Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Selig Harrison's "Korean Endgame", Part 2

I am continuing my comments on Selig Harrison's Korean Endgame, a book exemplifying an all too rare rational and realistic assessment of one of our chief foreign policy opponents. This follows Selig Harrison's "Korean Endgame", Part 1.

Harrison continued (p. xvii): “The persistence of [the widespread belief that the North is doomed to collapse] on the part of many U.S. officials is the main reason why the United States has failed to develop a coherent long-term policy toward the Korean peninsula, relying on short-term fixes while waiting to see what happens.”

Here I have a possibly “friendly amendment.” I don’t think it is simply belief in North Korea’s impending “collapse” that is the “main reason” we have failed to adopt a long-term policy. I suspect that maintaining this belief in public is an easy way out for those who would favor a more conciliatory policy but who know they will be savaged as “soft” “appeasers” if they suggest it. I believe the pseudo-conservative demagogic right so dominates foreign policy debate today that few are courageous enough to oppose them. The situation is somewhat analogous to why it took a Republican, Richard Nixon, to initiate an “opening” to China; if a Democrat had tried it Republicans would have gone berserk.

(P. xvii): “The incoherence and ad hoc character of U.S. policy was exemplified by the 1994 agreement between Washington and Pyongyang in which North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear weapons program. Many officials of the Clinton administration… made the implicit assumption that the Pyongyang regime would collapse… before the key provisions of the accord would have to be carried out. Yet the terms of the agreement treat North Korea as an established state and envisage the normalization of… relations, starting with the gradual removal of the economic sanctions imposed against Pyongyang since the Korean War…. The freeze agreement was acceptable to Pyongyang primarily because [of] the prospect of an end to sanctions…. It was the failure of the United States to begin easing sanctions until six years after the conclusion of the accord that led to heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang…. The explicit commitment to normalization as the ultimate goal of U.S. policy that was central to the 1994 freeze agreement was conspicuously absent in initial Bush administration policy declarations. Opponents of normalization with Pyongyang argued that it would prop up a moribund regime that would otherwise implode or explode.”

The “conspicuous” absence of commitment to normalization in Bush administration policy is a serious understatement: see my “Responsibility for North Korea's Nuclear Test”. Those ideologically committed to the conventional wisdom will have difficulty believing that U.S. failure to abide by the 1994 agreement contributed greatly to its failure. Don’t we all “know” that it was North Korea’s iniquitous “cheating” that caused this “soft” and “flaccid” Clinton policy to go astray? Apparently not everyone “knows” this, see “More on North Korea Policy”.

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