Presidential Neglect

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The president concentrated so hard on the two members of his infamous "axis of evil" that didn’t have nuclear weapons that he neglected the one that does. North Korea announced that it would test a nuclear weapon, and now it has done so.

I’m sure the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, said, "Woe is me" when he heard such words as "provocative" and "unacceptable" tossed at him as if words were weapons. By the way, how can a fact be unacceptable? The fact exists whether the president likes it or not.

It’s a good idea not to call anything unacceptable that you aren’t prepared to prevent, and, of course, the president was not prepared to prevent the nuclear test. I seriously hope he didn’t believe that mere words would deter the North Koreans.

A nuclear-armed North Korea represents a failure of American diplomacy. For the sake of fairness, it should be said that the most skilled diplomats in the world might have failed to dissuade the North Koreans from pursuing nuclear weapons. The president’s stumblebum, lead-footed style of diplomacy, however, virtually guaranteed that the North Koreans would develop nuclear weapons.

For example, he included North Korea in his stupid axis of evil, a phrase coined by David Frum, a fanatic neoconservative who at the time was a White House speechwriter. Next Bush announces a U.S. policy of preemptive wars. He tells the whole world, "You’re either with us or against us."

He then proceeds to launch two pre-emptive wars, on Afghanistan and Iraq. Even as he remains bogged down in those two countries, he launches a verbal war against Iran. At the same time, his so-called negotiations with North Korea had been reduced to threats and demands.

Well, if you were North Korea’s "Dear Leader," what would you conclude? The logical conclusion is that the U.S. eventually plans to attack North Korea. The best deterrence against that is to have nuclear weapons. The North Korean leader might strike us as odd or even comical, but he’s not stupid. Nobody who can survive in the midst of all those grim-faced generals is stupid.

Diplomacy is not molecular biology. It is simply negotiations. The first mistake Bush made was to include Japan. Koreans, North and South, hate Japan because its half-century occupation of the Korean peninsula was so brutal. Bush should have asked Japan to sit out the negotiation process.

Russia, China and South Korea are the three countries most likely to have influence with North Korea. Working closely with these countries, Bush should have presented the North Koreans with a menu of incentives and disincentives. Instead, he refused everything they asked for, such as one-on-one talks and a security guarantee, and simply made threats.

Well, North Korea has called the president’s bluff. Other than bluster, the president is not going to do anything. Even without nukes, North Korea is a little dragon with a lot of very sharp teeth. A military attack on North Korea would unleash a blood bath involving scores of thousands of casualties.

One view of history is that it is a record of political leaders making decisions. If they are smart and make good decisions, good things happen. If they are stupid and make bad decisions, then disasters can befall innocent people.

We have elected ourselves a president who is not very smart when it comes to foreign affairs and, even worse, seems to have no real interest in them. Instead of seeking wise counsel, he has surrounded himself with neoconservative ideologues who think the U.S. can bully the rest of the world into doing what they want it to do.

I’ll be glad when he retires to Crawford, Texas, and I’m reasonably sure the rest of the world will feel the same way. In the meantime, nuclear nonproliferation is a dead issue.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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