- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2005

With bombs exploding in Iraq on an almost daily basis; with more than 1,780 American soldiers dead; with London braced for more terror attacks; and with bitter recriminations emanating from liberals in Britain and America over Downing Street memos, yellow cake from Niger, Gitmo, Valerie Plame, Abu Ghraib, the Patriot Act and more, the moment seems inauspicious to consider other serious threats to our lives and welfare. Few want to think about such unpleasant matters, but these threats too may require some sort of military action.

Do you remember North Korea? It’s the country Sen. John Kerry and the Democrats kept asserting was more of a threat than Saddam’s Iraq during the campaign of 2004. Funny, they haven’t mentioned it since. They’ve reverted to the customary Democratic methods of dealing with threats in nonelection years: appeasement, bribery, denial and blame America — not necessarily in that order.

The Clinton administration certainly attempted the appeasement and bribery technique. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright traveled to Pyongyang to flatter the regime. In 1994, we signed the “Agreed Framework” — a deal that required North Korea to cease work on its graphite-moderated nuclear power plants (which can produce weapons-grade plutonium) and promise to sin no more. We agreed to supply North Korea with two light water nuclear reactors (the $4 billion cost shouldered mostly by Japan and South Korea).

The U.S. also agreed to supply North Korea with 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil annually gratis, to compensate for the loss of energy from nuclear reactors it was, in theory, shutting down. The U.S. further gave formal assurances we had no plans to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against North Korea.

There you have the perfect liberal approach. The thinking behind it is clear as a bell. North Korea is not aggressive; it is frightened. Thus the assurances about our peaceful intentions. North Korea is not building nuclear power plants in order to become a nuclear bully boy, but only for electricity for its people. We’ll cheerfully provide that.

It failed miserably. A few years after signing this accord, the North Koreans fired a missile over Japan. Mrs. Albright raced to a microphone to announce: “We agree, and we have let the North Koreans know, in no uncertain terms, that the August 31 launch was a dangerous development.” But, she added stubbornly, “Our engagement with North Korea through the Agreed Framework remains central to our ability to press for restraint on missiles and for answers to our questions about suspicious underground construction activities.”

So because we were bribing them not to cheat, we had earned the right to complain when they did? Of course the North Koreans cheated. At first they hotly denied they had cheated, but later, they proudly proclaimed the fact. Today, they claim and few doubt that they possess at least some nuclear weapons. North Korea has shared its technology in the past with Iran and Libya, and since the nation is literally starving (communist economies always produce bumper crops of poverty), and since Kim Jong-il is a vain and sinister leader, we must assume that North Korea might sell nuclear weapons to the highest bidder.

This is the table set for us. While many liberals seem to think the greatest threats we face arise from the Patriot Act or from “Bush’s lies,” the truth is that bitter and evil men still seek the power to destroy as many of us as they can possibly hit.

The North Korea problem is not easily solved. Several essays in the July/August issue of the American Enterprise propose some approaches. Daniel Kennelly notes our alliance with South Korea has become a straitjacket, denying us flexibility as the Republic of Korea pursues its own appeasement policy.

He proposes that permitting South Korea to defend itself will result in a more realistic policy. Gordon Cucullu notes China, North Korea’s only friend, must be pressured to lean on the North. Perhaps the only way to make them feel the heat, he suggests, is to permit Japan to become a nuclear power. Others have proposed hard-line sanctions, blockades and targeted air strikes.

The danger from North Korea cannot be ignored or wished away. Neither should it be eclipsed by what is happening in Iraq. The nuclear genie has been out of the bottle for 60 years, but only in the last five have truly unstable regimes been close to acquiring nukes. We need a plan now. And then there is Iran.

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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