Friday, August 08, 2003

Bush Admin, much like the Vatican, proves to be of many minds

With thanks to Drudge for the link to this article...

The Bush Admin split in a nutshell:

Below the public facade of near unanimity on policy toward North Korea, the Bush administration's top national security officials are divided on the best way to deal with the North-created nuclear crisis.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz favor a policy of "regime change" as the ultimate solution. This view, we are told, is based on the almost unanimous intelligence assessment that Pyongyang's communist regime is not going to give up its nuclear arms, regardless of multiparty talks and diplomacy.

The State Department and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell favor the diplomatic approach-- even at the expense of concessions to Pyongyang, such as holding bilateral talks.

Interestingly, there's this:

One solution being considered is to try fomenting a military coup against North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. An idea floating in high-level circles within the administration is to get the Chinese military to lead the way by telling North Korean military leaders that their future is dark as long as Mr. Kim rules.

I wouldn't put it past this administration to want to DO something in Korea, shake things up. While part of me desperately wishes for an end to the status quo, I am, like many South Koreans, hesistant when I consider the heavy price that will be paid by civilians and troops should we shake too hard. Captain Scarlet's bravura notwithstanding, I don't feel a peninsular conflict will result in clear "winners" except in the brutest zero-sum military sense.

On the Marmot's blog, some comments have been made to the effect that China wouldn't want to get militarily involved in a new conflict, and good reasons are supplied for this. I still have doubts, though, because (1) China DOES have a defense pact with NK, and (2) however much America has invested in the Chinese market, I'm pretty sure Europe's invested more. An American embargo (as one commenter suggested on Marmot) would indeed hurt China, but whether the threat of such an embargo is enough of a deterrent... I'm really not sure. Lemme get back to you on the Europe thing.

I think we can put a good deal of confidence in our war tech should conflict arise in Korea. There've been decisive tech improvements since 1991. But Korea is not Iraq, and whatever confidence the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns have generated needs to be tempered by the harsh prospect of what conflict in Korea will likely entail.

South Koreans may repeatedly evince an appeasement-oriented stance in their dealings with NK, but I can't blame them for worrying about what a war would do to SK's economy, infrastructure, etc. Is the decision ours to make? One commentator on the Marmot site wrote this:

All I know is that I want some pretty good reassurance that the next nuclear explosion in the world isn't going to take place in the United States! If the only way to ensure that requires war against North Korea, then we are going to have to do it - in spite of the threat against Seoul.

I assume the commentator's American, and can't blame him for thinking in terms of national self-interest. In fact, I found national self-interest to be a MUCH more honest justification for dealing with Iraq than the much-touted humanitarian concern (which doesn't make sense unless coupled with the network of other justifications for Gulf War 2).

But I'm worried, too, about the implications for South Korea. If America acts preemptively in its self-interest here, people will die. A lot of them. And quickly. I risk another visit from Scarlet and his/her ilk for saying this, but there is, to my mind, no scenario but the all-out scenario on the peninsula. The situation has become a Mexican standoff, and it doesn't really matter who shoots first: it'll be "Reservoir Dogs" at the end of the day.

So I empathize with the Korean point of view: American self-interest has the potential to seal South Korea's fate. And this is what SK and other countries rightly or wrongly interpret as another instance of American arrogance (or even "imperialism," though I personally reject this): "In the final analysis, we don't care what happens to your country; our concerns come first." Or perhaps more charitably: "Don't worry, it'll all be over soon. After several million of your people die violently, you'll realize this was worth it."

But I bounce right back to the fact that something has to be done, dammit. So I'm actually morbidly curious about what will happen when:

1. Bush gets reelected (I'm still thinking landslide as Korea moves to center stage in American public consciousness)
2. Rumsfeld (and the Pentagon through him) gets his way and tramples all over a Colin Powell-free State department, and
3. North Korea's economy continues-- or even concludes-- its diarrhetic swirl into the porcelain hole.

Jockeying for a coup in NK is playing with fire, but maybe this is the kind of indirect approach we need. I'd couple this with incremental cutoffs of whatever remaining food/aid/whatever we're giving NK (hell, why even mention we're doing it?). I'd lean on international relief organizations to scale back their efforts. I'd be about the business of persuading SK that it's in their interest to do much the same. And in the South, I'd definitely be pushing the counter-propaganda that NK, as it stands, cannot be considered "one people" with the South: language differences, social differences, the near-total erasure of everything recognizably Korean about NK-- these all militate against the "one people" fantasy, despite the shared history and basically (for the most part) the same language.

I do agree with Cap'n Scarlet and others who despair of any deal with NK that includes actual verification. Won't happen. That pretty much leaves us with...

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