Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo has been getting a lot of play about the recent problems with North Korea, slamming the Bush administration. It’s rather similar to Andrew Sullivan’s similar playing of the situation when North Korea’s reneging on the 1994 agreement was first exposed several months ago. Of course, Sullivan used the story to flog Clinton.
But what they both miss is that there ins’t a solution to the problem. Going in with the assumption that there is, and then considering any falling short from the this utopian future a failure is simply disingenuous. Marshall says that
We're in a very bad situation. The administration has sat us down at a card game in which we're holding a fairly weak hand.
No. We were already sitting at the table, and already had a weak hand. Clinton tried to play it with negotiations, essentially paying off North Korea in return for them not pursuing a nuclear weapons program. To my mind, it was a reasonable choice to make at the time. North Korea has so many deep problems that it was not ridiculous to think the promise of economic aid could be so valuable that it would make them forego the weapons development.
But then, as it turned out, North Korea wasn’t living up to their end of the bargain. They were taking the money and developing weapons at the same time. And they always had this choice. As Marshall points out, we really have no leverage over them. No diplomatic or economic ties, apart from the treaty aid, and no plausible military threat (this last point is why everyone wondering why we’re thinking of invading Iraq instead of North Korea is making a stupid argument. It’s because we can invade Iraq, but can’t invade North Korea without tremendous losses.)
So North Korea was free, at any time, to kick out the observers and jump their nuclear program into high gear. The only leverage we have is to cut off aid, which we did, to no effect. Marshall apparently thinks we should have kept this trump card in our pocket, despite the current demonstration that playing it has had no effect on North Korean actions.
Marshall is apparently claiming that it would have been preferable to continue propping up the regime with food and energy aid, while letting them pursue nuclear weapons in secret. Because, you know, since we stopped that approach, it’s resulted in them pursuing nuclear weapons in the open. I don’t follow the logic there. Either we help them get nuclear weapons, or we don’t. Either way, they’re getting nuclear weapons. And there’s nothing we can do or could have done to prevent it, if they were determined to get them, as they were.
Marshall has promised more installments on North Korea, and maybe will provide a clearer view of what he thinks a proper approach would have been. But from where I’m sitting, it looks like he’s simply flogging the administration for failing to achieve an impossible goal.
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