It would seem that Karl Marx got things backwards. History does not repeat itself first as tragedy and then as farce. Rather, it repeats itself first as farce and second as tragedy. This, perhaps more than anything else is the conclusion one should reach from North Korea's nuclear test on Columbus Day.
It was the Clinton administration, which back in the Roaring '90s began the policy of appeasing North Korea. Throughout the decade the US wined and dined the North Korean Stalinists who always responded by pocketing US concessions and escalating their nuclear and ballistic missile activities and threats against the US and its Asian allies.
The farce was then US secretary of state Madeleine Albright's visit to Pyongyang in late October 2000, two weeks before the US presidential elections. There, after the North Koreans tested the Taepo-Dong 1 ballistic missile off the coast of Japan in 1998 and refused to end either their missile programs or missile exports to Iran, Albright tripped the night fantastic with Kim Jong-Il. Her buffoonery was a perfect capstone to eight years of the Clinton administration's addiction to ceremony over substance.
While America's tone towards North Korea chilled under the Bush administration, there was little substantive change in its policies.
Secretary of state Colin Powell met with his North Korean counterpart Pak Nam Sun and to this day US attempts to strike a deal with Pyongyang have not ended. And now, Pyongyang, with its medium- and long-range ballistic missiles, has tested a nuclear bomb.
THERE IS of course also North Korea's ally Iran. Toward Iran, too, the substance of the Bush administration policies is little different from that of his predecessor. Like North Korea, the Iranians respond to US attempts at appeasement by escalating their rhetoric and redoubling their offensive military build-ups of missiles and nuclear capabilities.
The great shift, then which occurred under the Bush administration, a shift for which President George W. Bush has been pilloried by his political rivals, has been rhetorical.
While hypocritical, the division between rhetoric and substance has something to recommend it. The benefit of the current US position toward North Korea and Iran is that the rhetoric has left open the possibility that the policy itself will finally be suited to reality. Today, unlike the situation in the 1990s, the American public is at least aware that these states are a threat to US national security interests.
In the aftermath of North Korea's nuclear bomb test, the US can support military actions by Japan and South Korea against North Korea; build up its missile shield; and perhaps end its 14 year self-imposed moratorium on nuclear testing and so revamp its nuclear arsenal.
Were the Bush administration to change its policy tomorrow regarding Iran - begin shaming Europe into ending its appeasement, and threatening Russia with trade sanctions if Moscow continues supporting Iran, Syria and Hizbullah, while building up its military options to strike at Iran's nuclear installations - the American public would understand why the policy change was necessary. Indeed, such a move could even help the Republican Party in the upcoming elections.
DISTURBINGLY, WHILE Bush has paved the way rhetorically for a shift in policy toward North Korea and Iran, he has done no such thing in the US's relations with the terror-ruled Palestinian Authority. And as is the case with Iran and North Korea, the stubborn and ill-considered continuation of the Clinton administration's appeasement policy toward the PA during the Bush years has only exacerbated and escalated the threat posed by the PA to US national security interests and to the national security of US allies - first and foremost, of Israel.
In the 1990s, the father of modern terrorism, Yasser Arafat, was the most frequent foreign visitor at the White House. The head of the PLO was the object of adoration by the Clintonites. It didn't matter to them that Arafat never revoked the PLO Charter calling for Israel's destruction. It didn't matter that he indoctrinated a generation of Palestinian children to become suicide bombers in jihad against the Jews. It didn't matter that he used billions of dollars of American and European taxpayer money to build the largest terror army in the world. Arafat showed up at signing ceremonies. He was the poster child of appeasement.
The Clinton administration tied itself to a policy toward the Palestinians which, like its policies toward North Korea and Iran, opened it to ever escalating blackmail. As the terror threat emanating from the PA-ruled areas rose, empowering Arafat became the obsession of the Clinton White House. He was showered with money, guns and love. No Israeli security consideration could hold a candle to the need to strengthen Arafat.
From bombing to bombing, Arafat was enriched and empowered. Israel's security became the main obstacle to the signing ceremonies.
After seven years, the myth of Arafat the peacemaker exploded in the faces of more than a thousand Israelis who would be killed over the next six years of the Palestinian jihad. But the myth of the PA endured.
For the past six years, each bombing, every clear indication that the PA itself is a terrorist entity is met by more breathless US protestations of support for Palestinian empowerment and statehood. The fact that the last six years have left the State Department unfazed was made absolutely clear during Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit last week.
Since Arafat appointed Mahmoud Abbas, his deputy of 40 years, PA prime minister in 2003, the US has upheld Abbas as a man of peace, a moderate and a respectable leader that the Bush administration wishes to strengthen. To this end, the Bush administration has overlooked Abbas's clear support for terrorism. It has excused his constant appeals to merge his Fatah terror group with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It has ignored the fact that his Fatah terror group has committed more acts of terror than Hamas and that Fatah's involvement in terror and the sophistication of its attacks has only increased since Abbas replaced Arafat after the latter's death in November 2004.
During her visit last week, at Abbas's request, Rice was scheduled to meet with Fatah commander Hussein a-Sheikh in the American Consulate-General in Jerusalem. The meeting was cancelled at the last minute when Israeli activists demanded that Sheikh, who was directly responsible for the murder of dozens of Israelis and several American nationals, be arrested by Israel police upon arrival at the consulate. Yet, Rice still met with other Fatah leaders, like Muhammad Dahlan who has been directly implicated in the murder of Israelis in terror attacks perpetrated by men under his command.
EVEN MORE disturbingly, Rice has officially sanctioned a policy put together by US Army Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton to expand by up to 70 percent Abbas's presidential guard and personal army, Force 17. The administration wishes to raise some $20 million to fund the training and arming and expansion of Abbas's army from 3,500 to 6,000 soldiers. This move comes after the US transferred 3,000 rifles and 1 million bullets to Force 17 in June. Yet Force 17 is a terrorist army led by terrorists.
Right after he received the weapons shipment, Abbas appointed Mahmoud Damra commander of the force. Damra, who like many of the Force 17 officers and soldiers, doubles as a Fatah terrorist, was wanted by Israel due to his direct involvement in the terrorist murder of at least 15 Israelis. One of his deputies claimed that the US rifles were immediately used to attack a bus carrying Israeli school girls in Judea.
Israel arrested Damra at a checkpoint shortly after he received Abbas's appointment. The US immediately began pressuring Israel to release him.
In addition to Damra's direct involvement in Fatah terror, he also has close ties with Iran and Hizbullah. In 2002, Arafat reportedly appointed him Force 17's liaison officer to Iran and Hizbullah forces. The fact that Abbas appointed Damra Force 17's overall commander just weeks before Fatah and Hamas began Iran's proxy war against Israel by attacking the IDF position at Kerem Shalom and kidnapping Cpl. Gilad Shalit, should say something about Abbas's intentions. Yet, last week, Rice couldn't praise Abbas enough.
North Korea's nuclear test and Iran's nuclear intimidation show us what happens when failed policies are not abandoned. Due in part to its continued US-backed legitimacy, the PA is used by Pakistan as an excuse for terror sponsorship and nuclear proliferation and by jihadists throughout the world as justification for attacks on Western and Jewish targets.
No doubt the North Korean nuclear test is a turning point in this world war.
The question is whether it will force the US to finally part with appeasement, or whether Rice will convince President Bush to take his chances by repeating history a third and fourth time.