Thursday, October 12, 2006

Who Elected this Guy?

I guess it was wishful thinking to imagine that we could get out of this latest crisis with North Korea without hearing from our least "ex"-president. Jimmy Carter published an op-ed in the New York Times yesterday. Three guesses at what it says...

How's that? You only need one guess? And your guess is "I solved this years ago but nobody listens to me?"

Just for kicks, let's go through it and see if you're right.


With the risk of war on the Korean Peninsula, there was a consensus that the forces of South Korea and the United States could overwhelmingly defeat North Korea. But it was also known that North Korea could quickly launch more than 20,000 shells and missiles into nearby Seoul. The American commander in South Korea, Gen. Gary Luck, estimated that total casualties would far exceed those of the Korean War.


Not true. It's true that Gen. Luck was commander of US Forces in South Korea at the time, but he didn't make this estimate until 2003. And what he actually said was that casualties would be around 1 million, 52,000 of which would be Americans. (source) The estimate he made "at the time" (by which Carter means "in 1995" or, roughly translated, "one year after the time") was much less definite - merely noting that estimates "vary widely." The harsher of these estimates that "vary widely" that he cited claimed casualties in the 80,000 to 100,000 range for Americans and around a million total. (source) In any case, these estimates can hardly "far exceed those of the Korean War" since even conservative figures put the death toll at 2,500,000. Maybe he's only talking about military casualties, specifically Korean military casualties - since "only" 600,000 Korean soldiers were killed in that war. But that seems like a cold-hearted way to look at a war where most of the dead were civilian.


Responding to an invitation from President Kim Il-sung of North Korea, and with the approval of President Bill Clinton, I went to Pyongyang and negotiated an agreement under which North Korea would cease its nuclear program at Yongbyon and permit inspectors from the atomic agency to return to the site to assure that the spent fuel was not reprocessed. It was also agreed that direct talks would be held between the two Koreas.


And why do you suppose Kim Il Sung wanted you of all people to be the "negotiator," hmmm? It's also interesting that Carter should say "with the approval of President Clinton." President Clinton certainly doesn't remember it that way. Most newspaper and congressional reports from the time, in fact, show that the White House had no intention of letting Carter do any negotiating. Carter was on "a private trip" in "an unofficial capacity," the purpose of which was only to feel Kim Il Sung out. Cater came back with an agreement, which he announced on CNN before filling in Clinton on all the details. Oh, and those talks that would be held? Not till 2000, after the South Koreans had a new president who was willing to bribe the North to show up.


But beginning in 2002, the United States branded North Korea as part of an axis of evil, threatened military action, ended the shipments of fuel oil and the construction of nuclear power plants and refused to consider further bilateral talks. In their discussions with me at this time, North Korean spokesmen seemed convinced that the American positions posed a serious danger to their country and to its political regime.


Just like that? The US just "decided" North Korea was evil and ended the fuel shipments for no reason? Or did it maybe have something to do with the fact that North Korea admitted to having a secret nuclear program in violation of the agreement? See, this admission came on 9 October 2002. The US - along with all the other members of KEDO - stopped oil shipments in November.


Six-nation talks finally concluded in an agreement last September that called for North Korea to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and for the United States and North Korea to respect each other’s sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize relations. Each side subsequently claimed that the other had violated the agreement. The United States imposed severe financial sanctions and Pyongyang adopted the deeply troubling nuclear option.


Yes, let's just leave out that bit about the missile tests, including the part about how they threatened to anihilate the US after a second test of longer-range missiles. And we'll just pretend the sanctions happened in a vacuum, as opposed to mentioning the reality that the US and Japan only seriously considered sanctions about a month after the second test.


One option, the most likely one, is to try to force Pyongyang’s leaders to abandon their nuclear program with military threats and a further tightening of the embargoes, increasing the suffering of its already starving people.


Oh grow up already. The US government is not responsible for what the Kim regime decides to do to the North Korean people. Papa and Junior Kim have been tormenting them for over 50 years now. What the US government is responsible for is ensuring the safety of the American people. Now, it would be nice if there were a way to do both, but the Agreed Framework failed miserably. Unless anyone has any creative suggestions, the US government needs to take care of its primary responsibility: the security of its own people. It's a hollow moral victory if we manage to unload a couple of thousand extra tons of rice on the North Koreans just so Kim can have some more time to develop more effecitve nuclear weapons that might actually kill millions of Americans (or Japanese).


Two important facts must be faced: Kim Jong-il and his military leaders have proven themselves almost impervious to outside pressure, and both China and South Korea have shown that they are reluctant to destabilize the regime.


South Korea's opinion is irrelevant at this point. China's has to be taken into account, right - but they seem to be open to sanctions this time around. Even if they weren't, North Korea does more (lucrative) business with Japan than with China. Japan is the actual crucial player. Also, North Korea's leaders have not proven that they're impervious to pressure. They're resistant to it, but then, we've never applied real pressure, have we? If China's on board for sanctions, the playing field will look very different indeed. And even if they're not, combined pressure from Japan and the US might be enough. But let's wait and see what China says before calling this dead in the water, no?


This approach is also more likely to stimulate further nuclear weapons activity.


Yes, but we don't care about their activity if they have no supplies. The whole point of the santions would be to limit their ability to get their hands on supplies. Without supplies, I don't much care if they play nuclear power at Yongbyon.


The other option is to make an effort to put into effect the September denuclearization agreement, which the North Koreans still maintain is feasible. The simple framework for a step-by-step agreement exists, with the United States giving a firm and direct statement of no hostile intent, and moving toward normal relations if North Korea forgoes any further nuclear weapons program and remains at peace with its neighbors. Each element would have to be confirmed by mutual actions combined with unimpeded international inspections.


This sounds nice on paper, but Carter is forgetting the kind of message it sends to places like Iran and Venzuela, which might also be developing nuclear weapons. The message is essentially: if you get nukes, you can call your shots with the US. Clearly, there are Very Good Reasons why we might not want to send such a message. More importantly, Carter is (conveniently) forgetting just how hard-headed the North Koreans have been about all of this. The US has always been willing to sit down with them at six-party talks. If North Korea is serious about implementing the September agreement, as Carter seems to think, then why can't they just sit down with all six concerned nations and say so? Anyway, the US has always stressed that it has no hostile intentions in very clear statements. The North Koreans, however, insist on a formal non-agression pact which there are very good reasons not to sign. The link goes to a 2003 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed which spells out those reasons in detail - but the short version is because North Korea has a history of not keeping its agreements. It would no doubt immediately begin demanding all sorts of ridiculous addenda to prove that such an agreement is in force - such as the cancellation of joint South Korea/US training exercises, etc.


Washington’s pledge of no direct talks could be finessed through secret discussions with a trusted emissary like former Secretary of State Jim Baker, who earlier this week said, “It’s not appeasement to talk to your enemies.”


Ah, that's crafty. In fact, Baker said this about Syria and Iran, not North Korea. With North Korea the situation is a bit different, as Carter well knows, because the US has never said it will not talk to North Korea, only that it will not hold bilateral talks with North Korea. President Bush insists, rightly (and cleverly), that China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan also participate in any discussions. To back down on this insistence in the face of a nuclear threat is a bit different from just sitting down to talk with Syria or Iran. I don't know what Baker's opinion on talks with North Korea is, but I think it's fair to say that Carter is putting words in his mouth by applying his statement to the Korea situation.


What must be avoided is to leave a beleaguered nuclear nation convinced that it is permanently excluded from the international community, its existence threatened, its people suffering horrible deprivation and its hard-liners in total control of military and political policy.


Well, that's nice, Jimmy, but see, we're way ahead of you here. We already know that this would be a bad outcome which is why no one is pursuing that outcome. We just happen to think that negotiations only work when you have a reasonably honest partner.

Of all the people responsible for getting us into the current mess, I would say that Jimmy Carter ranks a very close third to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. While president, he ordered the unilateral removal of nuclear weapons from South Korea (within days of inauguration, actually, and without any negotiations with the Kremlin) and seriously threatened to remove the last remaining US division there. This would probably be a good idea now when the US doesn't really have any policy interests in Korea anymore, but in the 1970s when the Soviet Union was still very real and very aggressive it was sheer folly. Carter put the first real rifts in the South Korea/US alliance. Then, in 1994, without anyone's expressed permission, he negotiated the Agreed Framework in which we promised to supply North Korea with oil for electricity generation as well as two light-water nuclear reactors (we fell behind schedule on the reactors - largely due to interventions from the Republican Congress in the 1990s but probably also in part to the fact that Clinton never personally got to negotiate the Agreed Framework and wasn't too enthusiasitc about it - in any case, this is one valid claim North Korea has). This did little but buy the North Koreans time to refine their nuclear program. We now know that they had restarted it in secret. It's also worth pointing out that the Agreed Framework only covers plutonium enrichment and has nothing to say about uranium. The North Koreans might not actually be cheating on the Framework, technically speaking, which makes it a perverse agreement, to say the least.

What I don't understand is where Carter gets his reputation for diplomacy from. As far as I can tell, he doesn't actually have a single diplomatic achievement on his resume. On his watch, Cuba (with which he claimed to have established diplomatic relations) continued its war in Angola and sent additional troops to Ethiopia. The Sandinistas took power in Nicaragua, and Carter sent them a $90million welcoming package. Iran had a revolution after Carter removed support for the Shah. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Carter's biggest claim is that he negotiated the 1978 Peace Treaty with Israel and Egypt, but he did no such thing. He rather took credit for something that Sadat had already privately agreed on with Begin. As an ex-president, his accomplishments include certifying Chavez' (Chavez'!!!) election along with about 20 other phony elections, deliberately trying to undermine the first Gulf War by sending letters to the Canadians urging them not to join the coalition, negotiating a treaty with Kim Il Sung without permission and then announcing it on CNN before telling the president (the PRESIDENT!) what he'd done.

Jimmy Carter is, hands down, the worst ex-president of the post-war era. I won't call him the worst president of the post-war era (my pick for that is Johnson), but I think he might qualify for worst president on foreign policy. Deceitful editorials like this one only highlight the extent to which he lets vanity distract him from reality. Fortunately, no one in the current administration has any use for him.

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