Rich Lowry

Will President Bush replicate one of Bill Clinton's worst foreign-policy failures?

The administration said last week that it will contemplate sending aid to North Korea before the nation has dismantled its nuclear program. At the end of this path is potentially the kind of deal Clinton cut, with Pyongyang gobbling up international goodies while, one way or the other, maintaining its weapons programs.

This approach will be celebrated by Bush's critics. It will allow them to bellow a delicious "told you so" about Clinton's Agreed Framework of 1994, casting it as the only realistic answer to the crisis, embraced by even the reluctant Bushies.

But there is another way in North Korea. A bipartisan coalition of conservatives, liberals, Christians, Korean-Americans and human-rights activists -- led by Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas -- is rising to promote an entirely different approach based on the premise that there can be no peace and security on the Korean peninsula without the collapse of the current regime in Pyongyang. The coalition's weapon in the struggle with the North is one of the most powerful the United States has -- the promise of freedom -- and it plans to wield it forcefully.

This will be considered inconvenient by South Korea. If there is a villain in the current Korean crisis besides the lunatic Kim Jong Il, it is Seoul. For the South Korean government, the worst threat isn't a totalitarian, nuclear-armed North, but the prospect of an enormous new line in its budget, with the fiscal strains that would come with the collapse of Pyongyang and reunification. South Korea thinks a good demilitarized zone makes for a good neighbor, even if the neighbor happens to be a prison camp.

South Korea calls its posture toward the North, in a perverse misnomer, "the sunshine policy" when it is really meant to keep the North plunged in darkness. The rising coalition wants a true sunshine policy, exposing the evil of the North, affording its people access to outside information, and offering the opportunity of escape.

A major bill that is set to be introduced in Congress would require the U.S. government to make reports on the North Korean human-rights situation, including releasing satellite photos of the gulag system, and to hold a series of hearings on persecution in North Korea. It would try to bring the outside world to the North, with extensive American radio broadcasting and the provision of transistor radios for North Koreans.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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