September 2, 2003

Hizzoner Al Capone...

Former president Jimmy Carter has written an urgent call for appeasement. I've added a few thoughts as they occur to me...

U.S.-North Korea war seems 'strong possibility'
By Jimmy Carter
We face the strong possibility of another Korean war, with potentially devastating consequences, so the endangered multilateral talks in Beijing are of paramount importance. It is vital that some accommodation be reached between Pyongyang and Washington.

North Korea is an isolated country, poverty stricken, paranoid, apparently self-sacrificial and amazingly persistent in international confrontations, as is now being demonstrated. It is a cultural and almost sacred commitment for its leaders not to back down, even in the face of international condemnation and the most severe political and economic pressure.

A distilled example of a certain point-of-view. It starts with the assumption that the leadership is the the country. Also that any place that calls itself a nation really is one, and deserves the same respect as all the others. In Carter's view, if Al Capone siezed control of Chicago, he would be Chicago, and it would be wrong if Bush failed to call him "Your Honor." And since the leader is the country, it would then make sense to say "Chicago has a cultural and almost sacred commitment to Omerta."

The truth is, North Korea is not 'self-sacrificial." It's leaders have never sacrificed anything, and the people have no voice,and certainly wouldn't be keen on sacrifice if they did. And it's not a nation, it's a region held at gunpoint by a gang of communists.

A previous example of this stubbornness occurred in 1968, when North Korea captured the USS Pueblo, a Navy intelligence-gathering ship. Despite the best efforts of President Lyndon Johnson to marshal international support and to prevail with economic punishment and military threats, President Kim il Sung never deviated from his basic demands, which included an embarrassing public apology from the United States for "spying" on his country. After 11 months, President Johnson accepted all the demands, and the crew was released.

President Bush, do you get the message? Accept all demands...Notice that the word "stubbornness" is never applied to the US, and "threats" is never applied to NK...And notice that Carter seems clueless of any causal relationship between accepting demands then and being faced with more demands now.
Notwithstanding their abysmal economic failures and the resulting hardships of their people, North Korean leaders have never deviated from a commitment to military strength. They maintain a formidable army, with artillery and missiles able to wreak great destruction on Seoul and the northern portion of South Korea, regardless of how much punishment North Koreans might have to absorb during a U.S. attack or counterattack. The development of advanced rocketry and now a potential nuclear capability is further proof of their scientific resources.
Notice there's no suggestion that our goal ought to be freeing those poor people. Or any other oppressed people, ever. Accommodation is all...Notice that the immensity of suffering of the NK people is passed over with the single word "hardships." A brutal Stalinist police-state with millions of people at or near starvation, and he calls it "hardship."
Avoided in 1994

There was another crisis in 1994, when Kim il Sung expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and threatened to begin reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods from a nuclear power plant. The U.S. government refused to talk to North Korean leaders, and made plans for economic sanctions and a military attack. As the crisis escalated, The Carter Center was finally given reluctant permission from President Clinton for me to visit Pyongyang. A satisfactory agreement was concluded and later confirmed by both governments, with participation by South Korea, Japan and others. But neither side honored all the commitments.

An agreement can be "satisfactory" even if the results are catastrophic! Lunacy.
Worrisome actions

The situation is rapidly deteriorating again. North Korea feels increasingly threatened by being branded an "axis of evil" member; deployment of anti-ballistic missiles in Alaska; Washington voices expressing military threats; interception of North Korean ships; ad hominem attacks on President Kim Jong Il; condemnation of previous efforts by President Clinton and South Korean leaders to resolve issues peacefully; and U.S. refusal to negotiate directly with North Korea. America's newly declared policies of pre-emptive war and first use of nuclear weapons also concern North Koreans.

Notice that we are at fault for trying to defend ourselves against missile attacks! And for ad hominum attacks on a leader who maintains concentration camps so deadly that 20% of the inmates die every year! And for condemning Clinton's efforts, even though they are manifest failures. But the zapper is that we are at fault for not negotiating unilaterally, even though Clinton's own negotiators admit that that was a strategy that failed, because we were undercut at crucial moments by other countries...That's twisty and misleading enough to be worthy of Josh Marshall!
Even before these more recent threats, the North Koreans began a secret and illicit nuclear program...
In fact they pursued it even while you were "accommodating" them. You were suckered and you've learned nothing.
...There are other issues, but the basic North Korean demand is a firm non-aggression commitment from the United States, which U.S. officials continue to reject. The U.S. insists first on a complete end to the North Koreans' nuclear program, which they have refused to accept. If neither side will yield or compromise, then an eventual military confrontation seems likely. The United States can prevail, but with terrible human casualties in both North and South Korea.
Equivalent, the two sides are always equivalent. So the conclusion is always that the US should be accommodating.
There must be verifiable assurances that prevent North Korea from becoming a threatening nuclear power, with a firm commitment that the U.S. will not attack a peaceful North Korea. This is a time for sustained and flexible diplomacy between our two governments, to give peace and economic progress a chance within a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
Notice that if NK is "peaceful," then all is well, and Carter thinks nothing needs to change. Millions starve? C'est la vie, baby. And notice that is just assumed that if we make a commitment not to attack, the NK's will trust it. Notice his phrase "give economic progress a chance." As if North Korea were no different from South Korea, and can be expected to make economic progress once they are free of the drag of US aggression. Sheer lunacy. No rational person expects NK to make economic progress.

Actually, in Carter's world, the two sides are not equivalent. The US doesn't get to have any "cultural and almost sacred commitments." Our culture loves freedom, and hates watching mass-murdering dictators slaughter the helpless. But stubbornness in expressing our culture would not be acceptable to Carter. (Who has, of course, outgrown such backward ideas himself.) And notice the other American cultural relics that Carter has outgrown, and sees no need to acknowledge. Such as that there is anything that is actually "right," or "wrong." Or that there are things worth fighting and dying for. Or that there is any higher good than security and avoiding trouble. Or that we might have a Christian duty to succor the poor and the weak...

Jay Nordlinger had it right, when he called Carter 'the first Anti-American President."

Posted by John Weidner at September 2, 2003 5:00 PM
Weblog by John Weidner