- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

The Bush administration wants to disarm Iraq of its nuclear weapons ambitions, relying on force if necessary to end the regime of Saddam Hussein. But it harbors no such illusions in dealing with North Korea's continuing nuclear weapons program. Yet, it seems reluctant to disclose why it favors diametrically different actions in both instances. And it has not explained why it purposely withheld information from Congress about the latter while requesting a vote to authorize the use of force against the former.

There are few countries in the world whose citizens are better protected from the potential harm of incomplete or non-disclosure than the United States. Failure to disclose is the grounds for lawsuits, reversed judgments and other legal recourse. Indeed, disclosure is essential to the viability of trust and confidence in any transaction.

This standard for disclosure, however, does not always apply to government, even when deliberations extend to the most profound issues of peace and war (although embattled former SEC head Harvey Pitt learned the hard way that failure to disclose vital information about an appointee to a sensitive oversight position brought a steep price his resignation).

Last month, President Bush called on Congress to authorize force if Iraq did not fully comply with appropriate U.N. resolutions regarding weapons of mass destruction. Many Democrats sided with the president. But, barely a few days before the vote, North Korea made an in- your-face admission to senior American diplomats that it had unabashedly continued its nuclear weapons program, violating a number of treaty agreements. That information was not fully disclosed until well after the Iraq vote had been taken in Congress.

By then, Congress was recessing for the election. So, squeals and shrieks of protest over this failure to disclose were muted. After the election, with Republicans in control of both houses, these complaints are liable to go unheard. And there is still no complete answer to the question of why the administration was prepared to go to war to prevent one member of the "axis of evil" from obtaining nuclear weapons and rely on peaceful means to deal with another that may have already crossed this threshold.

The administration and Republicans in Congress have since argued that Iraq and North Korea are vastly different situations and must be treated as such. North Korea had not invaded its neighbor in 50 years. Its links with Middle Eastern terrorist groups, especially al Qaeda, were unproven and distant. And, most importantly, despite North Korea's million-man army and admittedly quirky leader, Kim Jong Il, it was not a "clear and present danger." Iraq and Saddam Hussein are.

The administration also countered that it had only just been confronted with North Korea's admission. It needed a few days to consult with key allies in the region. Aside from resenting the implication that the White House acted as if it trusted these allies more than members of Congress, some Democrats inferred that this information might have changed the vote. Otherwise, why was Congress not fully informed beforehand?

These critics have a point.

The U.N. vote on an additional resolution compelling Iraq to permit inspectors to verify it has ended its weapons of mass destruction programs may or may not meet the administration's expectations. However, the administration will have to use that resolution as part of whatever strategy it embarks upon toward Iraq. But it cannot ignore what to do about North Korea either. This means a further round of public diplomacy will be necessary to explain America's interests and aims and why it has decided to act, possibly very differently, toward Iraq and North Korea.

The president should seize this as an opportunity to address the nation on these subjects soon and deal with these partially answered questions. He should state the consequences for Iraq if it fails to comply with U.N. resolutions and at least suggest what shape a postwar world might take if a regime change occurs. And he would be wise to discuss North Korea, its nuclear ambitions and the reasons for his decision not to disclose to Congress what he knew about North Korea before the vote authorizing the use of force.

This is not an instance of deceiving a buyer or unfairly winning a court case by failing to disclosing vital information. The administration should be presumed to have had good reasons for its actions. However, as the prospect for war grows, the administration must now present its broad plan of what it proposes to do and explain why it has proceeded as it has.

If the president does that, he will achieve a far more lasting victory than helping Republicans gain a few additional seats in the House and the Senate.

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