&#91OUTLOOK&#93U.S. shows teeth beneath smile

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&#91OUTLOOK&#93U.S. shows teeth beneath smile

While armed skirmishes continue in Iraq, the main fighting appears over. This occasions great satisfaction among Americans. While daunting political challenges lie ahead, the disasters predicted by critics of the campaign in Iraq did not materialize. Few oil fields were torched; few missiles were fired at neighbors. Weapons of mass destruction were not utilized, and terrorist attacks in America did not materialize.
House-to-house fighting in Baghdad and other urban centers was minimal. Civilian deaths, though far from insignificant, were nonetheless limited in most of the country. Once Saddam Hussein was on the run, the reception accorded coalition forces by the Iraqi people turned generally cordial. Even the leaders of France, Germany, and Russia were obliged, if grudgingly, to welcome the demise of a dreadful, despotic regime.
What lessons can be drawn at this stage? Clearly, the American military lived up to the notices. The battle plan was sound in conception and was brilliantly executed. Victory came swiftly; casualties were light. This should be reassuring to those who depend for their security on the reliability of American commitments. For those who challenge American vital interests, the outcome in Iraq provides additional reasons for sober second thoughts.
A related conclusion can be derived from the quality of Iraqi resistance. While some Iraqi units fought with courage and tenacity, Saddam Hussein’s most trusted guardians did not distinguish themselves. In the decisive battles, many just drifted away ― perhaps to fight another day, more likely to return home in hopes of escaping the risks of combat. When American forces arrived in Tikrit, Saddam’s home base, the fierce opposition that was expected quickly gave way to empty streets. Hussein’s stalwart loyalists were nowhere to be seen. Another object lesson for Kim Jong-il: Leaders must serve their people’s welfare if they expect to earn their devotion.
Beyond this, whatever people think of President Bush’s policy goals, they were reminded that his word is not to be taken lightly. When he declared that America would not stand idly by as the world’s most dangerous regimes acquire the most dangerous weapons, he was not offering a casual observation but outlining a settled policy decision. Perhaps the message has already been received. How else should one explain recent conciliatory gestures emanating from Tehran and Pyeongyang?
Another lesson involves the Bush administration’s view of the efficacy and utility of “multilateralism.” For Washington, pre-emption and regime change in Iraq were options to firm UN Security Council determination to enforce its own resolutions. When the French and its allies sought to alter the content and purpose of UNSC Resolution 1441, the United States chose to enforce the resolution’s substance with the help of a “coalition of the willing.” It organized a coalition to accomplish the mission, rather than allow a multilateral body to change or undermine it.
In connection with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, to be sure, the United States has consistently urged a peaceful diplomatic solution within a multilateral framework. Washington favors a multilateral setting because it considers Pyeongyang’s nuclear ambitions a challenge to Northeast Asian security rather than a bilateral problem. The North has not merely violated its commitments to Washington under the Agreed Framework, but trashed bilateral agreements with Seoul and renounced multilateral obligations to other signatories of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The United States hopes that North Korea’s neighbors will develop a more serious stake in enforcing new agreements with Pyeongyang if they participate in the negotiations. For that matter, if North Korea is so eager to obtain security assurances, why not devise multilateral guarantees from the United States and other Northeast Asian powers and extend them to Seoul as well. Needless to say, a multilateral framework would create opportunities for bilateral exchanges between North Korea and the United States.
Washington also favors a multilateral approach because without a common front among the United States and North Korea’s neighbors, Pyeongyang is unlikely to be persuaded of the dire consequences its nuclear brinkmanship may bring. If the United States has to convince North Korea of this by itself, it may be tempted to rely too heavily on military threats, which would deepen Seoul’s estrangement from Washington and complicate its efforts to enlist the cooperation of Japan, China, and Russia. Implicit threats of economic sanctions, if broadly applied by those who provide Pyeongyang with food and fuel, offer an alternative inducement to diplomatic flexibility at a time when the North’s economy is in desperate shape. Perhaps developments in Iraq have persuaded the Chinese and others that in the end Washington will do whatever it must to preserve a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. And that conviction may account for recent hints that Moscow and Beijing have turned up the economic pressure on the North. In international diplomacy, military and economic pressures inevitably cast a large shadow on the bargaining table. In Korea, multilateral diplomacy backed by implicit threats of serious consequences is clearly preferable to using force.

* The writer, a former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs and ambassador to Japan, is a professor at Stanford University.

by Michael H. Armacost
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