....or many erstwhile administration supporters, this is a moment of genuine political poignancy. Nothing can erase the ineffable sadness of an American presidency, like this one, in total intellectual collapse.
Tragic for us. The worst of all possible scenarios.
The Tragic End of Bush's North Korea Policy Ambassador John Bolton, Wall Street Journal hat tip Van
North Korea has consecutively broken every major agreement with the U.S. since the North's creation. The Bush administration provides no reason why this one will not be added to that long list except the audacity of hope. Where have we heard that recently? Barack Obama and John Kerry both announced support for the deal, and Mr. Obama said he intended to apply Bush's policy to other rogue states, thus confirming the early start of the Obama administration.
The Feb. 13, 2007, agreement states explicitly that North Korea was to provide "a complete declaration of all nuclear programs" within 60 days. This it manifestly did not do, either in timing or substance. The declaration, more than 14 months overdue, and which is not yet public, has long been forecast not to include information on weaponization, uranium enrichment, or proliferation activities such as cloning the Yongbyon reactor in Syria. Although the North provided less than it agreed 16 months ago, we compensated by giving up more than we agreed, which is typical of decades of U.S. negotiation with the North.
The extent to which Yongbyon's aggregate plutonium production has been weaponized and concealed is one critical unresolved issue. Moreover, analysis of the much-touted 18,000 pages of Yongbyon documentation previously turned over has uncovered significant gaps in information, especially concerning the reactor's early years of operation, that preclude making a truly accurate calculation. This is essentially the same problem that the International Atomic Energy Agency faced during its years of monitoring Yongbyon under the failed 1994 Agreed Framework, showing that the North is nothing if not consistent in its cover-up strategy.
Ironically, the documents themselves are contaminated with particles of highly enriched uranium, probably from that enrichment program North Korea still denies. This program's extent is crucial, because if it is production scope, the North will still have a route to fissile material no matter what Yongbyon's ultimate fate, proving yet again that leveling those aged facilities was a nonconcession.
Bush administration officials contend on this and other unresolved issues that they will insist on verification, but inside the government there is little or no planning on what that means precisely, let alone agreement on the details with North Korea. Given the North's record of maskirovka, the extent of open and intrusive verification we should demand would likely undermine the very foundations of the regime itself, which Kim Jong Il will obviously not accept.
The North's proliferation, such as the now-flattened Yongbyon twin in Syria, are important not only for what they prove about the North's ongoing duplicity, but for their potentially central place in the North's continuing nuclear weapons program. This is emphatically not, therefore, merely a matter of filling out the historical record, but rather an avenue of inquiry that focuses directly on the North's current capabilities and intentions. Pooh-poohing proliferation in this way, as the administration has done, is evidence of its desperation not to allow the deal to come unstuck.
The administration argues that these criticisms are unwarranted because it has always contemplated that the North's denuclearization would play out in phases. This is no answer at all. Instead, it graphically reveals one of the deal's central problems. There is no advantage to the U.S. in proceeding by phases. To the contrary, North Korea alone benefits by phasing, by stretching out a process that enables Kim Jong Il to stay in power and to maximize the political and economic benefits he can extract through each excruciatingly lengthy and painful phase.
Consider, moreover, the deal's corrosive impact on the very concept of the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Removing North Korea from the list for political reasons unrelated to terrorism simply provides ammunition for those who argue that the existence of the list itself is purely political. Critically, since the North's nuclear and ballistic missile programs materially assisted Syria and Iran, two other states on the terrorism honor roll, it is hard to see what remains of President Bush's doctrine that those who support terrorists will be treated as terrorists.
Consider also the palpable damage our mishandling of the terrorism issues has caused to our alliance with Japan, whose citizens, along with many South Koreans, were abducted by Pyongyang's agents. One might quibble that this is not state sponsorship of terrorism, but rather direct state terrorism. (Perhaps we should create a new list for North Korea.) It is hardly a reason to remove Japan's most effective leverage to get a straight accounting from the North about its citizens. Of course, why should we expect North Korea to be any more honest on the abductee issue than on anything else?
The only good news is that there is little opportunity for the Bush administration to make any further concessions in its waning days in office. But for many erstwhile administration supporters, this is a moment of genuine political poignancy. Nothing can erase the ineffable sadness of an American presidency, like this one, in total intellectual collapse.
Bolton photoshop (maybe it's not) hat tip Bill