Liberal Grace

Hicks Nix Blix Fix


October 24, 2002

WASHINGTON North Korea proudly announced in 1994 that it had begun withdrawing plutonium-rich fuel rods from one of its nuclear reactors, which the world knew would enable the Stalinist government to build a half-dozen bombs. Coupled with its threat to turn South Korea's capital, Seoul, into "a sea of fire," this threat to the nonproliferation treaty deeply worried Bill Clinton's Pentagon.

Tough-minded negotiators were needed to head off the dictator Kim Il Sung's plan. Two senators steeped in arms control were selected to go to Pyongyang: Richard Lugar and Sam Nunn. They prepared to board a military transport plane, but the dictator refused them permission to enter his country; he had a different kind of intermediary in mind.

Enter Jimmy Carter. Within a month after the rejection of Lugar and Nunn, our former president was in the dictator's office, in front of CNN cameras, announcing as only an unofficial emissary, of course that he had personally worked out a deal to defuse the crisis. In return for suspending plutonium production, the Koreans would receive free oil, a light-water nuclear reactor said to be less dangerous, and the top-level diplomatic contacts it long sought.

"It was kind of like a miracle," breathed Jimmy Carter about his supposed conversion of the North Korean leader from lion to lamb on live TV. Ignoring the protests from realists in this space and all over about appeasement and lack of verification, the Clinton administration embraced Carter's "miracle." After all, hadn't the North Koreans agreed to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, headed by the sternly unfoolable Hans Blix?

As we now know, the Carter-Clinton crowd was taken to the cleaners by a totalitarian regime that snatched our payoff and secretly kept on building nukes. When confronted this month with indisputable evidence of years of double-crossing us and the world, the Communist North headed by Kim's dictator son said, in effect, "Sure we did and your nosiness means that the deal is now nullified."

With the arrogance of successful con men, they now want to sell us the same phony bill of goods again: more oil and food and "safe" reactors in return for more empty promises of shell-game inspections. The so-called unilateral cowboys of the Bush administration won't buy that. (Suggested Variety headline: Hicks Nix Blix Fix.)

Instead, at his Crawford, Tex., ranch, the president will lay it on the line to his visitor from China, Jiang Zemin: Do you want a loose cannon on your border loaded with nukes? Or will you, with exquisite Chinese subtlety and Communist camaraderie, put the economic and diplomatic squeeze on your hungry neighbor lest it gain the destructive power to threaten China's Asian sphere of influence?

America and its allies will not use our military to take out the Pyongyang gang for the simple reason that North Korea already has the conventional troop strength and artillery power to inflict horrendous casualties on the South (including 40,000 U.S. tripwire troops) as well as in Japan, which Pyongyang will soon be able to reach with nuclear missiles.

That strategic fact of life and death invites the question that coolly consistent sophists love to ask: If we are disinclined to attack the nuclear buildup in North Korea, why are we hot to attack a somewhat less imminent threat of mass destruction from Iraq?

Saddam Hussein is a recent, serial aggressor, while totalitarian North Korea has not launched an invasion in the past half-century. Moreover, the potentially high human cost of wiping out the Korean threat should be an unforgettable lesson to every nation: The world must not allow Iraq to gain the level of destructive power that appeasement and misplaced trust permitted North Korea to achieve.

Our failure to demand intrusive, relentless inspection of North Korea in the past decade has made everyone more vulnerable to the spread of terror weaponry. (Libya's secret nuclear work relies on Korean know-how.)

The U.S. has learned its lesson from Pyongyang's duplicity. If oil-fixated France and Russia should awake to the danger of Saddam and join with us at the U.N. to stop him while he's readily stoppable, that would turn the proliferation tide. It's a long shot. It would be kind of like a miracle.

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