Commentary Magazine


“Pariah Diplomacy”

Jimmy Carter, writing in this morning’s New York Times, praises his own “Pariah Diplomacy.” He cites, as an example of success, his mediation in Nepal that led to the Maoists joining the government. He then describes the results of his just-concluded meetings with the leaders of Hamas. “In the Middle East, as in Nepal, the path to peace lies in negotiation, not in isolation,” the Nobel laureate writes.

Whatever one thinks of Carter’s diplomacy with Nepalese Maoists and Palestinian terrorists, it’s too early to pronounce final verdicts in either case. Yet we can begin to judge the former President’s general approach by looking at the results of his past efforts.

Take his peacemaking initiative with regard to Kim Il Sung’s North Korea, for example. After meeting with the charismatic dictator in June 1994, Carter said that he had performed “a miracle.”

At the time, he looked as if he were right. He had, on his own initiative, gone to Pyongyang despite the wishes of the Clinton administration and the government in Seoul-sound familiar?-and, by all accounts, averted war. He did that by putting together a plan that formed the basis of the Agreed Framework, a bilateral deal inked in October 1994 by Washington and Pyongyang.

It’s clear that Carter, by willfulness and charm, reduced the possibility of war. But did he bring lasting peace to the Korean peninsula? Since then, Kim Jong Il, who succeeded his father, has tested long-range missiles, detonated an atomic device with a plutonium core, pursued a uranium weapons program, proliferated nuclear technology to Syria, and worked with Iran on its nuclear weapons and missiles.

None of this, in all probability, would have occurred if Carter had not gone to Pyongyang. On the eve of his visit, Bill Clinton had accomplished something that so far has eluded George W. Bush–he had prepared the international community for the use of force against the Kim family regime. In one of those rare moments of unity, the world was ready for meaningful coercive measures against the North. Even China, Kim Il Sung’s staunch ally, was willing to permit the United Nations to impose penalties-and had told Kim Il Sung as much. Carter’s trip, unfortunately, dissolved that unity. Left without support for the use of force, the Clinton administration had no choice but to accept the Agreed Framework, which provided a crucial lifeline to the abhorrent Kim regime.

So bolstered, Kim Jong Il adopted polices that could only have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of his fellow Koreans, and that is exactly what happened in the great famine in the middle of last decade. When nobody had to starve, many perished. Since then, North Korea has done more than almost any other nation to destabilize the international community. Carter, the itinerant peacemaker in 1994, apparently prevented war. Yet he stopped the United States and the rest of the world from putting together an enduring solution-and he essentially permitted Kim Jong Il to commit murder on the largest scale since the end of the Cold War.

This, more than anything, is Jimmy Carter’s legacy so far. I hope there can be peace in Nepal and in Israel. But if we have learned anything from Ronald Reagan, it is that we should talk with tyrants as Carter advises, but only when they know they have been defeated. Jimmy’s approach, however, first legitimizes and then strengthens them. And that is why the world is in such disarray at this moment.

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