- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Timing is everything. Last week, the people of Serbia offered an inspiring reminder of how fragile even the most seemingly entrenched of dictatorships actually are when faced with a popular revolt backed by international efforts to deny the regime legitimacy.
This week, the U.S. Congress is set to vote on an agriculture appropriations bill that threatens to impart new legitimacy to the totalitarian governments of Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Libya by authorizing the sale of American food products to those countries. If only because this breach in the sanctions regimes imposed by the United States on each of these nations will allow the latter to feed their people better assuming, for the moment, that the food will actually wind up in the mouths of the population as a whole, rather than just the military and other members of the ruling elite it will probably help to alleviate such pressure for systemic change as the dictators in Havana, Tehran, Pyongyang and Tripoli might currently feel.
To be sure, the legislation is not as bad as it might have been with respect to Cuba. Thanks to the concerted opposition of members of the House Republican leadership and others who remained determined to keep the pressure on Fidel Castro, U.S. government and private sector financing of food purchases by the Cubans would continue to be prohibited.
This proviso means that, for the time being at least, U.S. taxpayers may be able to avoid in connection with Cuba the kind of double-whammy they have been dealt in the past: The Treasury Department was obliged to make good on hundreds of millions of dollars in losses arising from subsidized grain and other commodity sales that were undertaken for the strategically benighted purpose of propping up Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union.
Unfortunately, no such protections are in place with respect to North Korea, Iran or Libya. But, if the Clinton-Gore Administration has its way, taxpayer-underwritten food going to these repressive regimes will be the least of the problem. It appears President Clinton hopes to leave a legacy of fully normalized relations with each of these and virtually every other, odious government on the planet. Consider the following:
North Korea: Mr. Clinton is meeting this week with a man described as dictator Kim Jong-Il's right hand man, Cho Myong-nok. Mr. Clinton has called the visit "a big plus" for the prospects of reconciliation between the United States and Communist North Korea. This enthusiasm seems to have been buoyed by efforts the State Department has been making to help the North Koreans get off its congressionally mandated list of countries that support international terrorism.
Toward that end, Washington and Pyongyang have just issued a joint communique in which the latter says, according to The Washington Post, that "it opposes all forms of terrorism and believes that all United Nations member states must refrain from such activity." It is appalling that the United States would dignify such a statement, let alone use it as a basis for improving relations with Kim Jong-il's regime, especially in light of the unabated efforts North Korea is making to spread the most deadly instruments of terror known to man ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction to its fellow rogue states.
Iran: According to regional expert and journalist Kenneth Timmerman, "The top U.S. diplomat in charge of negotiations with Iran says Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wants a 'global settlement' with Iran by the end of President Bill Clinton's term of office 'if it takes that long.' " Evidently it was with this purpose in mind that Mr. Clinton on Sept. 19 appointed that diplomat, Ambassador David Andrews, to be his special negotiator for U.S./Iran claims.
Libya: As it happens, Mr. Andrews was previously responsible for laying the groundwork for an earlier "global settlement" with another malevolent dictator Libya's Moammar Gadhafi. As Mr. Timmerman notes, close observers of his handiwork in that instance like George Williams, the immediate past president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, felt it left much to be desired: " 'We caved in too soon. Dave Andrews gave away too much. Our FBI and CIA are not allowed to investigate, or to ask questions of the suspects. And they are not allowed to question or investigate the involvement of the Libya government' in the bombing, said Williams."
As events in Serbia make clear, concessions made to endear ourselves to ruthless dictators generally have the effect of not only legitimating but emboldening them. Had the United States resisted Slobodan Milosevic a decade ago, instead of transforming him into a "partner for peace" at Dayton as Mr. Holbrooke did, we may have been able to spare not only Serbia but the Balkans more generally the horror "Slobo" and his minions inflicted on the region in the 1990s.
There is a lesson that could well prove even more important for our dealings with the remaining rogue states: Had we not provided political life-support to Mr. Milosevic when his people made an earlier effort to remove him from power, we might be facing today a more pro-Western successor regime than Vojislav Kostunica's may turn out to be.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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