Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bush, Clinton, Korea

So, John McCain thinks that Bill Clinton's policies are to blame for the recent North Korean nuclear tests. I think his memory is a little short and a lot thin. Perhaps he should seek treatment before Alzheimer's is diagnosed?

U.S. policy towards North Korea has headed down this path for decades. It was the Reagan/Bush administrations that were in charge while North Korea worked on building it's first nuclear plants. Bill Clinton in 1994 negotiated an agreement to have UN inspectors in the country making certain that it's plants were not being used for enriching plutonium for weapons. It was the first such negotiated military agreement between the U.S. and North Korea. As this time line shows, the U.S. never fulfilled completely it's end of the agreement:

After a tense standoff, the two sides reached an agreement. North Korea would allow UN inspectors and cameras into the Yongbyon complex and would cease work on a nuclear plant that could make weapons-grade nuclear material. In return, the U.S. and Japan would provide North Korea with food aid, fuel oil to run its power plants, and would help it build two commercial-grade nuclear power plants, which would generate electricity, but not be capable of producing weapons-grade nuclear material.

North Korea held up its end of the deal, and so did Japan. But the Clinton administration had a tougher time selling this deal to Congress. Congress okayed the fuel oil, but refused to approve the two commercial nuclear plants. Providing any kind of nuclear materials to North Korea was verboten. Indeed, it's possible that Clinton knew he didn't have the votes in Congress to approve the two plants; he may have agreed to that part of the deal simply for expediency's sake. (In other words, he struck a deal that made him look tough and statesman-like while probably knowing that he couldn't deliver on his end and thinking that he could stall long enough to leave the problem to a future president.)

In the meantime, North Korea got tired of waiting for construction to begin on its two promised plants. The fuel oil helped a lot, but they decided to give the Clinton administration a little scare, just to prod Bill Clinton's memory about his unfulfilled promise. In 1999, they fired a prototype long-range missile over the north of Japan, sparking another round of diplomatic talks.

Now, that's not a very flattering portrayal of Clinton's negotiations. He may have promised on something that he didn't expect to be able to deliver and he may have just wanted to stall long enough to leave that problem to the next president. However, that is speculation. What we do know is that the reason Clinton could never deliver on those promises is that the Republican Congress would not let him deliver on it. Even if the speculation about Clinton's motives is true, he was complicit in his actions with the Republican Congress. Further from the article:
By that time the Clinton administration was on its way out, unable to make any firm promises. Clinton managed to extract a promise from North Korea, however, to halt testing of long-range missiles, although no one really believed that North Korea has completely stopped work on its long-range missile program. After all, missiles are one of North Korea's main exports.

Then, in 2000, George W. Bush was elected president of the United States. The first thing the Bush administration did was cut off all negotiations and all contact with North Korea.
Clinton became a lame duck and the Republican Congress along with election concerns effectively tied his hands in negotiations. This sort of thing happens with our government and Mr. Bush is about to discover it himself. But let's look at that last line. The article and most media coverage like to immediately jump to September 11, 2001 and the following State of the Union address during which Bush made his infamous "Axis of Evil" remark that infuriated North Korea. However, Bush had already raised the ire of that country:
Bush then elaborated on his concerns. "Part of the problem in dealing with North Korea," he said, "there's not very much transparency. We're not certain as to whether or not they're keeping all terms of all agreements."
That quote is from March, 2001. Long before September 11th the Bush administration had cut off negotiations with North Korea and accused it of breaking the 1994 agreement - an agreement that, as noted above, we never fulfilled either. At the time this was one of the first Bush foreign policy steps. The President was widely criticized for this statement. No one in the administration had any sort of proof that North Korea was not fulfilling the agreements. Aides scrambled to cover for the President's words:

So which "agreements" were the president referring to? White House spokesmen told reporters that Bush was speaking about possible future agreements.

"That's how the president speaks," one told the New York Times.

That was bullshit and everyone knew it. It would be two years before the administration would come up with any sort of evidence of a weapons grade enrichment program. Two years lost with the U.S. not fulfilling the 1994 agreements and no negotiations. During that time, after the Bush saber rattling, North Korea kicked out U.N. inspectors and began pursuing it's nuclear ambitions at a more rapid pace. South Korea and China tried to negotiate and intervene, but the U.S. was having none of it. Attempts to reach a solution were ratcheted up following the U.S. disclosure of the North Korean secret plants. The Chinese thought that they had an agreement in place in late 2003, but this administration continued to refuse to negotiate:

US State Department negotiators had submitted a reworked version of the Chinese plan to a high-level meeting in Washington on December 12, but Mr Cheney had insisted that the document require North Korea to agree to "irreversible" dismantling of its nuclear weapons programs and international verification.

The Knight-Ridder newspaper chain said a senior official had quoted Mr Cheney as telling the meeting: "I have been charged by the President with making sure that none of the tyrannies in the world are negotiated with. We don't negotiate with evil; we defeat it."

The re-emergence of the word "evil" and talk of defeat - recalling Mr Bush's January 2002 speech linking North Korea with Iraq and Iran in an axis of evil - is likely to make the North Koreans even more distrustful of promising anything ahead of firm guarantees from the US and its allies.

Emphasis, mine. Tough talk and look where it's gotten us. Cheney single handedly ended the negotiations with this statement. He didn't like the negotiations in the first place and he knew that his words would re-open the animosity created by the Axis of Evil remarks. He chose his words carefully and pissed off the North Koreans even further. They had once again come to the table - reluctantly, and maybe not completely open - and Cheney belittled their efforts with his words. Not that North Korea really had much hope of achieving anything in negotiations with the U.S. It may have been a stall tactic on their own part. As we see later in the article, the U.S. was not really interested in negotiations as much as they wanted to dictate the terms to the North Koreans:
Even without Mr Cheney's words, the US stance was proving hard for the North Koreans to swallow, insisting the Pyongyang government move to dismantle its nuclear weapons without the formal security treaty it had demanded, and well before any economic aid was even discussed. After its draft was rejected, China called on Washington to be more "flexible" and "realistic".
A recap: Reagan/Bush were presidents when the first North Korean nuclear reactor experiments began. By the end of Bush I's administration, reactors were spotted and acknowledged. Clinton negotiated an agreement with North Korea that included inspections and civilian grade nuclear power plants, but a Republican Congress never delivered on that agreement. In response, it is believed that in 1997 North Korea secretly began a restart of it's nuclear weapons program ("believed" because we have no hard evidence to support this...all we have is "intelligence" from the CIA insinuating this and this administration, given it's propensity to invent intelligence to further it's agenda has called into question any such speculation). In 2001, Bush takes office and immediately goes on the attack with North Korea. He cuts off negotiations, demands to dictate terms, and refuses to fulfill the U.S. government's agreement obligations while accusing the North Koreans of doing the same without any evidence to support him.

And now McCain and the other Republicans are attempting to blame Clinton when he had the only marginal success in the region and whose policy was undermined by the Republican Congress as well as the next administration. It seems that there is plenty of blame to spread on this humble sandwich.

After years of attempting to talk tough and dictate the terms of surrender to North Korea, James Baker suggests that the Bush administration may now be open to negotiations/discussions. The bottom line is that the policy has failed. Bush has held the reigns for 6 years and failed miserably. Clinton's policy, even if it wasn't hamstrung by the Republicans, may also have failed eventually, but we never got the chance to find out. In any case, at least his policy seemed constructive while the current one has been completely destructive - in the most dangerous way.

1 comment:

Scott said...

I found out first hand there was a great deal of disdain for McCain because of the book he wrote among those involved in classified POW training. It was training I attended, and I'll assume it is still classified, as it should be, though in our current war of corporate aggression it may not be of any help to our service members.

Because of the revelations in his book, it was felt that current military members were deeply compromised and endangered, forcing the methodology and training to be completely revamped. I've given him the benefit of the doubt because so many people I respect admire him. He used it all up. It appears he no longer has the courage to match his convictions. Allowing w to get away with signing statements for torture, compromising on torture, and now blaming the wrong people for the current balls up situation created and nurtured by his peers and master.

He should just retire to a nice seat at Oral Roberts University, maybe Professor (as in practitioner) of Hypocrisy. Which reminds me, if I look at graduate programs The New School is on my list because of their vocal disdain for his flip-flopping, and giving a commencement speech at the aforementioned sacrilegious institution of suppressed learning (ORU) prior to giving their commencement speech.