So the dour old lawyer still has it wrong. The Honorable Warren Christopher, Mr. Clinton’s first secretary of state, wants President Bush to put Iraq on the back burner and deal first with the problem of nuclear North Korea. Writing in the New York Times last week, Mr. Christopher said that this “crisis requires sustained attention from top government officials…” Putting Iraq on the back burner is necessary because “Anyone who has worked at the highest levels of our government knows how difficult it is to engage the attention of the White House on anything other than the issue of the day.” As Dave Barry often writes, I am not making this up.
In Mr. Christopher’s day, I’m sure it was difficult to gain Lil’ Billy’s attention for any longer than it took for the interns to change shifts. Fortunately, we now have grownups in charge again, and our government can walk and chew gum at the same time. But having said that, it is clear that while the North Korean mess may not be a crisis yet, the connection that apparently exists between Kim Jong-il’s nukes and our sort-of-ally, Pakistan, is something we need to investigate.
Mr. Christopher’s idea is, natch, to resume the negotiations he participated in during the early 90’s when the now-broken treaty was made. Nothing should distract the president, Christopher believes, until this one situation is sorted out. Diplomacy is indeed required but not to the exclusion of the Iraq campaign, or the other myriad problems we have to deal with now. Instead of forgetting Iraq and looking eastward, we need to keep a high level of what the fly-guys call “situational awareness” and use it to our advantage. Situational awareness means you have a vision of what is going on all around you, and take all of it into account when you climb, dive, turn or shoot. If you don’t have a high sense of situational awareness, bad things happen, such as crashing into some unnoticed mountain or the other guy getting on your 6 o’clock and shooting you out of the sky. The same principle has to hold true for a president in peace or war. Ours — a former fighter driver himself — seems to have grasped that fact.
On one side of the world, we need to engage with China, Russia and Japan to get their cooperation in containing North Korea. The chances of jawboning Kim Jong-il out of his nukes is precisely the same as those that Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction are going to be eliminated by the U.N. inspectors: zero. North Korea wants to capture South Korea, and wants nukes for offense, not defense. We do need to talk, but not only with China, Japan, and both Koreas. Containment can work if we get the cooperation of South Korea and Japan. We may also get the cooperation of China. It doesn’t want to lose the billions of dollars in trade it does with us every year. China should be asked — ungently if need be — to help contain North Korea and prevent its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. For starters, China should help us stop Kim Jong-il from selling ballistic missiles to anyone willing to buy them.
We should be telling North Korea that the next time a shipload of missiles is found headed to the Middle East, we will stop it. When North Korea threw the U.N. weapons inspectors out, the hollowness of the U.N. was demonstrated redundantly. We are about to go to war against Saddam Hussein, without the U.N. and over the objections of its General Secretary, Mr. Annan. To deal with North Korea, we cannot rely on the U.N. We and our few real allies will have to interdict shipments of North Korean missiles. If intelligence reports show that the North Koreans are sending out nuclear weapons as well, we will have to find a way to stop that too. I am not convinced that a strike against North Korean nuclear sites is a bad idea. The fear is that they would respond by invading the South and from that belief comes the South Korean opposition to any preemptive strike. The South is negotiating intensively with the North at this moment. We need to work closely with Seoul to ensure it doesn’t make a deal we can’t live with. At the same time the president needs to be looking very hard at Pakistan.
Persistent but unverified reports say that the North Koreans’ success in developing nukes was propelled by advice and assistance of Pakistani scientists. My sources tell me that the Paks have an assembly line for nuclear weapons, and are producing them almost constantly. We worry — rightly — about Saddam gaining the ability to produce nukes. The Islamic bomb, though, won’t likely come from Iraq. Saddam is a secular leader, and his allegiance is only to himself and the Ba’athist party thugs that surround him. Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf’s courage is impressive, in cooperating with us against the Taliban while radical Islam is a major force in his nation. Nevertheless, we cannot permit Pakistan to become the nation that makes the radical Islamic terror network the world’s next nuclear power.
Musharraf is a dictator, but his control over his nation, its army and security service are questionable at best. The ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, still has Taliban supporters among its leaders. The Pakistani “border guards” who opened fire on our troops last week were trying to interfere with our pursuit of Taliban and al-Qaeda elements still active there. That attack was answered appropriately, by a 500-pound bomb dropped by the friendly neighborhood F-16 flying cover for our ground-pounders. Pakistan — ally or not — must understand that we will allow no sanctuary for terrorists and their ilk.
There is great danger from a nuclear-armed North Korea. But it is a danger that now is susceptible of deterrence. As isolated as Kim Jong-il is, the certainty of his nation’s utter destruction if it engages in nuclear aggression will reach him if it hasn’t already. North Korea is selling missiles, but if Pakistan is proliferating nuclear weapons, then it may be a greater threat than North Korea and Iraq put together. Meanwhile, our priorities are correct. First Saddam and then, perhaps, others in the Middle East. And we can do all this while maneuvering to thwart North Korea. We don’t have to wait for it to be the topic of the day, or for Monica to be ushered back in once Hillary leaves the building.