A Few Comments on the Debate

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To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Uninformed Political Leaders

I asked my golfing buddy, Jim Biondi, 84, a lifelong Republican,
how he thought President Bush did last night in the debate with
Senator Kerry. He frowned and said Mr. Bush did not do that well.
I agreed, and he asked why I thought Mr. Bush did not do well. “He
is basically uninformed on important issues,” I said. Biondi bristled:
“The President isn’t uninformed. He is the President. He has to
be informed.” I told my friend that ordinary Americans do not believe
that their President can be the least informed, if his information
comes to him from advisors who want him to do as they wish. Unless
he is wise enough to see through this, he will make decisions that
are not necessarily informed.

The issue I raised, which I thought the low point in the debate
as far as the President was concerned, involved North Korea and
nuclear weapons. Here is the exchange I had in mind:

Lehrer: New question, Mr. President. Do you believe that diplomacy
and sanctions can resolve the nuclear problems with North Korea
and Iran, taking them in any order you would like?

Mr. Bush: North Korea first, I do. Let me say I certainly hope
so. Before I was sworn in the policy of this government was
to have bilateral negotiations with North Korea.
And we signed
an agreement with North Korea that my administration found out
that was not being honored by the North Koreans.

And so I decided that a better way to approach the issue was to
get other nations involved, just besides us. And in Crawford,
Tex., Jiang Zemin and I agreed that the, a nuclear-weapons-free
North Korea peninsula was in his interest and our interest and
the world’s interest. And so we began a new dialogue with North
Korea, one that included not only the United States but now China.
And China’s got a lot of influence over North Korea. In some ways
more than we do. As well we included South Korea, Japan and Russia.
So now there are five voices speaking to Kim Jong Il, not just
one. And so if Kim Jong Il decides again to not honor an agreement
he’s not only doing injustice to America, be doing injustice to
China as well. And I think this will work. It’s not going to work
if we open up a dialogue with Kim Jong Il. That’s what he wants.
He wants to unravel the six-party talks or the five-nation coalition
that’s sending him a clear message…

Mr. Lehrer Senator Kerry, 90 seconds.

Mr. Kerry: With respect to North Korea, the real story: We had
inspectors and television cameras in the nuclear reactor in North
Korea. Secretary Bill Perry negotiated that under President Clinton.
And we knew where the fuel rods were. And we knew the limits on
their nuclear power. Colin Powell, our secretary of state, announced
one day that we were going to continue the dialogue and work with
the North Koreans. The president reversed him, publicly, while
the president of South Korea was here. And the president of South
Korea went back to South Korea bewildered and embarrassed because
it went against his policy. And for two years, this administration
didn’t talk at all to North Korea. While they didn’t talk at all,
the fuel rods came out, the inspectors were kicked out, the television
cameras were kicked out and today there are four to seven nuclear
weapons in the hands of North Korea. That happened on this president’s
watch. Now that, I think, is one of the most serious sort of reversals
or mixed messages that you could possibly send…

Mr. Lehrer: Yes sir, we – but in this one minute, I want
to make sure that we understand – that the people watching
here understand the differences between the two of you on this.
You want to continue the multinational talks. Correct?

Mr. Bush: Right.

Mr. Lehrer: And you want – you’re willing to do it.

Mr. Kerry: Both. I want bilateral talks which put all of the issues
from the armistice of 1952, the economic issues, the human rights
issues, the artillery disposal issues, the D.M.Z. issues and the
nuclear issues on the table.

Mr. Lehrer: And you’re opposed to that, sir. Right?

Mr. Bush: The minute we have bilateral talks, the six-party talks
will unwind. It’s exactly what Kim Jong Il wants. And by the way,
the breach on the agreement was not through plutonium. The breach
on the agreement is highly enriched uranium. That’s what we caught
him doing. That’s where he was breaking the agreement.

Multilateral? What Kim Jong Il wants? What’s going on here? The
fact is that the United States has been acting in bad faith with
Pyongyang for the last decade. I mean our own Uncle Sam!! Mr.
Bush himself acknowledges that before he became President, it
was the policy of the United States to have bilateral talks with
North Korea, but he STOPPED that policy because he learned that
North Korea was violating the 1994 Accord that provided for bilateral

Now I am absolutely sure the President believes what he says, but
in fact the North Koreans never violated any agreement with us.
They have lived up to the letter and spirit of all their agreements
with us, as far as I can tell. Kim Jong Il will happily agree to
return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Safeguards Agreement,
which would permit the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect
any site in North Korea that seemed suspiciously to be part of a
nuclear weapons program. But Kim is being most reasonable when he
points out that Saddam Hussein made those same commitments and did
in fact allow inspectors to snoop in every noon and cranny – – and
it made no difference to President Bush. The President still decided
to go to war with Iraq! It wasn’t enough that Saddam was ready to
agree to perpetual, intrusive inspections. If I were Kim Jong Il,
I wouldn’t trust Mr. Bush any further than I could throw him. Why
would any serious political leader of a nation state?

President Bush clearly does not understand any of this. He is basically
uninformed on the true nature of the problem with Pyongyang. He
seems to believe we would lose some leverage with Kim if the talks
were bilateral and China was not involved, but if he would simply
ask straight out if China would mind, he would find the Chinese
extremely pleased with the idea. Senator Kerry must have asked his
advisors straight out, because he is comfortable with the idea of
bilateral talks. He is better informed.

On the other hand, Mr. Kerry is a bit misinformed. He says “four
to seven nuclear weapons are in the hands of North Korea.” This
is most improbable, according to my sources. North Korea insists
it has no nuclear weapons and that it has no program to develop
nuclear weapons. If one were to ask the International Atomic Energy
Agency, it will say that it has no evidence that North Korea has
either one of the other. If one were to ask the CIA, it would say
that it “suspects” North Korea possesses “four to seven” nukes.
If President Bush were to ask the new CIA director, Porter Goss,
if North Korea has WMD, he would not say it was “a slam dunk.”

In fact, if he were to press Mr. Goss on the actual facts in his
possession about that possibility, Mr. Goss would tell him that
his agents read about the nukes in the newspapers. Remember when
the former CIA director George Tenet told Mr. Bush that it would
be a “slam dunk” to prove that Saddam Hussein had WMD? Where did
he get that information? From an enemy of Saddam Hussein named Ahmed
Chalabi, who may have read it in a newspaper.

See what I mean, what I was trying to tell my golfing friend Jim
Biondi? The guys at the top, up to and including the President of
the United States, are not especially well-informed. If they are
prepared to believe what they really want to believe, they may even
act on that information and start a war.

4, 2004

Wanniski [send him mail]
runs the financial/political advisory service Wanniski.com.
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