Was North Korea helping Syria build a plutonium-producing reactor? The emerging consensus in the intelligence world is that it was. Indeed, the evidence, now including videotapes taken inside the facility before it was obliterated by Israeli jets last September 6, appears almost unequivocal.
It is therefore fascinating — and disturbing — to recall the alacrity with which Joseph Cirincione, Barack Obama’s top expert on matters nuclear, the author of a book called the Bomb Scare, was so quick back in September to dismiss the report as “nonsense.”
To Cirincione, writing on the blog of Foreign Policy Magazine, the stories surrounding surrounding the Israeli strike, namely that North Korea was building a Yongbyong-type plutonium reactor not far from the Euphrates River, was nothing more than a lie. It was a reprise, wrote Cirincione, of the way in which administration officials “misled the press” in the run-up to the second Gulf war.
Who was behind this nefarious manipulation? It seems, wrote Circincione, “to be the work of a small group of officials leaking cherry-picked, unvetted ‘intelligence’ to key reporters in order to promote a preexisting political agenda.” What exactly was that political agenda? “[I]t appears aimed at derailing the U.S.-North Korean agreement that administration hardliners think is appeasement.” There was also a dose of Zionist mischief thrown in: “Some Israelis want to thwart any dialogue between the U.S. and Syria.”
Along with Israel and the American hardliners, another villain in Cirincione’s take is the American press, which treats “selective leaks” from the administration “as if they were absolute truth.” Indeed, the lazy reporters pushing the story appear not “to have done even basic investigation of the miniscule Syrian nuclear program.”
All told, the “misleading story” of North Korean nuclear proliferation “will now enter the lexicon of the far Right” and “attempts to negotiate an end to North Korea’s program are bound fail in the face of such duplicity, etc., etc.”
In writing all these things, Cirincione sounds remarkably similar to Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations. “There was no Syria-North Korea cooperation whatsoever in Syria. We deny these rumors,” Bashar Ja’afari said yesterday.
Cirincione’s instant dismissal of the Syrian-North Korean nuclear axis raises a number of interesting questions.
One of them is: has Cirincione changed his mind in light of the latest intelligence?
A second: is he going to be the official called by Obama at 3AM when an intelligence cable comes in reporting that North Korea has shipped nuclear materials somewhere else?
A fourth: Is Joseph Cirincione going to go the way of Samatha Power and get dropped from the campaign like a radioactive potato.