The More North Korea Changes...

Paul Greenberg

1/13/2008 12:01:00 AM - Paul Greenberg

"Our intelligence had missed the preparations for this devastating attack (of September 11, 2001), and there was no telling what else they were missing." -John Bolton, former American ambassador to the United Nations in his memoir, "Surrender is Not an Option"

Just about the best thing I've heard about Mike Huckabee's largely empty grasp of foreign affairs is that he's been conferring with John Bolton, the country's decidedly former ambassador to the United Nations.

The candid Mr. Bolton had to go because he was entirely too candid. For example, he spoke frankly about the world's most dangerous dictators, prominent among them North Korea's thoroughly untrustworthy Kim Jong-Il.

This one-man threat to the world's nuclear peace has been regularly given One Last Chance to stop developing his nuclear weapons program since, oh, about 1993, and naturally he keeps right on developing them. Estimates of the number of nukes the North Koreans now have may vary, but it's clear they've fired at least one in an inept but still alarming test blast.

North Korea's petty but dangerous tyrant has gladly accepted all the aid he was promised in return for forgoing atomic weapons. But somehow he's never gotten around to forgoing them. Just as John Bolton foresaw.

As the old year ended, the familiar pattern was being repeated. In the most predictable story of 2007, North Korea once again reneged on its pledge not to go nuclear. This time even the State Department had to halfway admit it has been snookered again, along with the other five countries that have been negotiating Pyongyang's long-promised, never-delivered nuclear disarmament.

To quote the State Department's entirely too diplomatic statement on this familiar occasion: "It is unfortunate that North Korea has not yet met its commitments by providing a complete and correct declaration of its nuclear programs and slowing down the process of (nuclear) disablement."

Unfortunate? It's downright dangerous, though perhaps not as dangerous as the permanent bureaucracy at the Department of State, which keeps finding excuses to accept North Korea's worthless promises - and keeps issuing tactful statements like this one when the latest deadline is ignored.

But why should Comrade Kim keep his promises? All those threats to cut off aid to Pyongyang have proved, time and again, to be largely meaningless.

Is this the best those verbal stylists at the State Department can come up with on this unhappy occasion - calling renewed evidence of a clear and increasingly present threat to world peace "unfortunate"?

What'll they say at Foggy Bottom when Seoul or Tokyo is vaporized - that it was most unfortunate and we really need to talk about this? When it comes to North Korea, there doesn't seem anybody left in this administration who'll tell it with the bark off. Somebody like John Bolton.

Not long ago, when the State Department was making its accustomed excuses for Pyongyang, Mr. Bolton summed up the problem this accurate way:

"North Korea's aggressive mendacity puts it near the top of the list, perhaps tied with Iran for the lead, of countries that need the most transparent, most intrusive, most pervasive verification systems. For America to agree to anything less would be to make our national security, and that of close friends and allies like Japan, dependent on North Korea's word - never a safe bet. And yet, it is precisely this extensive verification system that the North cannot accept, because the transparency we must require would threaten the very rock of domestic oppression on which the North Korean regime rests. North Korea's negotiators understand this contradiction. So do ours. The only way around this problem is to conclude it doesn't exist, or is so minimal it can be Å’fixed' in negotiations."

Sure enough, American diplomats responded to this latest broken promise by saying negotiations to disable North Korea's nuclear facilities were still on track. On track to where - a North Korean nuclear arsenal subsidized by American aid shipments? For the more North Korea changes, the more it stays the same, more's the pity.

It shouldn't be long - a few months? - before the State Department proclaims once again that progress is being made in these six-party negotiations. But the only thing really progressing is North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Only a John Bolton might be spoilsport enough to point out that we're being suckered again. Meanwhile, the usual respectable sources - like NPR, the New York Times and the rest of the gulls in the media mainstream - will again proclaim Peace in Our Time.

North Korea is also demanding that it be removed from the State Department's list of terrorist-supporting countries, a spot it continues to earn by its connections with outfits like Hezbollah in the Middle East. How long before this demand, too, is granted?

This is the nature of the world we live in: Those diplomats sufficiently far-sighted to warn of its dangers are likely to be dismissed for their trouble. No service to this country's security, or the world's, must go unpunished.

Only later, as the danger ripens, or some small but vicious nuclear power loosens its Bomb on one of its neighbors, will we wish we'd listened. Until then, John Bolton, like any other prophet, will go without honor in his own country.