Friday, August 27, 2004

good cop, bad cop, arrogant incompetent cop ?

My colleague MB is wise to draw your attention to today’s NYT interview with President Bush. And its emblematic of the breathtaking irresponsibility of the ‘liberal’ media that the headline is a) about Kerry’s Vietnam record, b) a remarkable example of the ‘when did you stop beating your wife ?’ tactic issue-creation, and c) ignores the most significant insight of the interview, which was Bush’s lack of any discernible plan, approach, or understanding of the situation he has propagated vis a vis North Korea.

"Showing none of the alarm about the North's growing arsenal that he once voiced regularly about Iraq, he opened his palms and shrugged when an interviewer noted that new intelligence reports indicate that the North may now have the fuel to produce six or eight nuclear weapons. . . Nor would he assess the risk that Pyongyang might sell nuclear material to terrorists, though his national security aides believe it may have sold raw uranium to Libya in recent years."

He shrugged ? On his watch, Kim Jong-Il has accelerated a nuclear program at an unprecedented pace. Bush’s approach has been bipolar at best. His sophomoric understanding of international diplomacy combined with crowd-pleasing bravado to ensure that this administration gave Kim Jong Il every reason to hunker down and move ever more quickly towards a nuclear weapons program and/or flea market. Bush exacerbated the situation continuously with pointless, chest-thumping comments about ‘loathing’ Kim and calling him a ‘pygmy.’

But now he’s hopeful that a 9th inning half-hearted effort at diplomacy will bear fruit ? If nothing else, the administrations dealings with North Korea accurately portray the utter lack of seriousness with which they view the world. The neo-conservative obsession with Iraq (and its oil reserves, lest we forget) has blinded this administration to very real threats in other parts of the world.

To be fair, North Korea is a vexing, complex issue for policy thinkers from across the ideological spectrum. Diplomatic engagement and talks on trading financial assistance for a nuclear program shutdown are likely to be based on assuring (at least for the short-term) the continued existence of a despotic regime with a human rights record nothing short of nightmarish. On the other hand, military confrontation is a death sentence for the city of Seoul (and the 37,000 American troops stationed there) and quite possibly hundreds of thousands of North and South Korean civilians, if Kim goes nuclear.

Perhaps the Bush team is conducting a subtle, well-orchestrated and thoughtful diplomatic charade – Bush himself the bad cop while his negotiation team makes deals in the background. Experts in negotiation say that one way to win a two-person standoff is to convince your opponent that you are crazy enough, or stupid enough, to accept the consequences of not making a deal. Kim Jong Il has convinced me he’s crazy; is George W. Bush trying to convince us he’s stupid ?

- LH


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