[OUTLOOK]Can North Korea outlast Bush?

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[OUTLOOK]Can North Korea outlast Bush?

With George W. Bush in power now until January 2009, the people of North Korea must be wondering what it means for them.
They’re not the only ones.
We’re all guessing, especially as to what will happen to our local member of the Axis of Evil.
If you peer through the binoculars of North Korea, where analysts see U.S. actions without having a good feel for the decision-making process behind them, the picture looks grim: Mr. Bush was able to remove Saddam because the Iraqi leader did not have nuclear weapons to defend himself.
This is why it is imperative for North Korea to remain a nuclear power. A DPRK without nuclear weapons could be flicked off the map like a grain of rice off a table.
The common wisdom in the salons of Seoul is that the United States is bogged down in Iraq and cannot afford conflict elsewhere. But common wisdom does not understand the neo-conservative strategy of nimble regime-change.
Mr. Bush’s planners do not envision hanging around to impose democracy in parts of the world they do not understand. Their approach is to “seed,” not impose, democracy. Perhaps they’ll be out of Iraq as quick as they were out of Afghanistan and, by 2006, be ready to smoke out evil somewhere else.
In which case, as he spins the globe, might the vulpine finger not land on our little peninsula? Possibly. But the United States is less free to maneuver here because its regional allies control the terrain. Indeed, the Bush strategy to deal with North Korea has wisely involved those allies in the forum of six-party talks, which are hosted by Beijing.
“If Kim Jong-il decides again to not honor an agreement, he’s not only doing injustice to America, he’d be doing injustice to China, as well,” Mr. Bush said in one of the election debates. If I were Kim Jong-il, I’d listen closely. I would worry less about U.S. pressure on me to dump my nuclear weapons program than about what China might do to pre-empt any threatened U.S. action.
“It’s not going to work if we open up a dialogue with Kim Jong-il,” the U.S. president added. “That’s what he wants.”
That, actually, is what a lot of us want, too. It would be useful to have talks on signing a Korean War Peace Treaty, on opening embassies in Pyeongyang and Washington, on bringing North Korea in out of the cold. The administration fears blackmail but surely we’re big enough to handle a little of that for the greater good? It also dislikes bribery. But why not bribe North Korea for the greater good if we can, as long as we get receipts? Why not start by doing what Nixon boldly did 30 years ago with China and hold a summit?
Well, this is not what Mr. Bush wants. Mr. Bush is a straightforward man and thinks that the only way to hold a dialogue with a political leader who fails to prevent an avoidable famine is with a horsewhip. If they did meet up at some forum, Mr. Bush would probably not be able to stop himself from headbutting Mr. Kim. So a summit is out.
Looked at from all directions, North Korea’s best bet is to slink back to the six-party talks and find new ways to drag the whole thing out.
This might work. I’m guessing that, in his second term, Mr. Bush will take the long-term view and quietly accept that North Korea is a nuclear power and focus on the more pressing question of making sure Pyeongyang doesn’t sell to bad guys. Some conservative think-tankers are in fact already moving along this line.
As this issue develops, though, it needs to be appreciated that American foreign policy, as important as it may be ― and this was a rare election fought on foreign policy ― is not the DNA that creates the world as we know it. The rather narrow conviction that it is creates the odd phenomenon in democracies of sensible citizens getting more worked up against their own governments and other democracies than against the world’s beastly regimes.
Some things will happen regardless of what policies may be coming out of Washington.
And one of them seems to have been North Korea’s intention to become a nuclear power. I’m imagine it still will be in 2009.

* Michael Breen is the author of “The Koreans” and “Kim Jong-il: North Korea’s Dear Leader.”

by Michael Breen
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