"I seem to smell the stench of appeasement in the air." --Margaret Thatcher
It's not just Pyongyang's repeated promises that have proven worthless but Washington's. Each time an agreement is reached with North Korea's latest Kim -- preparatory to its being breached, of course -- our State Department assures the American people and our increasingly nervous allies in Asia that this time, honest, Boy Scout's honor and fingers crossed, we really, really mean it.
And then Washington caves.
Whereupon the North Koreans set off another nuclear explosion, sink another South Korean vessel, or attack another South Korean village, and/or test another missile. The same rules apply whether the American government is headed by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barack Obama at the time. Who says American foreign policy is inconsistent? In this case, it's been an utterly consistent, abject failure.
Appeasement usually is. What's oft forgotten is that it takes two to play this loser's game, and Washington is as much to blame as Pyongyang. No matter what the State Department's oh-so-sincere spokesmen are saying at the moment. Just a few months ago -- last October -- one of its flacks solemnly assured a U.S. senator that "any engagement with North Korea will not be used as a mechanism to funnel financial or other rewards to Pyongyang."
Of course that is precisely what has happened. Again. To quote John Bolton, who was dropped as our ambassador to the United Nations because he insisted on telling some unpleasant truths, "We are simply feeding young Kim's dictatorship."
Even before our generous bribe -- in the form of 240,000 tons of foodstuffs this time -- has arrived in North Korea, its new but somehow very familiar dictator has announced he won't be following through on his part of the deal. He was supposed to suspend his nuclear-weapons program, complete with missile tests, but of course he's decided not to. In record time. The deal hasn't even been consummated yet, and he's reneged on it. That was fast. As fast one of those errant neutrinos we were told not long ago had arrived at its destination before leaving its point of origin. Impressive.
Kim Jong Un not only looks like dear old dad, but follows his father's negotiating strategy: Promise 'em anything, just don't deliver. The late and unlamented Kim Jong Il used to take our food (and fuel and fertilizer, too) but never get around to keeping the promises he'd made in return.
This dance is so old, you'd think everybody would know the steps by now:
(1) Disaster strikes North Korea, natural or leader-made.
(2) The world responds generously, asking only that North Korea stop building nukes in return.
(3) Sure, the regime says.
(4) The aid is delivered, much of it going directly to North Korea's military and party elite.
(5) Pyongyang goes right on building its nukes -- and now a system to deliver them long-distance, too.
Kim Jong Il may no longer be with us, but Junior follows the familiar script with filial loyalty. North Korea demanded the hundreds of thousands of tons of food and supplies just last month -- and promised to shut down its nuclear program and missile tests in exchange. The usual naifs cheered the great change in Pyongyang, saying this Kim was going to be different from all the others. He's not. Just quicker.
To much fanfare, North Korea now has announced that it would be putting an "observation satellite" in space next month. That's a euphemism for testing a long-range missile capable of delivering the North's new nukes across oceans or continents. Like an express to California.
But there is indeed a new North Korea. In the past, when daddy was in charge, the North Korean regime would wait until after it had received the bribe before going back on its word. But when this "new" regime announced last week it would be shooting stuff into the sky, the 240,000 tons of food hadn't even arrived yet.
No, no, no, Li'l Kim. You're not playing the game in the accepted sequence. First you get the aid. Then you renege.
Could it be that the newest Kim is just none too bright? Unlikely. It's just that our diplomats are as dumb and gullible as ever. Lucy keeps snatching the football at the last minute, but innocent Charlie Brown never learns. Only this time our North Korean friends didn't wait long to take away the bait. They did it almost immediately.
Same old routine, only revved up. Why bother with time-consuming delays? No fuss, no muss, no more pretending to be Mr. Nice Guy. Why waste time? Being suckered has never been so easy. And so fast.
It's a game as as old as appeasement and the same rules still apply. They haven't changed since Herr Hitler and Mister Chamberlain used to play it back in the '30s. The more the West gave, the more was demanded -- and taken.
It's the kind of game any number can play. It's easy to learn. Iran's mullahs have mastered its basic lesson: Develop your own nuke and you'll be invincible. Then nobody can or will see to it that you carry out your agreements. The rest of the world will pretend you're peace-loving even while you're threatening your neighbors, exporting the technology necessary to build nuclear weapons, and sponsoring terrorism worldwide.
This latest betrayal on the latest Kim's part is so blatant it has even elicited an expression of "concern" from his regime's Big Brother in Beijing. But we all know how much such concern on the part of another Communist dictatorship. It's just a substitute for actually doing something about the developing threat.
Yes, there have been plenty of words directed at this rogue regime -- but Washington seems to have long forgotten that actions speak louder.
When all of England was cheering Neville Chamberlain's "peace in our time" after still another ally had been sold out at Munich in 1938, a voice in the wilderness was heard over the cheers and applause. Winston Churchill, M.P., could see there was nothing to celebrate and much to lament. He called what had happened at Munich "a disaster of the first magnitude," and warned, all too presciently: "This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time."
The taste of that bitter cup should be familiar by now, even as Barack Obama celebrates his great contributions to peace in our own time by slashing the military budget.
It's an old, old story, and an old, old lesson. It goes all the way back to Ethelred the Unready, whose follies were chronicled in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, which concluded: "All these calamities fell upon us because of evil counsel . . ." And because of those who followed it.