North Korea blinks, but Bush gets little credit

Posted: Aug 08, 2003 12:00 AM

 What about North Korea and Iran?

 Former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who recently appeared on the Sean Hannity radio show, asked this question. Reich complained about what he called the Bush administration's misplaced priority on Iraq. After all, he argued, North Korea and Iran pose a greater threat to our national security.

 Hannity tried to explain that, in a post 9-11 world, and in view of Iraq's refusal to obey United Nations resolutions, the country could ill afford to ignore the threat posed by a possible Iraqi use of chemical, biological, and perhaps nuclear weapons. Reich countered, but North Korea possesses nukes now . What does the administration propose to do about that?

 The Bush administration quite correctly points out that North Korea presents an even greater threat to her neighbors . Accordingly, Bush demanded that any talks with North Korea include the countries most directly threatened -- South Korea, Japan, China and Russia. North Korea's Kim Jong Il, however, insisted on talks only with the United States, and objected to the administration's demand to include her neighbors.

 Reich's attack on Bush's policy toward North Korea showed the typical cheekiness of the Bill Clinton administration. Clinton, remember, famously negotiated an "end" to the North Korean nuclear program. In 1994, former President Jimmy Carter went to North Korea, as Carter later wrote in an editorial, " . . . with the approval of President Bill Clinton . . . " to encourage North Korea to end its program. North Korea agreed to do so in exchange for assistance in providing regular fuel oil shipments and in the construction of two light-water nuclear reactors. These "successful" talks led, in part, to Carter's receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
Unfortunately, days after the announcement of Carter's Peace Prize, North Korea publicly admitted that it never ended its nuclear program, and that the country intends to continue it.

 So Reich criticizes Bush for standing firm in the face of Iraq's history of lies and deceit, but assigns no blame to Clinton for his naivete in accepting North Korea's pledge at face value. Does Reich not understand that North Korea indeed poses a dangerous and complex problem because it now "possesses" nuclear weapons -- a situation, in the case of Iraq, Bush avoided with the American-led coalition that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime?

 Days after Reich asked, "What about North Korea?" North Korea blinked. Despite repeated refusals, North Korea agreed to expanded talks with the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.

 A high-five for George W.? Not really. Los Angeles Times' Sonni Efron, in writing about how North Korea backed down, dredged up the Clinton point man in the failed 1994 North Korea negotiations: "Beijing deserves credit for pressuring North Korea to come to the bargaining table," said Robert Einhorn, who negotiated with the North Koreans during the Clinton administration. However, citing the old saying, "Be careful what you wish for because you might get it," Einhorn noted that the Bush administration had sought increased Chinese involvement but may now find Beijing's stance at the bargaining table difficult.

 How could whatever "we might get" turn out worse than what we got under Clinton? At least the reporter showed decency in not grabbing a quote from former U.N. Inspector Hans Blix, under whose supervision the International Atomic Energy Agency failed to uncover North Korea's continued nuclear weapons program.

 Critics of the war against Iraq complained about Bush's "unilateralism," and now castigate Bush for failing to involve other nations in Iraq's reconstruction. Never mind that some 30 nations now assist in helping to police and rebuild Iraq. Now, when Bush's stance yields results, and in the case of North Korea, succeeds in involving other nations, critics caution, "Be careful what you wish for because you might get it." Can't win.

 The War on Terror figures to be long, frustrating, confusing and complicated. Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups operate in stealth with operations in dozens of countries. A car bomb in Jakarta, Indonesia, just leveled a JW Marriott hotel, killing 15 and injuring about 150 people. Attacking terrorism requires resolve, patience and a recognition that victories occur out of sight, but failures take place publicly. The give-peace-a-chance crowd fails to recognize evil, and that evil only understands and respects force backed by conviction.

 North Korea perhaps calls for a tag team of "experts." The shameless former President Bill Clinton appears to have some time on his hands, as does former U.N. Inspector Hans Blix. Perhaps Bush might appoint former President Clinton as his special envoy in the upcoming North Korean meeting, along with Inspector Hans I'm-More-Worried-About-Global-Warming-Than-I-Am-Of-Any-Major-Military-Conflict Blix, to oversee North Korea's compliance.

 Clinton and Blix -- and maybe throw in Reich. Now that's a real dream team.