More This Week In News

Okay, so the last post went a bit long, I’ll try to keep the next few shorter.

Many of you probably also read about the big breakthrough in the North Korea nuclear situation, with the DPRK demolishing the cooling tower at its Yongbyon reactor site.  As usual, the must-read in this sort of circumstance is Fred Kaplan at Slate, who does a typically marvelous job of explaining the ins and outs of the recent deal, as well as explaining how it came to pass, and how it comes up short of what we’d really like to see out of the Koreans.

And yet nobody outside the State Department, dove or hawk, seems very happy with this deal—and with good reason. It is better than nothing, by a long shot. But, even compared with the goals spelled out in joint statements by the two governments over the past year, the step down the road is a small one indeed.

Note to self: must pick up copy of Kaplan’s latest work, Daydream Believers.

Anyhow, one of the very interesting points about this passage of events is the way that it came about.  Notably, the administration pulled its collective head out of its ass, and stopped listening to the Cheney/Bolton wing (a.k.a. the Batshit Insanity Factory) of its foreign policy shop.  Up until that point, listening to these fine, terrifying gentlemen had brought us a complete falling down of the diplomatic status between the U.S. and North Korea, and the announcement in October 2006, by way of a destroyed underground cavern, of North Korea’s joining the league of nuclear-empowered nations.

Instead of listening to the ‘threaten, then bomb’ advice being ladeled out by Bolton, the administration decided that maybe, just maybe, actually sitting down across from the Koreans and hearing what they wanted in return to nuclear disarmament couldn’t hurt.  Kaplan again:

In early 2007, at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s prodding, he allowed Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill to hold bilateral talks in Berlin with his North Korean counterpart (the sorts of talks that Bush had previously forbidden). A few days later, they negotiated a deal that would give Kim Jong-il’s regime specific rewards for taking partial steps toward disarmament.

A miracle!  Hallelujah!  If you enter into a negotiation with the intent of, you know, negotiating, sometimes, just sometimes, you find out that the other people have things they want, too, and are willing to give you something you want in return for something they want.

Unfortunately, President Bush has actually scuttled the whole deal, since we know that, just one short month ago, he stood in front of the Israeli Knesset and dismissed the whole idea of negotiating with insane, evil regimes, saying that “We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

Well, I guess if I had to pick an area for the Bush administration to stop showing any sense of consistency or continuity in, this wouldn’t be a bad one!

As it stands, we seem to, having found ourselves in a very deep hole, at least have learned how to stop digging.  I highly, highly doubt that the current administration has the intellectual wherewithal to figure out how to, first, climb out of the hole, and then, second, start to fill it back in.  But hey – you have to give credit where credit is due, and the Bush Administration started acting like grownups, and actually got some results.  Some positive feedback is in order here.

Fortunately, and somewhat amazingly, John McCain is even promising to follow up on these negotiations, saying

Many questions remain about North Korea’s programs, including the disposition of plutonium at Yongbyon, the number and status of nuclear weapons, the nature of the highly-enriched uranium program, and the extent of proliferation activities in countries like Syria.  As we review this declaration and attempt to verify North Korean claims, we must keep diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to meet all of its obligations under the Six Party agreement, including denuclearization.

Obviously, he still wants to take a hard line.  But compared to the claptrap that Bolton belched on hearing of the deal, tearing the administration for abandoning their principles (John – of course they did!  Because they were terrible, absolutely awful, principles!), it’s a big step in the right direction.

So, for the moment, I am choosing to be cautiously optimistic that, even in the highly unfortunate event of a McCain adminstration starting in January 2009, the grownups might remain in charge of foreign policy, which would be a huge step in the right direction from where we’ve been for the last 8 years…


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