Thomas Friedman: A Choice for the Rogues

It’s about time someone exposed the myth that the war in Iraq moved Qaddafi to get rid of his nukes. That’s pure Bush fantasy.

A Choice for the Rogues
Published: August 2, 2006

I seriously doubt the Bush team will succeed in curtailing the Iranian or North Korean nuclear programs until it resolves a contradiction that has been at the heart of this administration from the beginning: Is it for a change of regime or a change of behavior in Iran and North Korea? Because the Bush team has refused to make up its mind, it’s gotten neither. All it’s gotten are two better-armed rogues.

How so? Go back to the impressive deal that the Bush team did pull off in 2003 to get Libya’s leader, Muammar el-Qaddafi, to give up his crude nuclear weapons program. How did that happen?

The official Bush narrative is that Mr. Qaddafi looked at the U.S. invasion of Iraq, got frightened out of his mind, and called Roto-Rooter, a k a, the Bush administration, and said, ‘Oh my god, there are nukes in my basement, get these out of here!’

Wrong, argues Robert Litwak, the director of international security studies at the Woodrow Wilson Center and an expert on rogue states.

‘What actually brought Qaddafi around was a tacit but clear U.S. security assurance that if he did give up his nuclear program the U.S. would not seek to oust him from power,’ said Mr. Litwak. ‘That is what made the difference. … If Libya gave up its unconventional weapons, the U.S. would give up its efforts at regime change.’

What has been missing from the Bush approach to Iran and North Korea is that kind of clear choice. For instance, even after the administration agreed to participate in the European-led diplomatic effort to get Iran to abandon its nuclear program, it has continued to seek funding to destabilize the Iranian regime, and it has made clear, as Condoleezza Rice said on May 21: ‘Iran is a troublemaker in the international system. … Security assurances are not on the table.’

Both Iran and North Korea have a very high incentive to maintain ambiguity about their nuclear capabilities when we are so ambiguous about our intentions toward them.

Have no doubt, I think both are awful, abusive regimes that are driving their respective countries into a ditch. The Bush team is right to want them to disappear and to try to find ways to bring pressure to bear. But the Soviet Union was just as awful and abusive. Yet we engaged in ‘detente’ with Moscow, because the thrust of U.S. policy in the Cold War was to reduce the Soviets’ ability to threaten us – through deterrence and arms control agreements – and then let the information revolution and popular disgruntlement destroy the Soviet Union from within.

What was good for the Soviet Union is good for North Korea and Iran. Let’s focus on the diplomacy needed to halt the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs. That is what threatens us. We don’t have the power to change their regimes. Only their people do. We do have the power to limit their capabilities.

If the North Koreans want direct talks with the U.S. and bilateral relations, who cares? Give it to them – provided it is in return for a verifiable limit on their nuclear program. If Iran’s ayatollahs want a tacit security assurance from the U.S. – in return for a verifiable curb on their ability to produce nukes – give it to them.

The fact that the U.S. had an embassy in Moscow and practiced detente didn’t save the Soviet Union. It collapsed at the hands of its own people. But the arms control accords we had with the Kremlin saved the world from a lot of nukes. Iran and North Korea will also collapse from within – but it takes time. And in that time they could build lots of nukes. So we need to end their programs now, even if it means giving them tacit U.S. security guarantees, a la Libya.

‘This is not an endorsement of either regime,’ added Mr. Litwak, author of the forthcoming ‘Regime Change: U.S. Strategy Through the Prism of 9/11.’ ‘Rather, it is a pragmatic approach to deal with the fact that the nuclear weapons development timeline is not in sync with the time it takes for regime change to unfold.’

Five decades of America’s isolating Cuba has produced five decades of Fidel Castro. As long as we maintain our ambiguity vis-a-vis Iran and North Korea – regime change or change in behavior – they will maintain their ambiguity about their nuclear programs. I have no idea if they would give up their weapons now, even if the Bush team gave them security guarantees. It may be that things are too far gone. But we need to test.

If we do not test that proposition, we will never know if there is a peaceful solution to the Iranian and North Korean nuclear challenges – and we will never have allies for a tougher policy if there isn’t.

The Discussion: 4 Comments

I guess some…former ‘war mongers’ do learn a lesson and backtrack.

Pity the Bush Administration doesnt buy your flip flop.

Kudos to freidman- at least the man is trying to make up for his stupidity in promoting the Iraq invasion…and rethinking a new strategy.

All those’Dead People’ may have been alive if it wasnt for the “Invasion Brigade” at the NYTimes and The White House.

August 2, 2006 @ 6:36 am | Comment

Friedman doesn’t know what he is talking about. The Soviet Union didn’t collapse from within, it collapsed because Regan called them evil and started to build a missle defense system that everyone knew couldn’t work. As far as Cuba goes, that government is in its last throws and will collapse any day now unless the liberals emboleden the Communists by talking about “engagement” (can anyone say Nevell Chamberlin). Sheesh.

August 2, 2006 @ 9:31 pm | Comment

I’m pretty sure nobody ever reads these responses, but anyway: I’m convinced that Qaddafi did a very clever thing when he gave the Bush/Blair twins a photo op from heaven at a moment when they needed it most.

The weapons of Libya that Bush/Blair made such a song and dance about, amounted to not much more than is probably stored in the hands of Bronx drug dealers at this moment.

Qaddafi has been crowing about it ever since.

He announced in a televised broadcast I saw last December, that he didn’t need a defense budget. He declared that in the event of an invasion he would ensure that the people of Libya were armed with Kalashnikovs and explosive body belts, and every car and building in Libya was booby trapped. That way, he declared, the people were invincible. He said that the people of Iraq could carry on fighting until Judgement day, and the US Army would be defeated as they were in Vietnam by the people, with no planes, no tanks and no bombs.

Bush/Blair needed to convince us in 2003 by any means possible, not excluding outright lies, that they were doing the right thing in Iraq, and Qaddafi simply joined them in their fantasy, as did Friedman, the NYTimes et al.

Qaddafi made his pronouncement about defense last December. I doubt the US Government were listening, but it seems that Hezbollah certainly were.

Incidentally, Don, Russsia wasn’t defeated from within, it was defeated and bankrupted by keeping 120,000 soldiers in Afghanistan for ten years. Qaddafi could have told you that.

August 9, 2006 @ 12:43 am | Comment

You’d be surprised – these posts tend to get quite a few comments. Thanks for your insights, and too bad Rummy has his history all wrong.

August 9, 2006 @ 12:52 am | Comment

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