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.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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