Democrats blew it on North Korea

Now they should join Republicans to force changes in the country's behavior

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If Democrats went after America's enemies with the ruthlessness with which they attack Republicans, the Axis of Evil would be toast.

No sooner had North Korea completed its (botched or faked) nuclear bomb test last weekend than Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., were blaming it on "the failed policies of the Bush administration."

   
Jack Kelly is national security writer for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio (jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476).
  

That annoyed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.:

"I would remind Sen. Clinton . . . that the framework agreement her husband's administration negotiated was a failure," he said. "Every single time the Clinton administration warned the Koreans not to do something -- not to kick out the IAEA inspectors, not to remove the fuel rods from their reactor -- they did it. And they were rewarded every single time by the Clinton administration with further talks."

Media commentators spun Mr. McCain's remarks as jockeying with Ms. Clinton for the presidency in 2008, but in fact Mr. McCain had been speaking out against her husband's Agreed Framework deal with North Korea since May of 1994.

Here is the history Democrats would like you to forget: The CIA began worrying in the late 1980s that North Korea was trying to build an atomic bomb. President Clinton attempted to head them off by offering a massive bribe. If the North Koreans would forgo their nuke plans, the United States would provide them with 500,000 tons of free fuel oil each year, massive food aid and build for them two $2 billion nuclear power plants. The deal made North Korea the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in Asia.

Mr. McCain was against the deal from the get-go, because it was all carrots and no sticks, and there were no safeguards against North Korean cheating.

North Korea took the bribes President Clinton offered, and kept working on its bomb.

Two experts told a House committee in April of 2000 that North Korea was producing enough highly radioactive material then to build a dozen bombs a year, but it is unclear when the North actually built a bomb (if yet) because our intelligence on the reclusive regime there is so poor.

Most experts think North Korea restarted its nuclear weapons program between 1997 and 1999, said Paul Kerr of the Arms Control Association. But the Congressional Research Service thinks the North began cheating in 1995.

Signs of cheating were abundant by 2000. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright flew to Pyongyang that October to put lipstick on the pig. She offered dictator Kim Jong Il a relaxation of economic sanctions if he'd limit North Korea's missile development. Kim took those carrots too, but kept building missiles.

The Bush administration called North Korea on its cheating and suspended fuel aid pending an improvement in its behavior. North Korea declared (in 2002) it had the bomb, and the United States organized the six-party talks to try to persuade it to give up its nuclear ambitions.

Like Mr. McCain, I thought the Agreed Framework was a bad idea from the get-go. But I don't blame the Clinton administration (very much) for trying. Massive bribery hadn't been tried before, and if it had worked, it certainly would have been preferable to war. And, since as far as we know, serious cheating didn't begin until 1997 or 1998, it can be argued the deal did buy us a little time.

But even though the ultimate failure of the Clinton policy of appeasement is excusable, the refusal of Democrats to acknowledge that failure is not.

Democrats tend to view foreign policy crises through the narrow prism of their impact on domestic politics. But the villain here isn't Bill Clinton or George Bush. It's Kim Jong Il. And what's important here is not which party controls the House of Representatives. It's whether we can prevent a second Korean War.

Democrats ordinarily make a fetish of "multilateralism," which is what President Bush has been pursuing through the six-party talks, the only format that offers hope of reining in North Korea short of war, because only China is in a position to force North Korea to behave.

Kim wants direct negotiations with the United States, both to undermine the six-party talks, and because he wants to return to the good old days when the Clinton administration was providing him with aid in exchange for, in effect, nothing. Democrats, astoundingly, want to give him exactly what he wants, without first insisting upon a change in his behavior. They would rather restore a failed policy than admit a mistake.

If tragedy is to be avoided, Democrats must stop putting their partisan ambitions ahead of the security of the United States.



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