Nicholas Kristof on N. Korea, “the real nuclear menace”

Nicholas Kristof’s new column on North Korea’s nuclear threat is disturbing on at least two levels, the threat itself and the Bush administration’s efforts to divert public attention away from it.

In the summer of 2001, there was a spike in Al Qaeda “chatter” and mounting evidence that a terror strike was imminent. But without precise details, it was difficult to get the attention of top policy makers or the public — until it was too late.

Now something similar is happening in North Korea.

North Korea is potentially more dangerous than the mess in Iraq. It probably has at least 1 to 3 nuclear weapons already, it is producing both plutonium and uranium, and it is on track to have close to 10 nuclear weapons by the end of this year.

Yet because President Bush’s policy has failed in North Korea, Washington is determinedly looking the other way. When we next focus on North Korea, after the election, it could be a nuclear Wal-Mart.

North Korea not only has genuine nuclear weapons programs, but it is also the model of a rogue state: it gets its U.S. currency by printing it. That’s right; it counterfeits excellent American $100 bills.

The latest disclosure, via David “Scoop” Sanger of The Times, is that the father of Pakistan’s bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, claims that North Korea showed him three nuclear weapons in 1999. The Bush administration, after publicizing anything to do with Iraqi W.M.D., tried to keep that North Korean revelation secret.

After painting a most bleak scenario, Kristof gives us the money quote:

Resolving this crisis is in the interests of virtually everybody on the planet, with two exceptions: President Bush and Mr. Kim. They may have nothing else in common, except that their fathers also ran their countries, but they do share an interest in delay.

Mr. Bush has his hands full with Iraq and doesn’t want attention paid to the North Korean nuclear threat, which is substantially worsening on his watch. Mr. Kim figures that he may as well wait to see whether John Kerry is elected, and he’d also like to finish reprocessing the plutonium and enriching the uranium.

How did things get to be this awful? The threat of Iraqi WMD was nothing compared to this. And Bush is running on a platform of national security.

The Discussion: 4 Comments

Oh yes. Stupid, stupid Bush. In response to North Korea he should have, should have, er, should have done exactly what?

If you were president, what would you have done differently that would have led North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and programs? Seriously, what solution has bush missed?

If your answer is to give Kim the security guarantees and massive aid he demands: (1) what possible reason is there to believe he’ll keep the deal this time and (2) how do you morally justify ensuring the survival of the most evil, murderous, repressive, regime in the world?

The sad fact is that, short of war (or waiting for the collapse of the regime . . . hey, wait, could that be what Bush is really up to????) there is no policy whatsoever that Bush, or anyone else, could follow that would successfully deal with North Korea.

Kim has 3 nukes. Kim has the ability to destroy Seoul and Tokyo. Kim has plutonium. Kim is enriching uranium. And Kim doesn’t appear to seriously intend ever to give up any of those capabilities, in exchange for anything. A lesson Bill Clinton learned when he made a deal with the evil little fucker.

Indeed, John Kerry’s fucking silly assed statement that he would immediately engage in bilateral talks with the North — exactly what they’ve been demanding and Bush refusing — has guaranteed that there will be no progress at least until after the election (and proably never). Why should Kim deal now, when he may get a better deal in January?

Besides, as I posted at the time, the invasion of Iraq wasn’t really about WMDs. It was about trying upset the diseased order in the Middle East. That may work out and it may not. Time will tell. But the Middle East and Islamic terrorism are a much greater long-term threat to the US than N. Korea, which for all its evil, its bluster and its weapons, will never, ever, ever, attack the US except as a last-stand act of self-defense.

The same is not true of the jihaddis, who’d nuke Manhattan tomorrow if they had the means.

Adam Morris made a variation of Kristoff’s same silly argument — don’t attack Iraq because of North Korea, but don’t attack North Korea either — and you rightly laughed at him. Kristoff’s piece deserves the same derision.

April 22, 2004 @ 2:31 am | Comment

Oh yeah, and Kristof’s so-called “money quote” is horse shit. You don’t think Bush would like to proclaim on nation wide TV, with an election pending:

“My fellow Americans, I am pleased to announce that we have reached that resolves the North Korean nuclear crises and ensures the safety and security of America’s allies in the region. “

It’s to this administration’s credit that they learned from Clinton’s well intentioned but demonstrably terrible mistake and haven’t grabbed for some cosmetic and unenforcible deal to make this go away.

April 22, 2004 @ 2:38 am | Comment

Well, we may have to agree to disagree on this one, Conrad. When it comes to WMD I see Kim, a known gunrunner and profiteer, as a serious threat, worse than Saddam ever might have been. He has the weapons, after all. Maybe he won’t use them, but I can easily see him profiting from them.

What I find hypocritical is Bush banging the drum over the N. Korea threat during the “axis of evil” days in 2002, and then completely dodging the issue as though it doesn’t exist because at the moment it would be bad for him politically.

I don’t have a magic solution to the crisis, and I think we both agree there simply isn’t one. China may be our only hope, sadly, as Korea exists by China’s good graces (which doesn’t say much about China). So either we continue talks or do nothing. We’re talking nuclear weapons here, the end of the world. As long as China coddles Kim, he’s got us over a barrel.

Bush’s active efforts to make the news of Kim’s nukes a secret or at least aggressively downplay it– that’s what bothers me. A lot. If we don’t negotiate (and I’m not saying we should, necessarily) the only other weapon we have is pressure. Downplaying is not the best way to exert pressure.

As to Adam’s argument — if I remember, it had to do with our involvement in Iraq rendering us impotent in facing off against Kim. We had committed our troops and we had no military muscle to flash at the DPRK. I disagreed with him at the time, because his post implied (or I inferred) that war with N. Korea was actually an option, and that Iraq was preventing us from doing it. (His later comments clarified that was not his main point, but honestly I forget the details.)

April 22, 2004 @ 12:04 pm | Comment

If only real life worked that way!

April 7, 2005 @ 4:02 am | Comment

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