The Dear Leader vs. the War President
by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis
North Korea’s apparent test of a nuclear device has provoked the anticipated 10-megaton explosion of international anger and threats against the isolated Stalinist regime.
A senior US State Department official warned, u201Cwe are not going to accept a nuclear North Korea.u201D But that, of course, is just what Washington has been doing ever since CIA disclosed in 2003 that North Korea had up to five operational nuclear weapons, and more in development. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, has just thrown down the gauntlet to the United States saying, in effect, u201Ccome and get me.u201D
2003 was also the same year President George Bush launched an invasion of Iraq, ostensibly to protect America from nuclear weapons that it, in fact, did not possess. Three hundred sixty billion dollars later, this unnecessary war goes on while axis of evil North Korea flexes its nuclear muscle.
North Korea has repeatedly stated it is developing uranium and plutonium-based nuclear weapons, and medium and intercontinental-range missiles to carry them. In 2005, CIA’s director confirmed North Korea’s Taepo-dong ICBM was theoretically able to deliver a nuclear warhead to North America.
As this column has long noted, North Korea’s eccentric u201CDear Leader,u201D Kim Jong-il, has cleverly used nuclear blackmail to squeeze money out of South Korea, Japan, and the west.
Nuclear threats are North Korea’s only remaining exports. A US-led coalition has shut down its exports of missiles to the Mideast, counterfeiting US currency, and black market amphetamine sales to Japan.
So, what is the tough-talking Bush Administration going to do about North Korea? Probably not much.
The US and Japan have already imposed a de facto naval blockade on North Korea, and conducted military exercise in its region. US military strikes against North Korea would be unlikely to destroy its deeply-buried nuclear weapons — if they could even be located.
Any attacks on North Korea would quickly make South Korea and Japan targets of North Korea’s medium-ranged missiles. Seoul lies within range of North Korean long-ranged artillery and missiles batteries behind the DMZ. The Pentagon estimates that a US ground invasion of North Korea would cost up to 500,000 American casualties.
Amid all the international hysteria over North Korea, it’s important to understand the Dear Leader’s nuclear programs are primarily defensive. Their goal is to protect North Korea from a long-feared US attack, not to attack the US or Japan, a suicidal act sure to produce devastating US nuclear retaliation. North Korea may still be many years away from deploying a deliverable nuclear warhead for its long-ranged missiles.
North Korea has repeatedly agreed to junk its nuclear weapons provided the US does three things: 1. deal directly with Pyongyang, which Washington refuses to do; 2. provide security guarantees the US will not attack North Korea; 3. provide economic aid.
The Bush Administration’s hard-line neoconservatives refuse to u201Cvalidateu201D North Korea’s ugly, totalitarian regime through direct talks. Neocons are determined to overthrow Kim Jong-il.
But Washington has no qualms about dealing with other despotic regimes in the Mideast and Central Asia. It both foolish and childish not to negotiate directly with North Korea — and, for that matter, Iran.
South Korea’s biggest fears are a US-North Korean war that would devastate it; and an economic implosion of North Korea sending millions of starving refugees south. So Seoul keeps North Korea on life support, while trying to calm American militancy.
Japan wants to deter a united Korea as long as possible, rightly fearing it would one day constitute a major economic and military threat. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s new conservative prime minister, has taken a tough line towards North Korea but has also just apparently buried the hatchet with China over his predecessor’s inflammatory visits to the Tokyo’s Yasukuni national war shrine. His visit this week to Beijing appeared to set Sino-Japanese relations on a new, positive footing.
This week, China notably dropped its former indulgent attitude to North Korea’s nuclear programs and issued a very stern warning to Pyongyang not to conduct nuclear tests.
The Dear Leader likes to do zany things, but offending his patron, closest ally and, most important, sole source of oil, would seem too much even for him. But Kim went ahead with his big bang, openly insulting China’s leader, Hu Jintao, and causing him serious loss of face. It will be very interesting to see how China reacts to this serious affront.
One thing is clear: money, lots of it, not war, is the most effective way of keeping North Korea on somewhat good behavior. Bribery is always far, far cheaper than war.
This point has become even more apparent after North Korea’s nuclear test. In the past, North Korea dared the US to attack it, vowing its tough, million-man army would fight to the death and possibly take South Korea and Japan with it. Adding nuclear arms into this equation will obviously strengthen Kim’s resolve. Many South Koreans now regard Kim as the authentic Korean leader, and South Korea’s government as overly influenced by the Americans.
The ball is now in President Bush’s court. He has got to do something, or else look like a paper tiger — and just before elections. After all, Bush has hung his political hat on national defense. Pugnacious Dear Leader Kim has just challenged him in front of the whole world.