Monday, July 10, 2006

Looking In The Wrong Places

Over at TPM, Josh Marshall takes exception to White House press secretary, Tony Snow's blaming Bill Clinton for North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.

Now, the premise of the Bush administration's North Korea policy was that North Korea was a bad acting state that had to be dealt with through force, not negotiation. That didn't necessarily mean going to war. The goal was to intimidate the North Koreans into better behavior if possible and resort to force if necessary.

Yet, when the North Koreans called the White House's bluff and starting reprocessing plutonium, the White House's response was ... well, nothing.

That was three years ago.

Rather than talk softly and carry a big stick it was a policy of talk tough and do nothing.


That's the policy, which is to say, they have no policy. The salient fact is that under Clinton plutonium reprocessing stopped and under Bush it restarted. The Bushies angle was that you don't coddle bad actors like the North Koreans. You deal with them in the language they understand: force. But the NKs called their bluff, they weren't prepared to use force. So they decided to forget about the whole thing.

Blaming things on Bill Clinton is losing a bit of credibility since the Bush crew has been in power for almost six years, but they keep trying. Or, maybe Tony Snow just made a mistake and mis-spoke. Instead of Clinton, Snow might have meant Cheney. According to Steve Clemons, Dick Cheney has been the guy who has sabotaged virtually every meaningful attempt at dealing with the North Koreans in a rational manner.

I think Asst. Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific and our chief envoy on North Korea negotiations Christopher Hill is one of the finest and most capable diplomats in America's foreign service -- but he not only has Kim Jong Il to outmaneuver but also has to outfox Vice President Cheney and his team who are always threatening to knife Hill from behind.

Hill has been close to some serious breakthrough deals with North Korea over the last 18 months, but each time Cheney and his team have unceremoniously and quietly strangled Hill's initiatives. Cheney's fervent opposition to negotiated outcomes with North Korea was more flamboyantly on display when his then State Department puppet John Bolton attacked and blew up the North Korea related initiatives of then Secretary of State Colin Powell and then chief North Korea negotiations envoy Jack Pritchard in 2001.

To say the Bush Administration has no foreign policy seems unfair. In reality, they have dozens of foreign policies, none of them grounded in reality.