Inconsistent foreign policy

There was something surreal about North Korea’s announcement that it was going to reactivate its nuclear facilities, almost certainly with the intention of producing nuclear weapons. Here was a ‘rogue’ state, one of the three members of the notorious “axis of evil,” declaring openly, brazenly and unequivocally that it was going to produce the most destructive of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), even as the U.S. – a 600 pound gorilla in a world of chimpanzees—was preparing, upon the slightest whiff of a WMD, to destroy one of the other members of the axis: Iraq. Kim Jong Il’s undertaking seemed a risky proposition, at best.

Farcical, however, was the U.S. response – or rather, responses. Initially, Donald Rumsfeld made a vaguely menacing claim that the U.S. could wage two major ground conflicts simultaneously, which was followed by a Bush administration statement that North Korea’s actions deserved a diplomatic rather than military resolution. The latter response was grounded in the logic that diplomatic means had been exhausted in Iraq, yet not in North Korea. After all, North Korea has not waged a military conflict in quite some time.

Unfortunately, that logic is about as tenuous as Saddam’s control of Northern Iraq. Yes, Saddam did invade Iran in the 1980s – with US encouragement – and then Kuwait in 1990. Yet one has the feeling that the placement of 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea may have something to do with the fact that North Korea has not made an aggressive move in the past 50 years or so. Here’s a state declaring that it’s going to make weapons of mass destruction. These are a major concern in current U.S. foreign policy, and, indeed, the prevention of their proliferation is something to which the current administration’s big innovation, “pre-emption,” seems married. Yet North Korea is being offered a diplomatic channel, while a fellow member of the axis of evil is on the verge of being invaded. No, Iraq has not fully cooperated with weapons inspectors, but neither has North Korea. Yet one is being placated, and the other, eradicated.

The notion that the U.S. can simply wreck any state that 1) does not play by our rules and 2) wants to develop nuclear weapons is ludicrous. Certainly, it is in our best interests to support WMD non-proliferation to the greatest degree possible, but simply ending any state that wants to develop them does not seem like much of a long-term plan.

And if the U.S. wants to be consistent, it seems like there are quite a few states that ought to be confronted militarily for either pursuing or possessing such weapons; Pakistan, its post 9/11 cooperation notwithstanding, has WMD, a strong radical Muslim element and a leader whose cooperation with the U.S. is making him unpopular. Just imagine if the Shah of Iran had had nuclear weapons back in ’79 – he was our ally, after all. . .

The point is, going after Iraq with such lusty vehemence, yet treating North Korea with, well, civility, seems to suggest that there is something else going on. There has been a lot of speculation about the various reasons Iraq is getting special treatment, but the U.S. certainly is not announcing these motives. If the U.S. does have some legitimate justification for war, one would think it would be announced so we could start sending tanks over the border. The only thing that seems to be holding the administration back is the potential disapproval of the international community.

It is, of course, possible that there is some confidential legitimate motive for invading Iraq, one that the public just cannot know about. However, the public can’t debate or evaluate those motives, and there certainly does not seem to be much subtlety to the intentions of the Bush administration, nor a dearth of self-interested reasons for the war.

The problem is that those self-interested motives are either invidious or simply wrong, and thus there needs to be this veneer of WMD threat – something that’s viscerally compelling but seemingly has inadequate basis in fact – coupled with the almost entirely tangential war on terrorism (there wasn’t a single Iraqi involved in 9/11; Saddam hates Osama Bin Laden, etc).

And the rationalized nature of this attack would seem to be confirmed by the treatment of North Korea. In short, the administration has its own motives for attacking Iraq, and has deployed an entirely separate set of justifications – justifications that are inadequate.