Why Iraq? Why not North Korea, first or instead? About two weeks ago, the North Koreans admitted that they were developing nuclear weapons. Just a few days ago, Dubya sent Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice out to say that if Saddam disarms, maybe he can remain in power. Now Congress and the pundit community — especially those who were already howling against using force against Saddam — will be arguing that we can’t justify war with Iraq unless we also take out North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Wrong again, boys. It’s all about time and terror.
You can try to stop the spread of nuclear weapons by signing agreements with countries that will break them or by direct action. The agreement method was pursued by the Clinton administration and other fools and knaves. More effectively, in 1981, the Israeli Air Force bombed Saddam’s Osirak nuclear weapons plant, setting back his nuke program by about ten years. If they hadn’t done that, Iraq could have had nuclear weapons by the 1991 Gulf War. The First Iraq War might never have been fought because we might not have been willing to risk a nuclear war to free Kuwait. Which is why Saddam wants nukes and will do anything to get them.
Now both North Korea and Iraq are nearing the ability to produce nuclear weapons. Both are a threat. But which one is more imminent, requiring it to be dealt with first? We know Saddam plans to sell or give chemical and biological weapons to terrorists for use against Americans at home and abroad. Saddam’s capability and his intent combine to create a need to remove him now, not later. Moreover, our military is capable of taking out Saddam in very short order. The analysis of North Korea yields opposite answers on both issues.
North Korea is led by a very strange bad guy. Kim Jong Il is about sixty. A playboy in his early years, he is now nearly a recluse. He wields his complete power in strange ways, such as ordering the kidnapping of South Korean movie directors who are brought to his palace for a chat, and then sent home. The North Korean economy is one of the weakest in the world, and Kim is content to let his people starve while about one-third of North Korea’s gross domestic product goes to its armed forces. Kim is more interested in reuniting his country by force than anything else, but apparently isn’t crazy enough to try it against the American and South Korean forces arrayed across the DMZ. But North Korea’s threat to us and others arises from its attaining, under Kim, the status of the premier ballistic missile seller to every bad guy with cash.
Kim’s military industry sells missiles such as the new Daepodong-1, which has a range of about 1,250 miles. With it, Saddam could threaten all of the Middle East. In a terrorist’s hands mounted on a ship, it could threaten all of Europe or either half of the U.S. But there is no report of sale of such missiles to terrorists, or even to Saddam. If North Korea made such sales, we would have to interdict them, and destroy the places they are made. There is no reason to believe Kim will act in a manner different from his Chinese neighbors. The Chinese sell advanced aircraft and some low-tech missiles to nations such as Pakistan. Their dealings with Iraq and other terrorist nations are troublesome, but they don’t — yet — provide Iraq and its ilk advanced missiles or weapons of mass destruction.
Because of the North Korean breach, Dubya canceled Lil’ Billy’s 1994 agreement. The North violated it, and there was no point in pretending otherwise. Even Colin Powell admits that the 1994 agreement is dead. He said that while delivering the latest confusion, saying that if Saddam were disarmed, we would let him stay in power. This is part of a very dangerous game the President is playing to get anything close to a useful Iraq resolution out of the U.N., and it’s a very bad idea for a whole pile of reasons, not the least of which is that it won’t work. But the most important reason is that while time is not on our side in Iraq, it is in North Korea.
The President, General Powell and Dr. Rice are trying to convince the U.N. to pass a resolution with teeth in it, authorizing use of force against Saddam if (okay, we know it’s when, not if) he violates the disarmament terms. But by saying he can stay, the President is sending precisely the wrong message to Iraq’s military. If Saddam’s troops know he will be removed no matter what else happens, they won’t fight. If we give them reason to believe he can remain in power — as we have now done — they will fight, and our troops will have to pay a much higher price in blood when the time comes. Better to tell the U.N. to step up or be left behind, as the President did weeks ago. And it’s time to call the U.N.’s bluff. No one should be told that Saddam can stay if he behaves. As for the North Koreans, time is on our side in the absence of credible intelligence that they are selling or passing WMD to terrorists. But they are a threat. So what can we do?
The 1994 agreement so eagerly engineered by Lil’ Billy (with considerable help from Jimmy Carter, silver medalist in the Worst President Ever event) provides that we would help North Korea build two “peaceful” nuclear plants and in return, it would end its nuclear weapons program. Japan and South Korea are now building those plants, which is a multi-billion dollar job for their companies. But those plants — supposedly weapon proliferation-resistant — could be modified to further the North’s nuclear weapons programs. Construction must be stopped immediately, and the President should demand Japan and South Korea’s cooperation in doing so.
The President’s announcement that the 1994 agreement is dead will have very practical effects on North Korea. For starters, the shipments of about 500,000 tons of American heating oil to North Korea will be stopped. For North Koreans, who live by the kindness of strangers (in China, who barter food to starving Koreans), this may literally mean sitting in the cold and dark for the coming winter. We shouldn’t miss the opportunity that creates for a covert operation to stir up trouble for Kim.
North Korea spends over 30% of its gross domestic product on its military, the only part of its population that eats regularly. As a result, the North Korean military is quite capable, and too large for us to take on in a tank-to-tank battle. If the nuclear weapons program continues, we should consider an Osirak-like strike against the Yongbyon plant which is the center of North Korea’s program. It’s quite possible to do that without beginning a general war.
Other than that, we wait. Because its leader is a recluse, his nation is as well. If they threaten us directly, or begin to sell weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, we must act. For now, let us watch, and wait, and stir up trouble where we can. Saddam delendus est.