Commentary Magazine


“Idiot” Diplomacy

“Nobody was trusting of the North Koreans,” said Condoleezza Rice in comments on Wednesday, as she responded to criticisms.  “I mean, who trusts the North Koreans?  You’d have to be an idiot to trust the North Koreans.”

Did the Secretary of State just call herself an idiot?  It sure sounds as if she did.  Ms. Rice would say – now that her diplomacy has failed – that she entered into agreements and extended benefits to Pyongyang not as the result of trust but as goodwill gestures.  And as she pointed out, North Korea has not produced plutonium since 2005 and has been disabling its only working reactor.

Unfortunately for her, the record also shows that Christopher Hill, her chief negotiator, tried to obtain a deal with Pyongyang by not insisting on a detailed protocol for the verification of its various disarmament pledges.  When word leaked out what Hill was up to – he had refused to publicly discuss the provisions he had negotiated in secret – just about everyone, from conservatives to members of the proliferation community to liberal analysts, expressed either outright hostility or deep misgivings.  Nobody has approved of the Bush administration’s North Korea policy in the last six months.

“This is a process that still has a lot of life in it,” Ms. Rice said of the efforts to disarm Kim Jong Il’s renegade state.  She would be just about the only person holding that opinion.  The most recent round of the six-party talks, held in Beijing this month, was a complete failure.  North Korea, in short, did not budge on committing to writing its verification promises, the whole purpose of the negotiating session in China.

Secretary Rice can argue that she was not too trusting of the North Koreans, but that’s not the point.  The point is that the administration, in eight years, has failed to eliminate Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.  President Bush has made just about every mistake in the book.  He was too soft when he should have been hard and too hard when he should have been soft.  He switched policies when circumstances demanded consistency.  He allowed his superpower country to be humiliated by a puny adversary on various occasions.  And if he did not trust the North Koreans, he did something just as bad or worse – he trusted the Chinese.

In any event, North Korea detonated a bomb and became a recognized nuclear power on his watch.  His legacy is that, through an inept Korea policy, he has encouraged the Iranians to go full speed to building a bomb on their own.  President Bush will be able to talk of many important accomplishments in office, but in eight years he has also set the stage for unimaginably horrible events in the Middle East.

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