Monday, October 09, 2006

This Year's Boogey-Man: Now With Nukes!!

By now you probably know that last week, North Korea announced it would test a nuclear weapon sometime "in the future."

Well, the future was last night.

Much of what I've read online this morning is "awaiting confrimation" on this nuclear test. On my way into work, the BBC said the Russians have confirmed it. Exact time, location and exposive yield. It is "definitely nuclear."

Otto Man over at LLPON points us to a good post by Josh Marshall...
For the US this is a strategic failure of the first order.

The origins of the failure are ones anyone familiar with the last six years in this country will readily recognize: chest-thumping followed by failure followed by cover-up and denial. The same story as Iraq. Even the same story as Foley.

[...] President Bush came to office believing that Clinton's policy amounted to appeasement. Force and strength were the way to deal with North Korea, not a mix of force, diplomacy and aide. And with that premise, President Bush went about scuttling the 1994 agreement, using evidence that the North Koreans were pursuing uranium enrichment (another path to the bomb) as the final straw.

[...] All diplomatic niceties aside, President Bush's idea was that the North Koreans would respond better to threats than Clinton's mix of carrots and sticks.

Then in the winter of 2002-3, as the US was preparing to invade Iraq, the North called Bush's bluff. And the president folded. Abjectly, utterly, even hilariously if the consequences weren't so grave and vast.

Threats are a potent force if you're willing to follow through on them. But he wasn't. The plutonium production plant, which had been shuttered since 1994, got unshuttered. And the bomb that exploded tonight was, if I understand this correctly, almost certainly the product of that plutonium uncorked almost four years ago.

So the President talked a good game, the North Koreans called his bluff and he folded. And since then, for all intents and purposes, and all the atmospherics to the contrary, he and his administration have done essentially nothing.

[...] The bomb-grade plutonium that was on ice from 1994 to 2002 is now actual bombs. Try as you might it is difficult to imagine a policy -- any policy -- which would have yielded a worse result than the one we will face Monday morning.

[...] The Bush-Cheney policy on North Korea was always what Fareed Zakaria once aptly called "a policy of cheap rhetoric and cheap shots." It failed. And after it failed President Bush couldn't come to grips with that failure and change course. He bounced irresolutely between the Powell and Cheney lines and basically ignored the whole problem hoping either that the problem would go away, that China would solve it for us and most of all that no one would notice.

Do you notice now?

Marshall is right on. Something similar to this (but far more concise) should be be flowing freely from every Dem today. They should try and get out in front on this as much as possible and HAMMER Bush. He dismantled a successful accord that had been keeping NK's program inactive simply because Bill Clinton had brokered it. They then spent the last four years alternating between ignoring the problem, calling Kim Jong il names, and making bellicose, but empty, threats.

Remember the "Axis of Evil?" When Bush made that ridiculous speech, NONE of those three countries was actually a threat to the U.S. Now? Iraq is in complete turmoil, Iran is thumbing its nose at the world and we can do nothing about it, and now the worst of the three actually seems to have nuclear weapons. From
North Korea's own interests in getting a bomb are clear, and they have little to do with the fact that its leader is a bit of a flake. Kim's diplomats have clearly said for years that they learned a lesson from the wars in Iraq (those of 1991 and 2003): If you want to keep America from attacking, get some nuclear weapons. They also learned much from Pakistan's nuclear test in 1998, after which the country was transformed in American eyes from "outlaw state" to "strategic partner." In other words, Kim may think that he can wait out the pressure.

Exactly. A nuke is the ultimate trump card.

What has also gone unsaid in every thing I've read is what is actually the worst part of this story—proliferation. North Korea is a desperate country with a proven history of selling whatever they can. At this point they have no way to deliver a nuclear weapon via a missle, but they now have the technology an material for the true nightmare scenario—selling a weapon to terrorists.

This cycle will quickly turn and Bush has the bully pulpit—he could go on TV tonite before Monday Night Football and lie his ass off, blame Clinton, and pretend only the Republicans can protect us. As Bush likes to say, "Make No Mistake..." the Republicans will be out in force declaring the world an even more dangerous place and the Democrats cannot be trusted to protect us.

Democrats have one chance to define this as a Bush failure and pin it on him, and the window is already slamming shut.


Smitty said...

Great post, man. As I said over at LLPN, the biggest fear I have is not so much of NK throwing the nuke themselves, but instead selling it to Iran, Hezbollah...whoever. It doesn't matter. That, or as twisted as Kim Jong Il is to starve his people to make a nuke, who's to say he won't keep doing it to make a bigger one and perfect his delivery platform?

S.W. Anderson said...

Kim Jung Il peddling a nuke at some distant point in the future is a legitimate concern. North Korea perfecting a bigger bomb and missile to carrry it is not that big a concern.

All it would be good for is nuclear blackmail against South Korea or Japan — a gesture that would end in one of two ways: 1, N.K. backs down, losing face rather than suffer the consequences; or 2, Failing to get what it wants, N.K. launches its missile and ends up being reduced to a radioactive landfill.

Kim Jung Il may be a sick puppy, but I don't think he's so far gone he wants to risk losing face or worse, his life and his little empire.

Smitty said...

You make a strong case, SW, and I really see your point. It really is the nuke peddling that has me most concerned. If he can't get food through the UN, he'll get it by selling nukes to Iran.

China is an interesting figure in all of this, given that a chief concern of theirs is that the KJI regime does not collapse, lest there be a huge wave of refugees into China and a massive international aid disaster on their (and the UN's) hands.

S.W. Anderson said...

smitty, nuke peddling is not only a worry about North Korea but also a worry about China.

Imagine if China, for reasons of its own, decides Iran's nuke program should be helped along. China could easily allow Korean-made bombs to be transshipped across its vast territory to the Mideast, making them virtually impossible for us to detect and track.

But why do that, when China is itself a nuclear power? If China wants to be a hero to the Iranian regime, it can step in at any time to assist the Iranians with their nuclear program.

And why would China want to be a hero to Iran, possibly risking relations with the U.S.? Think oil. China's growing manufacturing might and growing vehicle-owning capability requires oil on a scale greater than anything the world has seen yet.

DED said...

SW: Venezuela has already made offers to supply China with 20% of its oil needs. Since Chavez is already buddy buddy with Iran, it wouldn't be a stretch for nuke tech to get to Iran via Venezuela (assuming that it didn't go direct).