Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bush Deserves More Credit on North Korea

Finally. A real diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea.

The Bush Administration has endured harsh criticism over the years for their unwillingness to pursue diplomacy as vigorously as some would like. Their perceived preference for unilateral action has also been a source of frustration to many followers of foreign affairs.

In my opinion, with respect to North Korea, these charges have never been very justified. The United States has been fully engaged in diplomatic efforts with North Korea throughout the Bush Administration.

They have had to be...

There is no military option for North Korea that would not cost tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Korean and American lives. Our lack of economic ties to North Korea similarly leaves us without a stick to use. Unless they could be separated from China, which we have no power to do, their economic situation cannot really be diminished any further.

Hence, diplomacy and the carrots that come with it.

Bush's unwillingness to talk outside of the context of the 'Six-Party' framework has been spun by many as a refusal to give diplomacy a sufficient chance. After careful consideration, I have come to the opinion that the six party context was the only one in which diplomacy would have been meaningful.

I say this because a future violation of the new agreement will be a finger in the eye not just to the United States, but to all four of our partners - one of which is North Korea's essential friend, and only meaningful ally, China. North Korea has demonstrated that bilateral agreements with the United States are meaningless. Their blatant and unapologetic violation of the agreement they reached with the Clinton Administration in 1994 proved that. Therefore, any "victory" or "breakthrough" brokered only between America and the North Koreans would have almost certainly been an illusion.

Some, primarily on the left, are minimizing this accomplishment by claiming that Bush has only achieved what Clinton did 12 years ago. For the reasons I just outlined, I reject this claim. Though the technical arrangements for the deal are highly similar, the consequences to the North Koreans of violating it are very real and potentially enormous. Specifically, they risk alienating themselves from China - without whom their economic collapse would be total.

Some conservatives are charging that this deal is "rewarding bad behavior" and therefore is bad policy. I agree with their premise, but not their conclusion. We are rewarding bad "behavior", but the fact of the matter is that doing so is our best option.

It will stop their ability to produce additional nuclear fuel, and this had to be our highest priority. Even if the agreement only holds for a few years, it will provide valuable time for larger strategic options including additional efforts to convince China to pull the resources that keep Kim Jong Il in power.

People should give President Bush more credit on this issue. It shows a tremendously important willingness and ability to shift tactics, compromise and talk.


Unknown said...

I think that everyone is happy and hopeful about the new agreement, but I'm not going to fawn over the administration for it. I don't perceive the breakthrough as having come about because of the President's diplomatic acumen. I always got the feeling that the President didn't really care about the situation in North Korea, which is probably why--and I'm not joking--our diplomats were able to make progress there: because he wasn't personally meddling with the works and inevitably screwing things up.

But ultimately, it's really just that China finally got annoyed and worried and decided to spank the misbehaving toddler Kim. If China were happy to let the North Koreans go on their nuclear way, I really don't think there would have been anything we could have done about it. So while we certainly seized on a great opportunity, I don't think this is a show of great American diplomatic prowess...and that is not a criticism of the State Department; I just think we had no real leverage until the Chinese stepped in and, in a sense, saved the day.

Jared said...

I think your second paragraph is absolutely right. Had China not finally stepped up to the plate, none of this would be happening - and I dont see us as the cause of their recent engagement. Therefore, the credit we deserve is somewhat limited.

However, the President must have agreed to the aggressive incentives we are giving NK and this is a distinct shift in strategy. It is exactly what many are asking him to do with Iran - try and buy them off.

I also dont think he didnt care about Korea. I think his worldview prohibited him from making any concessions to a man or regmine he honestly felt was evil.

Although evil is a word that gets thrown around a little too causually these days, I think it is a valid adjective for Kim Jong Il. That being said, President Bush seems to me to think that someone who is evil cannot simultaneously be rational - so what is the point in dealing with him?

This agreement signals a shift in that view, and for this I give the President credit.