- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

North Korea now makes the headlines almost every day, but instead of clarifying anything, the stream of news and non-news only confuses everything.
It's started to seem like an endless, repetitive videogame featuring Dr. No as the villain, costumes from the East, and a cast of thousands, consisting mainly of bumbling diplomats. The object of the game never changes: how to save the world. Or at least the Korean Peninsula. The rest is constant hubbub. For example:
North Korea (Kim Jong-il, sole proprietor) announces it has nuclear weapons but later says it really doesn't; that it is withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but really wants only a Non-Aggression Treaty with the United States, whose word is worthless; that it feels free to fire ballistic missiles the way it did over Japan in 1998, but hints it could be dissuaded by the right combination of fuel, food and fawning attention; and that the end of the world portends if the rest of the world doesn't do exactly what Pyongyang wants, which isn't entirely clear. Tune in tomorrow for another dizzying round of announcements.
Washington has become Pyongyang's partner in confusion, issuing equally head-scratching statements. (They really ought to work out a Sister Cities arrangement.) The State Department announces it won't negotiate with the North Koreans but is willing to talk. What's the difference between negotiating and talking? The inscrutable occidentals won't say, not exactly.
At one point the North Koreans were negotiating with the governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, whom they remember fondly from the Clinton administration. Maybe Santa Fe can arbitrate between Pyongyang and Washington.
But while talking nice in New Mexico, the North Koreans keep issuing bellicose statements from home, lest anyone think them consistent. In return, Washington has started issuing dual-level statements, too, one hopeful and one alarming every day. Who says our foreign policy isn't balanced?
The whole thing may only look crazy. Kim Jong-il actually is following a quite rational policy that has worked before. Last time out, the Clinton administration rewarded his bellicosity by promising to build him a couple of nice nuclear reactors and supply regular shipments of food and fuel. Now he's just upping the ante. Hey, it worked before.
It helps to think of North Korea not so much as a nation but a cult, and of its dictator as a cult leader one who may actually believe his own outlandish propaganda. What he seems to desire most is the world's constant attention. Comrade Kim behaves like a little child who wants to be at the center of things, and, when the grownups pay him no heed, begins kicking them in the shins. Anything to get attention.
But what is to be done when the brat has the Bomb, and is about to acquire a whole nuclear arsenal? Especially when another dictator elsewhere, in the volatile Mideast, demands our immediate attention before he acquires the Bomb and becomes as unassailable as Kim Jong-il.
First crises first. If what North Korea wants is talk, let's talk but only on one subject: the need for that nation/cult to abide by its signature on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its pledges to this country. Send some boredom-proof diplomat with iron pants over there to keep saying that and nothing else. Talking is better than not talking; it's certainly better than giving Dear Leader anything at all.
While some nice American under-under-secretary talks and only talks with the North Koreans, let other nations in the immediate and dangerous vicinity do the heavy lifting South Korea, Japan, the two Chinas, Russia. Some of them have already started. By now even North Korea's big brother, Communist China, has started casting disapproving looks its way even disapproving words. Seldom has a renegade regime been so ringed in.
In the meantime, Iraq must be disarmed, which means Saddam Hussein must be deposed. If left in power after the U.N.'s usual inspectors go through their usual motions, he will remain a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Donald Rumsfeld, defense secretary against all comers, has said this country is capable of fighting two wars at once. Maybe so, but why should it? Mr. Rumsfeld wasn't talking strategy but just practicing deterrence. There are worse diplomatic techniques than talking crazy. (It tends to worry potential adversaries, who can't be sure what to expect.) But let's not mount our charger and go riding off in both directions at the same time.
Back when this nation was confronted with a civil war of its own, Abraham Lincoln's secretary of state, William H. Seward, came up with the bright idea of declaring war on England and France simultaneously. He said it would unite the country against a foreign enemy. To which Mr. Lincoln replied: "One war at a time."
It's still good advice.

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