Yesterday, President Bush told critics of his North Korean policies to pipe down and be patient. “Somehow people are precluding–you know, jumping ahead of the game,” he said as he appeared with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, at Camp David. Referring to the North Koreans’ February 2007 promise to disclose their nuclear programs, Bush said this: “They have yet to make a full declaration. Why don’t we just wait and see what they say before people go out there and start giving their opinions about whether or not this is a good deal or a bad deal?”
First of all, nobody is rushing to judgment, Mr. President. The North Koreans in October had promised to make the all-important declaration by the end of last year. It is now a matter of historical fact that they are more than three months late.
Moreover, the North Koreans rarely fail to miss an opportunity to tell an untruth, especially when it comes to their nuclear weapons. Incredibly, they have stated they already delivered a declaration. According to them, they possess only 30 kilograms of plutonium instead of the 50 kilograms that almost everyone believes they hold. Perhaps more important, the North Koreans stated they never had any nuclear weapons program based on uranium and have not proliferated anything to anybody, including the Syrians.
Lies, lies, lies! And what does the American president say in light of North Korea’s obvious fabrications? “He’s testing the relationship,” Bush noted yesterday in a reference to Kim Jong Il. “He’s wondering whether or not the five of us will stay unified, and the only thing I know to do is to continue pressing forward within the six-party framework.”
There are so many things wrong with this statement, it’s hard to find the place to begin. Yet let me note three points. First, if this is a North Korean test of American will, the last thing to do is to let Mr. Kim get his way. That, as they say in the geopolitics biz, is a sign of weakness. Pyongyang’s leader is not waiting for the Bush administration to end, as many pundits believe; he apparently sees no need to disarm in view of general American helplessness. Second, I cannot believe that the President, by publicly saying that he knows no alternative to the six-party talks, has just admitted that he has run out of ideas. Even proponents of engaging the North Koreans have become skeptics of the negotiating process that started in the middle of 2003. Third, the five other parties are not unified. Apart from pious statements from China, for instance, there is little evidence that Beijing shares Washington’s goal of disarming North Korea.
If Kim wanted to give up his weapons, he would be doing so at this moment. It’s time for the Bush administration to recognize that its plan has failed and to move on. We need less patience because we need to know where we stand.
And, yes, it’s true that President Bush’s term is nearing its end. Yet he still has an obligation to defend America and its allies. And that means, among other things, that he should stop issuing inane statements and making us look helpless.