What Pyongyang Won and Tehran May Win

Posted in Koreas | 12-Aug-09 | Author: Judith Apter Klinghoffer| Source: HNN

Much has been made of the picture of Kim Jong Il with his (and his father's) old friend, Bill Clinton. It is argued that Kim needs it for internal consumption. Not so, in his appearance in Meet the Press, Gen. James Jones reveals that Kim got much, much more. He convinced the American government that he is, indeed, in charge and, hence, it is worth while engaging/appeasing him. Moreover, the bilateral American North Korean talk Pyongyang wanted, may have already been renewed. All in all, an excellent day for Kim and his mobsters. Even more troubling is that Gen. Jones does not seem to be aware of the price America paid. Indeed, he celebrates Pyongyang's victory.

Gen. Jones even reported that Clinton assured the administration that Kim is in control and REASONABLE!

GEN. JONES: . . . So we celebrate the fact that we've had these--this great reunion(between Clinton and Kim!) . . . -we can also report that . . . the Korean leader, that he appeared to be in control of his government and, and his--he sounded very, very reasoned in terms of his conversation. . . .

Not to worry, Jones added, Clinton told Kim, that Washington does not want nuclear weapons to "appear" on the peninsula. Excuse me? We have good reason to believe that North Korea has already 12 nuclear bombs and the missiles to launch them. It could all be "delightfully absurd" has it not been so troubling:

GEN. JONES: . . . And the president, the former president was able to engage him on a number of subjects. . . . and so he was able to convey his own, his personal views with regard to the importance of the issues of the moment, which is making sure that nuclear weapons do not appear on the Korean Peninsula.

Regardless of the pains (Henry Kissinger's term) the administration took to emphasize Clinton did not represent the US government, Gen. Jones admits that Clinton was engaged in futile negotiations:

MR. GREGORY: Well, let's talk about that, the nuclear issue. It must have come up during their conversations. What was said?

GEN. JONES: . . . . But, but it's clear thus far that he did press home the fact that if North Korea really desired to rejoin the family of nations in a, in a credible way, that the, the, the way forward is not to, to build nuclear weapons and to rejoin the, the six party talks, and within the context of those talks that they could have a dialogue with the United States.

MR. GREGORY: So North Korea has said they don't want to be part of these six party talks anymore. Just a couple of weeks ago they were exchanging insults with the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

GEN. JONES: Right.

MR. GREGORY: Do--did they give an indication to the former president that that's changed, that they might be willing to come back now?

GEN. JONES: I, I think time will tell on that, David, to be honest. . . .

MR. GREGORY: Any positive signs, though, from the talks?

GEN. JONES: We'll have to wait and see.

MR. GREGORY: Is there a deadline, in your mind, for when they need to come back?

GEN. JONES: I, I think this is such, this is such a big issue that--and we're making such good progress with our relations with China and Russia and other countries to, to, to show them the, the, the, the wisdom of making the right decisions here.

BUT China has never helped and is not about to start now when Washington is weaker than it has been since W.W. II. As Richard Haasexplained to George stephanopoulos, regime change is, indeed, the only answer and China which has the most leverage is scared to bring down the regime because it does not want to end up with a unified Korea under the American orbit. For the Chinese is would be a big strategic set back almost like another unified Vietnam.

Cokie Roberts correctly adds that Washington is in no position to pressure China in this an other matters "because they own so much of out debt . . . and we are beholden to them" as long as we continue to run up these kind of deficits. Deficits which will become ever more costly because of Beijing's success in persuading the US treasury to issue more inflation linked bonds instead of regular bond thereby reducing Chinese while increasing American exposure to inflation. Indeed, it makes much more sense to talk about Chinese pressure on the US than the other way around.

To make matters worse, Iran has been watching and learning. George stephanopoulos notes that immediately following the Clinton mission, Iran moved the hikers to Tehran. After all, they, too, have hostages, indeed, more hostages than we would like to acknowledge and can use some flattering pictures for a change. Jon Meacham points out:

...there are two places where this is going on right now. Newsweek has a correspondent, Maziar Bahari, who is being held in custody without access to a lawyer and without a formal charge in Iran. There are a number of show trials going on in Iran as that regime, like the North Korean regime, tries to hold onto power. And would urge all of us to pay attention to the situation in Iran, in that we have people who are being held without due process, which is personally tragic but also a significant political story, because it's about a regime trying to fight history. . . .

So what is to be done? Gregory asks David Brooks:

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. In about 20 seconds, David Brooks, General Jones talking about the potential for a breakthrough with both North Korea and Iran with this spirit of engagement. Is there something that happens out of North Korea that paves the way for that in a different way?

MR. BROOKS: You know, I think both cases the regime is more likely to change than the, than the nuclear program. We've got to focus on changing that whole regime, not just trying to persuade really crazy regimes to end their nuclear programs.

Unfortunately, this weaker, poorer America is in no mood to do anything about these crazy regimes and if their tyrants had any remaining doubts left, the Clinton rescue mission laid them to rest. None of this means that I am sorry Clinton went. Two lives were at stake. I am only sorry we had to pay such an exorbitant price.