Monday, May 24, 2004

While you were out

David Sanger on the irony that is the administration's North Korea "policy."

The discovery that North Korea may have supplied uranium to Libya poses an immediate challenge to the White House: while President Bush is preoccupied on the other side of the world, an economically desperate nation may be engaging in exactly the kind of nuclear proliferation that the president says he went to war in Iraq to halt.

The administration argues that the decision to invade Iraq instead of taking military action against North Korea was based on facility rather than necessity: we invaded Iraq because we could.

Further, according to the administration, North Korea poses a less immediate threat (than an Iraq which, it turns out, had no nuclear capability), because North Korea is so dirt poor. Which means, they won't develop and sell nuclear materials. Right.

"I admit there appears to be more than a little irony here," said one senior administration official, when asked how what he thought Mr. Bush might have said in public if Saddam Hussein - instead of Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader - had been suspected of shipping raw material for nuclear weapons to a country like Libya. "But Iraq was a different problem, in a different place, and we had viable military options," he continued. In North Korea, he said, Mr. Bush has virtually none. Indeed, the problems and the threats are different, even though Mr. Hussein's Iraq was lumped with North Korea as part of the "axis of evil" that President Bush cited in 2002.

Even hawks within the administration - a group led by Vice President Dick Cheney, who said on a trip to Asia last month that "time is not necessarily on our side" - see no major risk that North Korea will lash out at its neighbors or the United States.

The country is broke; American military officials say it can barely afford the jet fuel to give its fighter pilots time to train. Iraq, too, was in desperate economic straits, but it at least had oil revenue, skimmed from the United Nations oil-for-food program, and active trade. North Korea is literally starving; millions have died of malnutrition

Having mismanaged the Middle East through over-aggressive tactics, they mismanage Asia by ignoring the obvious dangers there. Once again, hope is their plan.


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