The ball is in North Korea's court

Posted: Feb 26, 2002 12:00 AM
There are countries that have declared "total war" on the United States. Already, they have targeted our water supplies, nuclear plants and civilian populations for terrorist attacks. They see our destruction as a moral imperative. Removed from these enemies by two oceans, it is sometimes difficult to realize just how significant a threat these countries pose to us. A brief lesson in perspective: It would take but several crude "radiation bombs," tucked into suitcases and detonated in five or six major U.S. cities, to pull apart our economy and perhaps sink the world into a new Dark Ages. These enemies include, but are not limited to, Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Or as President Bush put it, "The axis of evil." I just returned from South Korea. It is truly horrifying to hear the stories of how most North Korean citizens live as they did centuries ago - starving and enslaved by the dictates of a brutal political regime. The citizens are kept in a near constant state of agitation by a state-controlled media, which is currently referring to the United States as "an empire of evil" and to President Bush as "bellicose and heinous." There is no religion or widespread accumulation of wealth. Plainly, these things would detract from the power of the state. In North Korea, a sense of other possibilities is murdered early on. According to recent intelligence reports, North Korea has actively sought to accumulate and to sell weapons of mass destruction. Presumably, these weapons are being stockpiled as leverage against their neighbor, South Korea, with whom it has been entangled in animosity for the past 50 years, and for sale to rogue terrorist states that have declared war on the United States. On such matters, Bush spoke plainly during his Jan. 29th State of the Union address: We "will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." He then lumped North Korea, Iran and Iraq together as an "axis of evil." Thus did Bush sternly warn three of the four most prevalent terrorist states (China is the fourth) to respect basic human rights or face proactive measures from the United States. At the time, Bush's comments were criticized by some as being unilateral and clichéd. Quite the contrary, he showed a firm grasp of the threats embodied by these enemy states, where government supported terrorist activity is common. It also foreshadowed intelligence reports that Iraq and Iran are presently negotiating a unified front against Israel. Simply, the president said this must change. By employing strong language, he made it clear that the United States is willing to fight evil alone, if need be. The alternative is that our nation would simply curl up and hope that Sept. 11 does not happen again. Given the realities of these rogue terrorist states, such decadence would certainly lead to our downfall. This week, Bush followed his "axis" jab with a conciliatory gesture toward North Korea, calling for North Korea to open its borders and pursue normal relations with its neighbors. The radical communist state is bordered by barbed wire, land mines and a standing army of 1 million - enduring hangover from the cold war. Do this, and America will partner with North Korea as "a friend and partner in the rebuilding of their country," promised Bush. This alternating of strong rhetorical jabs and conciliatory gestures is reminiscent of the hard line President Ronald Reagan directed toward the Soviet Union, even as he pursued a peaceful end to the cold war. Similarly, Bush is taking a firm stance on the accumulation and sale of weapons technology by North Korea. But, by offering America's support in their peaceful development, Bush is also offering a clear and beneficial line of retreat by which the North Korean government can save face and - dare we dream - move away from the dark tribalism that presently keeps the country stagnated and impoverished. This seems extraordinarily diplomatic, given that North Korea has recently been supplying terrorist states with weapons technology that is used to target our way of life. Should they respond to Bush's peaceful overtures, we could witness a reconstruction in Korea that would be on par with the end to the cold war. Should they abstain, America must be prepared to fight evil - alone if need be.