“Extortion” is an ugly word to describe an ugly art, and nobody is better at extortion than those wild and crazy guys in Pyongyang. But who’s crazier than foolish marks who fall all over themselves to submit, like sheep for shearing, to an extortionist’s evil scheme?
It’s comforting, in a weird and wasteful way, to regard the latest provocation, the deliberate North Korean shelling of civilian homes on an island off South Korea, as merely more mayhem from madmen. This followed the unprovoked sinking of a South Korean gunboat in March, killing 46 officers and sailors, leaving only tut-tutting in the wake of the attack. But there’s method in the wild, crazy madness.
The wild and crazy guys have been taught that the West, and the United States in particular, is terrified of a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons, but even more terrified of doing anything much about it. The usual suspects from the United Nations were invited in earlier this month to look at a new nuclear reactor and a factory to enrich the uranium necessary for nuclear weapons, and the experts duly reported to the U.N. Security Council that Pyongyang continues to send ever more salesmen to Burma, Syria and Iran to unload nuclear weapons technology to eager rogues who are up to no good.
George W. Bush was merrily mocked for his description of North Korea as the third member of an “axis of evil,” evil being a concept that wise and wonderful modern man has discarded, like the idea that the Earth is flat, but there’s no mockery in Pyongyang, only gleeful celebration. “The size and scope of the North’s just-revealed facilities will not surprise anyone except those still entranced that North Korea will voluntarily negotiate away its nuclear weapons,” says John R. Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., writing in the Los Angeles Times.
Mr. Bolton, drawing on considerable experience in dealing with wild and crazy guys at the U.N., urges President Obama and his wise men to shun the temptation to offer North Korea more of the soothing syrup that has so spectacularly failed to soothe anyone. The last thing Washington should do now, he says, is to revive “the six-party talks,” the gabfest of diplomats from the United States, Japan, China, Russia and the two Koreas that turned out to be the usual diplomatic exercise in gas-baggery, noise signifying nothing but more noise.
The latest revelations of mischief and misfortune afoot in North Korea can’t surprise anyone. It’s only more of the evidence that North Korea is determined to achieve celebrity as top troublemaker of the world. Wild and crazy guys only want to dance with the stars. Evidence of evil is brushed aside by the pundits, academics and policymakers who cling to the notion that North Korea will go away if only the West will invite everybody to dinner and sing all five verses of “Kumbaya.” Kim Jong-il, sick unto the death as he well may be, only wants to buy the world a Coke.
Jimmy Carter, who didn’t understand much when he was in the White House, thinks he knows what’s driving the wild and crazy guys. There’s really no such thing as a bad boy, after all, and it’s entirely possible that the North Koreans are sinking their neighbors’ boats, shelling civilians on remote South Korean islands and building weapons of mass destruction because all they want is a little respect. “Pyongyang has sent a consistent message that … it is ready to conclude an agreement to end its nuclear programs,” Mr. Carter writes in The Washington Post. “… we should consider responding to this offer.”
Consistent inconsistency is the essence of diplo-talk, after all. When rogues break agreements it’s no big deal; it’s easy to replace a broken agreement with another agreement to be broken. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were patient with North Korea to the point of indulgence, and President Obama is no doubt tempted to pursue timidity as a strategy. He has applied some financial pressure and deserves credit if not yet applause, but now must warn China that it has to apply the boot to the North Korean butt, the only pressure that wild and crazy guys understand. Confronting the banker who holds the mortgage on the farm is not easy, but Mr. Obama must make sure China understands that America and the West won’t tolerate North Korea as the nuclear arms merchant to the rogue world. And after that there’s Iran …
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.