If you think the last three years have been rough, just wait a few months. Compounding the lethal threat of Islamic terrorism, 2005 will be the year of decision for the world on what to do -- or not do -- about quickly nuclearizing North Korea and Iran. In the month left before the presidential election, the American people have a right to demand to know from both George Bush and John Kerry precisely what they will or won't accept and do about these appalling developments.
Two news stories in the past week bring the danger into better focus. Last Friday, the Associated Press reported that: "Amid heightened concerns of a North Korean missile test, a U.S. destroyer has started patrolling the Sea of Japan in what officials say is a first step toward creating a shield to protect the United States and its allies from a foreign missile attack." North Korea responded to the news by asserting that "The U.S. should clearly understand that a preemptive attack is not its monopoly."
Two days later, Reuters reported that Iran rebuffed a proposal by John Kerry to supply them with nuclear fuel if they agreed to give up their own fuel-making capacity. "We have the technology (to make nuclear fuel), and there is no need for us to beg from others," Reuters quoted the Iranian government.
Regarding the North Korean threat, Jim Hoagland, the Washington Post's esteemed and balanced foreign affairs columnist, wrote over the weekend:
Thursday night's fragmented argument over Kerry's championing of bilateral talks with North Korea and Bush's insistence on the value of multilateral talks ? illustrated the triumph of ? verbal dexterity over reality.
Kim Jong Il is interested in nuclear bombs, not in a particular format for talks. His covert betrayal of the nonproliferation agreement struck with a trusting Democratic administration and its overt belligerent defiance of Bush's tougher approach make that clear. But neither Kerry nor Bush could voice that inconvenient reality Thursday night.
The same could be said about both candidates' public comments regarding Iran's nuclear objectives. They both debate various modalities of working with Britain, France, Russia and the United Nations to induce Iran to stand down from her nuclear aspirations.
The grim reality is that neither country would appear to have any intention of backing down. Thus, very soon (if not already) the world will be faced with two new nuclear powers, one led by a lunatic, and the other led by fanatical Islamists committed to rolling back the advance of Western Civilization and wiping out Israel.
North Korea is notorious for selling their most advanced weapons to the highest bidder, while Iran is the world's premier backer of terrorists. But even if they were not to proliferate their dreaded nuclear capacity, they both must be presumed to be willing to use such weapons either actually, or as blackmail devices, for their own state purposes.
It is not for nothing that President Bush listed Iran and North Korea, along with Iraq, as the Axis of Evil in his 2002 State of the Union Address. At the time, commentators giggled and smirked at the metaphor. But whether they constitute an axis, or are merely separate sources of extreme danger, three years on the danger is no longer theoretical -- but imminently actual.
And, as it is increasingly apparent, even extreme international diplomatic blocking actions are not likely to stop Iran and North Korea from their nuclear quest.
So, if diplomacy fails, what will the president of the United States do about it in 2005? President Bush has said that such nuclear status is unacceptable, but continues to express confidence in diplomacy. Unlike Mr. Kerry, the president is committed to making operational a missile defense system. While that is necessary, regretfully, it will not be up and running in time to constitute a full check against the imminent threat.
Mr. Kerry continues to limit himself to expressing confidence in his ability to solve the danger diplomatically. Also, and significantly, unlike the president, he opposes the development of nuclear "bunker-buster" technology, which is being developed specifically to deal with North Korea's and Iran's nuclear capabilities.
It is understandable that in a closely fought presidential election, neither candidate would find it appealing to talk of his contingent plans for war with a possible nuclear adversary. It would be even less appealing, one supposes, for either candidate to admit that if it came to it, he would just accept the nuclear status of Iran and North Korea and hope for the best.
But I, for one, would like to know which candidate, if either, would acquiesce to such conditions and which, if either, would be prepared to fight.
So far, a remarkably incurious Washington press corps has not chosen to challenge the candidates to explain beyond their platitudinous paeans to the doubtful efficacy of diplomacy in the face of belligerent madness.