Monday, December 30, 2002

Commentators like Steven den Beste are fond of describing Dubya's foreign policy as an intricate structure, whose many semi-transparent layers hide the true purpose at the core. Perhaps that's why attempts to discuss it seriously come off sounding like The Onion.

For example, from the latest New York Times analysis of Dubya's strategy regarding the crisis "serious situation" in North Korea, we have this:

There are several theories here and in Washington about the underlying strategy Mr. Bush is pursuing.

One is that he simply cannot afford a confrontation with North Korea when the United States military is preparing for a possible war with Iraq.

But Mr. Powell strongly argued that the United States was capable of handling both situations at once, and one of Mr. Bush's senior advisers called a reporter this weekend to argue that if Mr. Bush was seeking to play down the seriousness of the North Korean threat, he would not have ordered the State Department to confront the North Korean government in October with evidence that it was secretly developing a nuclear weapons program.

To which we might add that if true, this would make a liar out of Rummy. Think of it! (Of which, more anon). But what's the alternative?

A second theory is that the administration has calculated that Mr. Kim, even if he adds to his nuclear arsenal, is essentially more predictable and less dangerous than Mr. Hussein, who has never successfully produced a nuclear bomb.

Mr. Powell made that argument today. "This is a country that's in desperate condition," Mr. Powell said. "What are they going to do with another two or three more nuclear weapons when they're starving, when they have no energy, when they have no economy that's functioning?"

Which is certainly consistent with the general tenor of the administration's response to the crisis serious situation. It's just completely inconsistent with all reliable accounts of conditions in North Korea, which describe Kim as a madman who writes operas and builds monuments to his own greatness while having proven several times over by now that he doesn't much care if his population has to live by eating tree bark.

Moving right along, we have a Washington Post report on where Iraq got its start building chemical and biological weapons --- through a trade program opened in the Reagan years by Donald Rumsfeld, who claims to have had nothing to do with the shipments of anthrax, and to have tried to suggest restraint in the use of chemical weapons. (That last part is mysteriously absent from State Department notes on the meeting). But that was then. This is now, and in trying to explain the difference between former and current policy on Iraq, the Post comes up with this:

What makes present-day Hussein different from the Hussein of the 1980s, say Middle East experts, is the mellowing of the Iranian revolution and the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait that transformed the Iraqi dictator, almost overnight, from awkward ally into mortal enemy. In addition, the United States itself has changed. As a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, U.S. policymakers take a much more alarmist view of the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

So, the problem isn't so much that he's a bloodthirsty fascist --- we knew that all along, particularly after the chemical attacks on his own people which the Reagan administration shrugged off --- but that his taste in blood isn't quite as discriminating as we'd like. Which makes you wonder what sort of behavior Republicans expect when they ship arms and give aid to power-mad, bloodthirsty tyrants, and why. But the real howler is the second part. Let's read it again:

As a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, U.S. policymakers take a much more alarmist view of the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Dubya's concern is remarkably selective. It doesn't extend, for example, to Pakistan, which developed nuclear technology in defiance of American sanctions, and which has already proliferated it to the madman running one of the most dangerous pariah states in the world --- North Korea. (And which also, by the by, has bragged that it was fully prepared to go nuclear "if Indian troops moved a single step across the international border", though a spokesman later issued the sort of "clarification" familiar to Americans who remember the Reagan years). Nor does Dubya seem particularly anxious to mop up the loose nuclear material rattling around the former Soviet union; he's targeted the joint American/Russian program to secure that stuff for funding cuts, choosing to spend the money instead on missile defense programs which have a 60% chance of intercepting an incoming missile, so long as it doesn't change course or carry decoys, but a 100% chance of steering billions of dollars to his favorite defense contractors.

I could go on, but if you like this sort of thing, I'm sure you can find more of it, making at least as much sense, in the pages of America's finest news source.


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