How does George W. Bush feel about the leader of North Korea?
"I loathe Kim Jong Il," said Mr. Bush.
So much for diplomacy.
Granted, there’s not a whole lot to like, or respect, about Kim. But Mr. Bush’s blunt appraisal, his State of the Union saber rattling, and his actions in Iraq have accomplished what would seem an unthinkable task - they have legitimized the Korean dictator’s desire for a nuclear arsenal.
Call it the Saddam Hussein lesson.
Hussein, you’ll recall, acceded to U. N. demands and destroyed his most advanced missiles - the Al Samoud II - shortly before his country was invaded.
Iraq was invaded, you should also recall - and this may be a stretch of the memory muscles, since the rationale has been consistently rewritten - for possessing weapons of mass destruction. Hussein insisted he had no such weapons, U. N. inspectors were actively looking for (and not finding) such weapons…and still the U.S. military went rolling into Baghdad.
Of course, there were no weapons.
Instead of the carrot or the stick, it’s the carrot then the stick. In Iraq, Mr. Bush tipped his hand in terms of both strategy and capability. The lessons for North Korea - and Iran, and Syria - are not difficult to grasp.
One: America possesses a formidable high-tech military, but its strength is greatest when applied to classic battlefield scenarios. In Iraq, we can’t subdue a low-tech insurgency. Or consider Osama bin Laden: More than three years after the 9/11 attacks, he continues to elude our soldiers and our technology. (This assumes that the Bush administration is engaged in serious measures to capture him - and not, as many believe, simply allowing an at-large bin Laden to continue as Patriot Act poster boy.) Clearly, America’s might is impressive - and just as clearly, it has its limits.
Two: Iraq is proof that the present American government is willing to invade a country even after disarmament, so there’s no point in acquiescing in order to avoid a war. In contrast to the Iraq situation, Mr. Bush continues to assert that broad-ranging diplomacy is the best way to handle the threat posed by North Korea. It’s a confusing U.S. policy, but at first glance one must figure that North Korea’s nuclear weapons really do act as a deterrent - and/or that the Iraq invasion was not conducted on the basis of threat level, but of oil reserves.
Speaking of confusing (or at least hypocritical) U.S. policy: As we attempt to persuade Kim Jong Il to scrap his atomic weaponry - as we insist that Iran abandon its "peaceful" nuclear program - America is planning to upgrade its own nuclear arsenal. A key item is the so-called "bunker buster," which would be equipped with a new casing allowing it to penetrate up to 200 feet underground before detonating. The purpose? To destroy subterranean nuclear bunkers in such places as North Korea and Iran.
Is this the inevitable outcome of Bush’s doctrine of pre-emptive war? Will the United States resort to using nuclear warheads to disarm countries that are rushing to arm themselves against American aggression?
In the emotional wake of 9/11, in the midst of the Iraq occupation, it would be useful to gauge the temperament of the American people. A good question for a national pollster to ask: Would you approve of the United States using nuclear weapons against a foreign country if, in the stated opinion of George W. Bush, such an action was necessary to protect American interests? Or, from a different direction: If the Bush administration decided another major military operation was necessary to protect American interests, which would you prefer - resuming a military draft, or the use of tactical nuclear weapons?
The choice may end up being that stark. From Newsweek (dated 2/21/05): "Kim Jong Il may have less to fear than he imagines. Last week’s public confrontations threw a harsh spotlight on a little-noted problem: America’s own eroding capacity to respond to threats. The Army has been sapped by the Iraqi insurgency, recruiting is down and military hardware is battle-torn."
North Korea, Iran, Syria. Mr. Bush is backing a number of tigers into a corner. The trouble is, he left his chair and whip - his conventional weapons - on the battlefields of Iraq.
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