'Realists' Press for Bush to Engage Iran, North Korea
by Jim Lobe
in the administration of President George W. Bush may think that
they are tough, but their dreams of "regime change" in Iran and
North Korea are increasingly deluded, not to say dangerous, according
to their hard-edged realist rivals who have become increasingly
outspoken in recent weeks.
latest broadside comes in the form of an article by Richard Haass,
president of the influential Council on Foreign Relations, in the
forthcoming edition of the journal Foreign Affairs entitled
"The Limits of Regime Change."
who served under Bush in a top State Department position, also has
just published a new book, The
Opportunity: America's Moment to Alter History's Course,
one of the central themes of which is that the hawks have over-estimated
Washington's ability to change the world.
article and book release follow the publication of a column last
week by arch-realist Brent Scowcroft in the Wall Street Journal
which argues that the hawks' rejection of bilateral talks with North
Korea in the hopes that the government there will collapse are "irresponsible."
another realist, former Foreign Affairs editor Fareed Zakaria,
made much the same argument in a recent Newsweek column that assailed
the White House for what he called a four-year "stalemate"
within the administration between hawks who "want to push for
regime change" in North Korea and "pragmatists" who
"want to end the North's nuclear programme."
to all three authors is the conviction that the U.S. is not all-powerful;
that it must coordinate its policy with other great powers to achieve
its ends; that creative diplomacy can be far more constructive than
military action; and that, despite the tough rhetoric of administration
hawks, U.S. policy towards Iran and North Korea, both members of
Bush's "axis of evil," effectively is adrift.
realist offensive comes amid a growing sense that the intra-administration
fights between hawks led by Vice President Dick Cheney and realists
led by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell have continued unabated
nearly six months into Bush's second term, albeit more recently
without Powell and fewer leaks from unhappy State Department and
intelligence officers who generally lined up with the realists.
Washington has persisted in its refusal to directly engage either
Iran or North Korea, it has provided nominal, if sceptical, support
to negotiations between the so-called EU-3 Germany, Britain and
France and Iran on Teheran's nuclear programme while also stating
that a military option of one kind or another remains on the table
if an agreement is not reached.
also has continued to insist that Pyongyang return to the Six-Party
Talks which also involve China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia
to discuss a possible agreement for dismantling its nuclear programme.
the administration has rejected entreaties by China and South Korea,
in particular, to put on the table what it might be prepared to
offer if the North were to strike such a deal. In recent weeks,
Washington also has sent 17 Stealth warplanes to South Korea as
part of a series of steps to increase pressure on the North and
signal the other parties that its patience is running out.
who, as head of the influential Policy Planning office in the State
Department during the first two years of the Bush administration,
was a top adviser to Powell, argues in his Foreign Affairs
article, that the hawks' pursuit of regime change is flawed on many
concedes that regime change appears superficially attractive because
it "is less distasteful than diplomacy and less dangerous than
living with new nuclear states."
is only one problem," he adds. "It is highly unlikely to have
the desired effect soon enough."
dismisses the notion that Washington is prepared to invade either
country simply due to the "enormous" expense involved, the ability
of Pyongyang's conventional military power to inflict destruction
on South Korea and U.S. forces stationed there, and the size and
large population of Iran that would make "any occupation costly,
miserable, and futile."
addition, "regime replacement," often is far more difficult and
expensive than the initial regime ouster, as Washington's experience
in Iraq has demonstrated, according to Haass.
for the option of carrying out a military attack on Pyongyang's
or Teheran's nuclear sites, as urged by some hard-line circles outside
the administration, Haass warns that, given the state of U.S. intelligence
on the two countries' nuclear programmes, this is likely to be limited
in its effectiveness and would almost certainly prove strategically
the first place, Washington is unlikely to face a demonstrable imminent
threat from either country that would justify pre-emptive action.
Any preventive attack on North Korea would be opposed by Washington's
Six-Party partners because of the dangers posed by war on the Korean
Peninsula, according to Haass.
a preventive attack on Iranian targets could set back its nuclear
programme by months or years, he argues, Teheran could respond in
any number of ways, from "unleashing terrorism" and promoting
instability in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, to triggering
oil price increases that "could trigger a global economic crisis."
Haass urges what he terms a "containment" policy similar to that
pursued by Washington during the Cold War which, he notes, had as
a "second, subordinate goal" incremental regime change or "regime
evolution." Such a policy, he says, "tends to be indirect and
gradual and to involve the use of foreign policy tools other than
foreign policy that chooses to integrate, not isolate, despotic
regimes can be the Trojan horse that moderates their behavior in
the short run and their nature in the long run," he writes.
to this strategy is Washington's willingness to offer clear incentives,
"including economic assistance, security assurances, and greater
political standing," to both countries if they satisfied U.S. and
international concerns regarding their nuclear programmes. It also
would spell out clear penalties, including military attack "in
the most dire circumstances," if they failed to cooperate, says
also should work with its negotiating partners to devise packages
for both countries that lay out similar carrots and sticks on which
all parties would commit themselves, he adds.
admits it is quite possible this strategy will not work, and that
one or both countries will use the time to build up their nuclear
capabilities either overtly or covertly. The option then is to accept
their de facto nuclear status similar to that currently accepted
for Israel, India, and Pakistan.
the stakes that would be involved, particularly the likelihood that
the two countries' neighbours would try to follow suit, Washington,
according to Haass, should declare publicly that any government
that uses or threatens to use weapons of mass destruction or knowingly
transfers them to third parties "opens itself up to the strongest
reprisals, including attack and removal from power." At the
same time, the U.S. should try to persuade all other major powers
to sign on to such a policy, he adds.
Lobe [send him mail]
is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service