Tuesday, July 18, 2006

North Korea: Clinton 1, Bush 0

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow basically blamed the North Korean nuclear crisis on Clinton. He claimed that the Clinton policy of sending "flowers and chocolate" was a failure. The truth is almost exactly the opposite. Just look at the record from the past three administrations:
1. George H. W. Bush: one to two bombsÂ’ worth of plutonium
2. Bill Clinton: zero plutonium
3. George W. Bush: 4-6 nuclear weaponsÂ’ worth of plutonium
What's the story here? It's a long and complicated one, best told by Fred Kaplan in the May 2004 issue of the Washington Monthly. The jist of the story is as follows: in 1994, Clinton almost went to war with North Korea after he found out they were building a reprocessing facility near the Yongbon nuclear reactor that could be used to convert fuel rods in weapons-grade plutonium. Clinton played good cop, bad cop. He planned on sending 50,000 additional troops to South Korea, and was ready to strike Yongbon if needed. He declared that a move to begin reprocessing the fuel rods would be a "red line". At the same time, however, he sent Jimmy Carter (someone King Il Sung trusted) to negotiate, and they hammered out the Agreed Framework, under which North Korea would stay committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and let in IAEA inspectors. In return, the United States would provide two light-water nuclear reactors, and pledge not to invade North Korea. So far, so good. Disaster averted... with flowers and chocolate!

Things began to heat up again toward the end of the Clinton administration. The light-water reactors never materialized. The North Koreans test fired a missile, and began to enrich uranium (with the help of Pakistan), not plutonium, and not covered by the agreement. Nothing was settled by the talks between Madeleine Albright and Kim Jong Il. And then Bush came on the stage.

Bush simply refused to negotiate with somebody he regarded as "evil". Kaplan is quite clear about the reasons:
"It is a pattern of wishful thinking, blinding moral outrage, willful ignorance of foreign cultures, a native faith in American triumphalism, a contempt for the messy compromises of democracy, and a knee-jerk refusal to do anything the way the Clinton administration did it."

In 2002, the US realized North Korea was enriching uranium. Staggeringly, they kept this secret for two weeks while the Senate debated going to war with Iraq. In response, Bush withdrew from the Agreed Framework, and did nothing else. Predictably, the North Koreans expelled the inspectors, and took out the fuel rods, taking them back to the reprocessing facility. This was Clinton's "red line" and Bush did, well, nothing. The North Koreans did indeed want to negotiate, looking for a similar deal to 1994, but the Busadministrationon refused to succumb to "blackmail". So they kept reprocessing the plutonium.

And so here we are, and Tony Snow has the audacity to blame Clinton...

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