- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

We seem to have entered a time warp. George Santayana once famously wrote that those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it, but, unfortunately, sometimes even those who do remember the past repeat it, too.
Consider this lead paragraph from Monday's front page of The Washington Times, " 'The United States is willing to consider energy aid for North Korea if Pyongyang ends nuclear weapons development,' a U.S. envoy said today."
" 'Once we get beyond the nuclear weapons, there may be opportunities with the U.S., with private investors, with other countries to help North Korea in the energy area,' Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said at a news conference in Seoul." Substitute the name of Mr. Kelly with that of Clinton administration National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, and all this could have been written a decade ago.
Back then, in 1993, North Korea likewise announced its intention to withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). (One wonders, how many times can you withdraw?) It proceeded to expel the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who the year before had found evidence that the North Koreans were covertly separating plutonium from nuclear fuel for weapons purposes.
Back then, also, the international community more specifically the United States, South Korea and Japan recoiled at the awful prospect of a nuclear-armed North Korea, led by a dictator of only dubious mental stability, Great Leader Kim Il-Sung. How to make the North Koreans put a lid on their nuclear ambitions?
After agonizing negotiations, taking place in Geneva behind tightly closed doors, the North Koreans were promised free fuel, food aid and harmless nuclear light-water reactors in return for shutting down their own nuclear program. Agreeing to this condition, the North Koreans signed onto the Agreed Framework in 1994, and allowed the IAEA to patrol the agreement.
The ensuing aid and fuel have kept this totalitarian basket case of a country afloat while starvation has raged. Meanwhile, North Korea's scarce resources have been spent on keeping its million-strong army and ballistic-missile programs going and, as it turns out, its covert nuclear program as well, which the North Korean regime admitted in October to never having dropped.
All this goes back over 10 years, and here we are again. If the past is prologue, as the North Korean regime probably believes it is, aid will start flowing again before long, as more promises are exchanged. Such is the potency of nuclear blackmail. As Secretary of State Colin Powell stated last week, U.S. intelligence agencies believe the North Koreans may well be in possession of two nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons bring international respect, and military action to resolve the issue is highly unlikely as a consequence.
With both Iraq and North Korea being card-carrying members of the "axis of evil," it is inevitable that the two would be linked in the public debate. So, let's look at what the record on North Korea should tells us about Iraq.
For one this, it is no wonder that Saddam Hussein has tried to acquire nukes of his own. Dealing with Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is bad enough. Were it not for the Israeli bombing of the almost-completed nuclear reactor in Baghdad in 1981 and for the Gulf War in 1991, Saddam might be hugging his own nukes today, just like the North Koreans. Most likely, the Iraqi dictator would be extracting blackmail from his opponents, rather looking down the barrel of a major military build-up led by the United States.
There are, however, numerous points of difference between North Korea and Iraq, which tend to get lost in the debate. For instance, the border between North and South Korea, the most heavily armed in the world, is so close to the South Korean capital that the North can launch an attack against Seoul with very little warning. It did that in 1950.
On the other hand, while still a military menace, North Korea as a country is on the verge of total economic collapse. Experts estimate that it can only be a matter of years before the regime's power structures crumble, too. Iraq may be poor, but is not nearly as poor as North Korea because of its oil wealth, which keeps Saddam Hussein's power structures funded and functional.
Contrary to a lot of conventional wisdom, North Korea in fact is one of the best arguments for dealing with Iraq now, while we can. Had North Korea been dealt with properly a decade ago, this crisis would not have arisen. North Korea is certainly not a reason for inaction on Iraq as advocated by critics of the Bush administration, who argue that the inconsistency between the administration's treatment of Iraq and North Korea invalidates U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
In fact, the opposite is true. Interestingly, those who demand consistency always see it as a reason for inaction on both Iraq and North Korea, rather than action on both. Consistency is a stick, in other words, with which to beat the White House, a hobgoblin of little minds, to borrow from another philosopher.

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