The United States and North Korea — part two (the Bush years)
A few years ago, I wrote this post on North Korea. I was trying to understand what was going on in North Korea and how our response was causing a negative or positive feedback. Because North Korea has strategically jumped back into the limelight, I thought was worth reviewing what I knew or at least what I thought I knew about North Korea. It looks like I hit the nail on the head.
I highly recommend that you read yesterday’s post on North Korea. I looked at North Korea’s history of nuclear interest dating back to late 1950s and early 1960s.
To use a football metaphor, I’m not going to tell you that the Clinton administration had taken a football (North Korea’s nuclear issues) down to the two-yard line and all the Bush administration had to do was to carry the ball over the goal line. President George Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary Colin Powell needed to do much more than that. In retrospect, Bush was ill-prepared for North Korea. I have no idea how much he was briefed. I have no idea if alternative viewpoints (outside of the neoconservative line of thinking) were presented to the president. (Here’s a North Korean timeline.)
In my opinion, foreign policy is like three-dimensional chess. There are lots of moving pieces. You need to be very smart and very prepared in order to anticipate your opponent’s move. In foreign policy you are playing multiple opponents at the same time.
As far as I know, there were no high-level discussions about how to approach the North Koreans when President Bush announced to the South Korean president that he was unclear if North Korea was holding up their end of the bargain (the Agreed Framework). He basically stated that North Koreans were liars and cheats and could not be trusted. “We’re not certain as to whether or not they’re keeping all the terms of all agreements.” (NYT) While such a provocative statement would not get a second look in downtown Baltimore, in the world of diplomacy it was a slap in the face. The big question is, if the United States were to break off discussions with North Korea, which was a basic tenet of the “Agreed Framework,” then what? What leverage did we have against a country that is already isolated? Was it possible that we could squeeze China or Russia in order to use their leverage against North Korea? None of this had been discussed prior to Bush’s statement. At least, not to the best of my knowledge. This all happened in early March of 2001. By September of 2001, we were focused on Afghanistan and some in the Bush administration had already begun to focus on Iraq. (more…)