Carter’s, as righties would have you believe. See this post for the short explanation, and “Rolling Blunder” by Fred Kaplan and the Blame Bush for North Korea’s Nukes page from The Mahablog archives if you want more detail. I’m not going into all that again this morning, except to say that any troll who is dumb enough to repeat the “it’s Clinton’s fault” propaganda here without reading my long and carefully documented proof that it isn’t will be mercilessly ridiculed. Mercilessly, I say.

Here’s something I don’t believe I’ve said before, although others have — at Huffington Post, David Wallechinsky wrote,

The North Koreans and the Iranians looked around the world and saw that countries that had nuclear weapons, like Pakistan and China, were not in danger of being invaded by George Bush, while Saddam Hussein, who didn’t have a nuclear weapons program, was in prison and being tried for war crimes. If you were the leaders of North Korea or Iran, what would you do to ensure that your country would not be invaded by the United States? Easy call: you build nuclear weapons, which is exactly what both of them are doing. Nice going, Mister President.

From the Arms Control Association, in a review of At the Borderline of Armageddon: How American Presidents Managed the Atom Bomb by James E. Goodby.

In an excellent chapter on George W. Bush, Goodby characterizes the current president’s mindset as believing that “the time had finally come to scrap the old order.” To date, he has been quite successful in this objective. Goodby notes that other presidents helped build up the international nonproliferation and arms control regimes that they saw as supporting U.S. national security. Yet, Bush clearly believes that the United States, as the only remaining superpower, should be prepared to shape the international order unilaterally and has rejected treaties that would in any way restrict U.S. freedom of action. To this end, he withdrew from the ABM Treaty, despite strong Russian objections, and replaced the unratified START II with the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). Also known as the Moscow Treaty, SORT lacks verification provisions, and its limits on future U.S. strategic forces are effectively toothless.

Although Bush has given high priority to preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons to perceived U.S. enemies, his actions have either been ineffectual or counterproductive. At the beginning of his term, he overruled the decision of Secretary of State Colin Powell to continue very promising negotiations that the Clinton administration had begun with North Korea, thus spurring Pyongyang to advance its nuclear weapons program. Disregarding the precedent followed by previous presidents, he initiated a preventive war against Iraq on the false grounds that it was illegally developing nuclear weapons. Most recently, he has agreed to negotiate a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with India, despite long-standing U.S. and Nuclear Suppliers Group policy to deny such aid to Pakistan, India, and Israel because they have not signed the NPT and are known to have nuclear weapons.

Today, confronted with the difficult problem of Iran’s potential nuclear weapons ambitions, Bush has made clear that all options are on the table if Iran refuses to terminate its uranium-enrichment program. Because UN agreement on effective sanctions is unlikely, rumors abound that Bush is seriously considering military actions in another preventive war. Given the international hostility that his policies have created, it is clear that any such action would have to be carried out unilaterally, with disastrous results to long-range U.S. security.

I take it from the review that Goodby approved of policies by Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan (as well as Kennedy and Johnson), but he had a little disagreement with Carter and was downright ambivalent about Clinton. So you can’t say the guy dislikes Bush just because he’s partisan.

(Off topic, but I got a kick out of this bit about LBJ:

President Lyndon B. Johnson, despite his growing preoccupation with Vietnam, rejected out of hand the use of nuclear weapons there. His view of nuclear war was brought home to me by his reaction at the final meeting in 1965 on the military budget to an item listed as DUCCS. In response to his question as to what this was, he was told it stood for Deep Underground Command and Control Site, a facility that would be located several thousand feet underground, between the White House and the Pentagon, designed to survive a ground burst of a 20-megaton bomb and sustain the president and key advisers for several months until it would be safe to exit through tunnels emerging many miles outside Washington. After a brief puzzled expression, Johnson let loose with a string of Johnsonian expletives making clear he thought this was the stupidest idea he had ever heard and that he had no intention of hiding in an expensive hole while the rest of Washington and probably the United States were burned to a crisp. That was the last I ever heard of DUCCS.

What do you want to bet some version of DUCCS has been resurrected by the Bushies?)

Anthony Faiola, Glenn Kessler and Dafna Linzer write for the Washington Post

The announcement [by North Korea] brought a hailstorm of swift international denunciations … South Korean officials said they detected a significant man-made explosion in the barren northeast of the peninsula, and were substantiating the Pyongyang government’s claim. The test would make the Stalinist state the world’s eighth proven nuclear power, as well as its most volatile.

Chinese authorities immediately condemned the test. North Korea “has ignored the widespread opposition of the international community and conducted a nuclear test brazenly on October 9,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its Web site. “The Chinese government is firmly opposed to this.”

Yet the reaction from the U.S. was more subdued.

The White House did not immediately confirm the test, but spokesman Tony Snow said in a statement: “U.S. and South Korean intelligence detected a seismic event Sunday at a suspected nuclear test site in North Korea. A North Korean nuclear test would constitute a provocative act, in defiance of the will of the international community and of our calls to refrain from actions that would aggravate tensions in northeast Asia. We expect the Security Council to take immediate actions to respond to this unprovoked act.”

Billmon predicted:

Tony Snow will step out tomorrow to tell us it’s really not such a big deal — the North Koreans and Kim Jong-il being ever so much nicer and more rational than those genocidal Iranians and their power-crazed dictator, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This is followed by an update — a bit of transcript of Tony Snow tap dancing furiously to distract reporters from White House ineptitude. Pathetic and hilarious at once.

Via Memeorandum, a quickie survey of Right Blogosphere reactions indicates the Official VRWC Spin: It probably didn’t happen; if North Korea keeps testing, it will run out of weapons soon and we won’t have to worry about them; it’s Clinton’s and Carter’s fault.

I like this one:

I claim some credit for calling the timing just before the election [although I don’t claim to have predicted, one way or another, whether they’d go through with this]. I think this was an enormous miscalculation on North Korea’s part. The Republicans will be gleeful that no one will be talking about Mark Foley next week. The national conversation will be back to national security, and the Republicans will have the chance to do what they do best — act tough on such issues.

The operative word is, of course, act. But I’d be very surprised if North Korea’s test registers more than a blip in the national consciousness, and I’d be extremely surprised if it drives the Foley sex scandal off cable news. In the Nooz Biz, the operative word is, of course, sex.

President Bush will probably have no choice but to ignore the counsel of State Department doves who had nearly unopposed control of Bush’s North Korea policy until last August.

Yeah; until last August, he was doing a heck of a job.

Now, he’ll most likely use many of the options he didn’t use after North Korea’s July missile tests. I would expect some very severe sanctions and a move for a U.N. arms embargo.

He’s going to run to the UN for help? My, how the child has fallen.

I’m going to predict that in the next few days the Bush Administration will be taking a back seat to China and other world powers in dealing with North Korea. The Bushies might try some saber-rattling to impress the home folks (and distract reporters from Dennis Hastert), but the world knows Bush is running low on sabers to rattle. In truth, the only options Bush has, other than run to the UN, are embargos and sanctions, which is what Condi was talking about back in 2002. And embargos and sanctions just don’t have the sex appeal that war has.

For a more intelligent analysis of what Bush might do, see emptywheel.

For a different view, see Bill Scher:

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.

Also, Glenn Kessler’s analysis in the Washington Post is pretty good, although it doesn’t clarify the uranium versus plutonium issue.

Update update: Josh Marshall has a good analysis, too, but the permalink isn’t working. You’ll have to scroll down to “(October 09, 2006 — 02:00 AM EST // link)” to read it.

More updates in the next post.

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