Wednesday, September 21, 2005

# Posted 1:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUST WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON IN NORTH KOREA? I'll be the first to admit that I have no idea. It's all but impossible to interpret North Korean behavior since no one outside of Pyongyang has any real idea of what the NoKo regime sees as its national interest. It's also all but impossible for anyone except the diplomats involved to know what really happened at the recent negotiations responsible for the NoKo pledge to abandon its nuclear program.

What's especially interesting about the latest developments in Beijing is that, as Kevin Drum ably pointed out, the partisan implications of Monday's deal are anything but clear. Should liberals celebrate Bush's embrace of a Clinton-esque policy of engagement at the price of admitting that Bush deserves credit for this apparent breakthrough? And should conservatives attempt to take credit for this apparent breakthrough at the cost of admitting that Clinton was right about engagement in the first place?

To a certain extent, Kevin himself has sought to square the cirlce by explaining how the recent deal can be both a good idea and a failure for the Bush administration. After calling out Instapundit, Power Line, Michelle Malkin and Hugh Hewitt for their silence on the subject of North Korea, Kevin argues (drawingly heavily on this NYT report) that the Bush administration gave in to North Korean demands it once rejected because the combination of Iraq, Katrina and Chinese pressure weakened its resolve.

Although I'd be surprised if Iraq and Katrina influenced Bush's decision to accept the deal, Kevin's interpretation is plausible enough given the available evidence. However, I think Kevin goes a step too far with his sarcastic observation that
After all, the North Koreans got nothing out of this deal except for every single thing they've ever asked for. [Emphasis in original]
Given that both sides have promised a lot and delivered nothing as of yet, it's hard to argue that Bush got suckered. However, Kevin may be pushing the envelope because of Capt. Ed's brazen argument that Bush's steely resolve intimidated NoKo into submission. According to the Captain,
After testing the Bush administration several times and finding it unwilling to waver, even after a number of Bush's political opponents (such as John Kerry) fell for his tricks, Kim knows that Bush has him diplomatically isolated and left with no choice but compliance or war.
I'm going to have to side with Kevin on this one and guess that even a total whackjob like Kim Jong Il doesn't think that the United States can to go war against North Korea anytime soon.

In contrast to Capt. Ed, some conservatives, like James Robbins over at NRO, are standing by their traditional argument that any deal with North Korea is useless since the regime simply can't be trusted. Although Matt Yglesias taunts Robbins for his remarkable ability to "oppose sensible policy even when George W. Bush is implementing it," the fact remains that even thoughtful Democratic analysts like Derek Chollet think the latest deal may be worthless.

But even before we can figure out whether Pyongyang is at all serious about abandoning its weapons programs, it pays to consider Suzanne Nossel's argument that the agreement is already falling apart, albeit for reasons unknown. As Suzanne points out, NoKo spokesman have been so vitriolic in the few days since the agreement was signed that something seems to have gone terribly wrong.

But FYI, even though Suzanne and Derek are staunch Democrats, there doesn't seem to be a party line on this issue. For instance, the NYT attempts to endorse the agreement while giving Bush as little credit as possible by writing that
The Bush administration, which has spent more than four years discounting the importance of international agreements, has rediscovered the safeguards and rewards of peaceful international diplomacy in general and this vital treaty in particular.
Although the Times headges its confidence with a lone reference to the importance of the agreement's "details", I am still rather disturbed by the editors' blithe confidence in negotiating with otherworldly dictators.

That's all I have to say for now. I still have no idea what's really going on so I can't give a moral to this story. But I can leave you all with this bizarre quote from Fred Kaplan (via One Free Korea):
It's a significant breakthrough. But it could easily have been accomplished two and a half years ago, had President George W. Bush been willing. It is also nothing like an actual agreement, just a preliminary step before the real negotiations—where, if history holds, North Korea will frustrate us with tricks and backtracking, and we just have to hang on tight.
OFK comments:
Translation: Bush could have had an equally emphemeral, transitory, and meaningless deal with a shelf life of less then one day two whole years ago if he's only listened to Fred Kaplan.
Ouch. But no one ever said that being a pundit is easy, so I think a little mercy is in order (if only because I'll want it next time I screw up).
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments: Post a Comment