Of all the reactions to North Korea's admission that it has been secretly defying its promise not to develop nuclear weapons -- shock, fear, etc. -- the one most in order is some good old-fashioned finger-pointing.
Let's start with the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. On Oct. 11, the Nobel committee announced it would award its Peace Prize to Jimmy Carter. It was really an un-Peace Prize for George W. Bush, whom the Nobel crowd believes is a foolish warmongering meanie.
"In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power," intoned the Nobel press release, "Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international cooperation based on international law, respect for human rights and economic development." Translation: Bush should be more like Carter.
Well, one of the conflict-resolutions that supposedly put Jimmy over the top for winning the prize (over the more-deserving Afghan president, Hamid Karzai) was the one between the United States and North Korea in the early 1990s. When Bill Clinton and Kim Il Sung were squaring off over Pyongyang's nuke program, Carter jetted off to the world's last Stalinist nation to compliment the mass-murdering North Korean dictator as a "vigorous and intelligent" man. He declared of a government that has imposed famines on millions: "I don't see that they are an outlaw nation."
And it was brother Jimmy who had the bright idea of lavishing the North Koreans with aid in exchange for their "cross-our-hearts-and-hope-to-die" promise that they would stop pursuing nuclear weapons technology. Of course, many argue it was Carter's mollycoddling of the North Koreans during his presidency that encouraged them to start their nuclear program to begin with. But hey, that's heavy water under the bridge.
In 1994, when Carter went to North Korea to strike a deal, he didn't have the support or authority of the U.S. government to agree to anything. That didn't stop him from announcing on television that he'd made a deal. And the fact that the Clinton administration was out of the loop didn't stop Al Gore from persuading Bill Clinton to leap on the proposal, even though it basically surrendered every major American demand, starting with our insistence that North Korea completely and immediately stop its nuclear weapon program.
The final agreement, which Clinton dubbed "a very good deal indeed," called for the United States to provide the North Koreans with $4 billion worth of light-water reactors and $100 million in oil in exchange for a promise to be good and an assurance that inspectors would be allowed to poke around at some indeterminate point down the road.
At the time, Kang Sok Ju, the chief North Korean negotiator, bragged that "the complete elimination of the existing nuclear program will only come when we have the light-water reactor in our hands." In other words you pay first, we stop later.
The problem with this deal, which prompted The New York Times to declare, "Diplomacy with North Korea has scored a resounding triumph," is the problem with all such deals: It was based on the assumption that evil men willing to murder their own people would never presume to lie to someone like Jimmy Carter. Just as so many thought Hitler wouldn't deceive Chamberlain. The founding Soviet dictator, V.I. Lenin, called the pliant liberals of the West "useful idiots," and the label still has resonance today.
There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam's useful idiots will cite the threat of a potentially nuclear-armed North Korea to argue that we should put Iraq on the back burner and deal with North Korea first. That would be a better argument if it weren't made by precisely the sort of people who allowed North Korea to become such a threat to begin with.
And that's why a little finger-pointing is a good thing -- not because it's fun (it is), but because those who believe laws and treaties will stop murderers and madmen would have us strike a similar deal with Iraq. The Clinton administration, the gray beards of the Democratic Party, the editors of The New York Times and the "enlightened" thinkers of Europe represented by the Nobel committee: They all believe that George Bush is a fool or a warmonger for not approaching Saddam Hussein the way Clinton and Carter approached North Korea.
And if they win the day, we'll be debating what we should do about Iraq's nuclear weapons in no time at all.