September 12, 2004

Showing resolve vs. actual disarmament

In response to this potential nuclear flare-up from North Korea, more than a few conservative commentators have done the responsible thing and... blamed Bill Clinton. The idea, I guess, is that whatever Clinton did vis-à-vis North Korea so straitjacketed our current president that he was absolutely powerless to alter the state of affairs. Sort of like how Bush was absolutely powerless to combat the "Clinton recession." I'm not sure why we should be proud of this sort of powerlessness, but there you have it.

More substantially, though, I think Fred Kaplan had the general narrative quite right when he suggested that Clinton's Agreed Framework with North Korea would have basically worked, but for two thing. The first was that the U.S. actually reneged on its side of the deal and never delivered the promised light-water reactors. The second was that in 2001 Bush came to office and refused to negotiate with Kim Jong Il -- in part out of principle, in part to repudiate the Clinton era.

Let's also get one thing clear. Even if Clinton had disarmed North Korea through diplomacy, he still would have been guilty of coddling dictators. You could even call it cowardly. But so what? If actual nuclear disarmament is your main objective, then you may find yourself appeasing a few bad guys from time to time. On the other hand, if your main objective is simply to show resolve in the face of evil, then you may eventually find that your enemies have armed themselves with nuclear weapons. A president won't always have to make this choice -- but sometimes he might, and in those cases, it should be obvious that we want a leader who worries more about the actual nukes than about principle and moralistic stands against tyranny.

-- Brad Plumer 7:33 PM || ||