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Barbara O'Brien : How Bush Is Screwing Korea

How Bush Is Screwing Korea

By Barbara O'Brien

"He is, it has been suggested, ineffectual, lazy, stupid empty figurehead -- or all of the above," writes Martin Sieff of UPI .

Bush? No, Kim Jong Il of North Korea. (Gotcha!)

However, Sieff also writes that Kim Jong Il may not be stupid and ineffectual at all.He's more likely cunning and ruthless.Further, he's believed to already have one or two nuclear bombs and could have several more within months.

And President George W. Bush, who is not only ineffectual, lazy, etc. but also arrogant and reckless, has turned what was a delicate butimproving situation into a disaster.

Republicans and most of the news media are spinning the current nuclear standoff with Korea asthe faultof the Clinton Administration's too-soft policies. The truth is thatwe are facing nuclear meltdown in Asia as a direct result of George W. Bush'sham-handedmishandling of both North and South Korea.

"George W. Bush ends the year with a genuine nuclear crisis on his hands,"as opposed to the ersatz nuclear crisis in Iraq, Mary McGrory writes in the Washington Post. [ McGrory, " Bush's Moonshine Policy,"The Washington Post,December 29, 2002 ]


War Averted, or Just Postponed?

Understanding the current Korean crisis requires re-visiting the last Korean crisis.

In 1994, the prospect of U.S. sanctions over North Korea's nuclear weapons program almost triggered a war. The North Koreans expelled inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency and threatened to begin production of plutonium. Military experts believed the combined forces of the United States and South Korea could defeat North Korea (of course, we've heard that one before), but at great cost, especially to South Korea.

Conflict wasavoided when former U.S. President Jimmy Carter went to Pyongyang to broker a compromise.

President Carter explains,

It was the policy of the United States to reject any direct talks with North Korean leaders. Responding to a standing invitation from North Korean President Kim Il Sung and with the approval of President Bill Clinton, I went to Pyongyang and helped to secure an agreement that North Korea would cease its nuclear program at Yongbyon and permit I.A.E.A. inspectors to return to the site to assure that the spent fuel was not reprocessed. In return, the United States and our allies subsequently assured the North Koreans that there would be no nuclear threat to them, that a supply of fuel oil would be provided to replace the power lost by terminating the Yongbyon nuclear program and that two modern nuclear plants would also be provided, with their fuel supplies to be monitored by international inspectors. [ Carter, "Engaging North Korea," The New York Times, October 27, 2002 ]

North Korean President Kim Il Sung died in 1994 and was replaced by his son, the afore-mentioned Kim Jong Il. Under the son's tender stewardship an estimated 2 million North Koreans starved to death.

The Monterey Institute of International Studies maintains a good onlinearchive and chronology on North Korea and nuclear weapons inspections. Perusal of this archive reveals the North Koreans were never cooperative with the inspectors, and the United States, the United Nations, and South Koreawere fully aware of this. Building of the light-water nuclear reactors was delayed. And in 1998, North Korea tested a long-range ballistic missile.

However, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, elected in 1998,began a "Sunshine Policy" to lessen tensions and build reconciliation between North and South Korea.

In June 2000 the North and South Korean leaders held a historic three-day summit in Pyongyang, the first such contact in 50 years. They signed a pact in which they agreed to work towardreunification. They also agreed to allow reunions of families separated during the Korean War and to "pursue a balanced development of their national economies, and build mutual trust by accelerating exchanges in the social, cultural, sports, health, and environmental sectors."

In December 2000, SouthKorea's Kim Dae Jungwas presented with the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts to establish relations with Communist North Korea.

Although it was well understood that North Korea remained dangerous, the steps toward reconciliation were making real progress and reducing tensions. The Clinton Administration believed that after years of food shortages and economic decline,North Korea sawcooperation with the outside world as the best way to bring prosperity without giving up power like the communists of eastern Europe.

Would Kim Dae Jung's Sunshine Policy have succeeded? A conference held March 2001 at th e School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University , concluded it was too early to tell. This means we'll never know.


Then Came Bush

Kim Dae Jung came to Washington in March 2001 to pay respects to the new U.S. President Bush and ask for his support for the Sunshine Policy. And what happened?

President Kim Dae-jung hurriedly flew to Washington in March last year for a summit with new United States President George W. Bush in order to enlist his support for South Korea's "Sunshine Policy" of engaging North Korea.

Bush turned down Kim's request, putting Seoul's inter-Korean reconciliation policy in the doldrums where it remains. [ The Korea Times, December 22, 2002 ]

Mary McGrory writes:

We should perhaps remember that President Bush has never liked talking to Koreans. His first overseas visitor was the estimable Kim Dae Jung, whom Bush snubbed.

Bush, as he was eager to demonstrate, was not a fan. Kim's sin? He was instituting a sunshine policy with the North, ending a half-century of estrangement. Bush, who looked upon North Korea as the most potent argument for his obsession to build a national missile defense, saw Kim, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, as nothing but trouble. He sent him home humiliated and empty-handed. [ McGrory, " Bush's Moonshine Policy,"The Washington Post,December 29, 2002 ].

As a reaction to Bush's unexpected -- andunnecessary -- hard-line stance, North Korea cancelled scheduled reconciliation talks with South Korea.

"North Korea needs time to form its position on Washington's harder-than-expected stance against it in the wake of the Kim-Bush summit," said Lee Chul-ki, professor of international relations at Dongguk University.

During the meeting in Washington last week, Bush also told President Kim he was skeptical of North Korea, and would not immediately resume negotiations on the North's missile program.

"Through the cancellation, Pyongyang seems to want to send a message to Washington that it's not happy with Washington's policy changes (toward North Korea)," Lee added. [ CNN, March 14, 2001 ]


Isn't the Cold War Supposed to Be Over?

InFebruary 2002, President Bush paid a visit to South Korea. While hundreds of protesters marched against Bush and burned home-made U.S. flags, and 20,000 riot police kept order on the streets, Bush talked with Kim Dae Jung.

Worldwide controversy over Bush's speech last month labeling North Korea, Iran and Iraq an "axis of evil" has been strong in U.S. ally South Korea, where 70 percent of the public disapproved of the characterization.

In a news conference after his talks with President Kim, Bush stood by his tough words, saying North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had to earn his trust, but that the United States had no intention of attacking the North.

"I will not change my opinion on Kim Jong-il until he frees his people and accepts genuine proposals from countries such as South Korea to dialogue," Bush said.

"I am concerned about a country that is not transparent, that develops weapons of mass destruction," he said. [ Paul Eckert, "Tough Security, Protests as Bush Visits South Korea," Reuters, February 20, 2002 ]

Hello? Mr. President? Transparent? Mr. We-Don't-Need-No-Steenking-Investigation?

South Koreans fear Bush will, at best, destroy Kim's delicate "Sunshine Policy" of rapprochement with North Korea and, at worst, bring his war on terrorism to their doorstep.

Seoul and its 15 million people lie within artillery range of North Korea's million-strong army. The United States has 37,000 troops in the South and South Korea's forces number 680,000. [ ibid .]

Whoops! But George W. Bush was riding high and feeling very sure of himself, or full of himself, whichever.

Some 11 months ago, Bush included North Korea in an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq in his 2002 State of the Union speech. And on a visit to South Korea, he visited the 38th Parallel demilitarized zone and in a deliberate echo of President Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall, he called on the North's leaders to "tear down this DMZ." So far, Kim Jong Il has not complied with his demand. [ Martin Sieff, "Deadly Adversary Kim Jong II," UPI, December 27, 2002 ]

Standing atop a sandbag bunker and protected by bulletproof glass, U.S. President George W. Bush peered through binoculars at North Korea on Wednesday and bluntly called it "evil."

... Among the things Bush could see were North Korean signs written in large, white Korean characters with slogans such as: "Anti-America" and "Our General is the best" -- a reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Bush spent about 10 minutes atop the bunker and then he and Secretary of State Colin Powell sat down to a lunch of cold cuts, potato chips, fruit and cookies with about a dozen U.S. soldiers who help man the post 24 hours a day.

Asked what he thought when he looked out over the North, Bush said: "We're ready." [ Arshad Mohammed, "Bush Sees 'Evil' N. Korea Through Bulletproof Glass," Reuters, February 20, 2002 ]

Ooo, tough talk. Bush is really good at tough talk, isn't he?


But Ready for What?

For one thing, Bush was not ready for the fact that the world does not neatly sort itself into good guys and bad guys.

In early December 2002the U.S. National Security Agency tracked the movement of 15 Scud missiles and 85 drums of chemicals from a factory in North Korea to the freighter So San. Then the NSA monitored theunflagged ship around the world to the Arabian Sea.

Were these missiles going to Iraq? The U.S. asked the Spanish Navy to stop and board the So San. But the dictator of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, claimed the cargo, thereby putting the Bush Administration into a nice ideological pickle. Saleh is an ally against Iraq; therefore, Saleh is a "good" guy.

The Yemeni insisted he had bought the missiles years before he made his promise to us [to buy no more scuds from North Korea] and just never got around to telling us about it. Nobody believed that, but Saleh lets us kill Al Qaeda leaders on his territory, and our knowledge of this shipment means he won't be able to re-sell it easily.

So President Bush decided to sacrifice the principle of the interdiction of terror weaponry entering a war zone on the altar of practicality. Instead of suggesting a fair compromise-- "We'll reimburse you for your $41 million purchase, and we'll impound the cargo"-- he chose to appease an unreliable ally and turned the 15 missiles, with the unidentified chemicals, over to the man who had made the U.S. look foolish. [ William Safire, "Bush's Stumble: The So San Affair," The New York Times, December 19, 2002 ]


The Bumbling Continues

In October the White House announced the 1994 agreement was dead. The North Koreans had admitted to a White House official that it was working on nuclear weapons.

This cannot have been a big surprise. The usual suspects in the White House appear to have wanted an excuse to stop shipments of oil to North Korea, believing Kim Jong Il would be pushed into meekly abandoning his nuclear weapons.

North Korea's collapsed economy gives the United States and its allies the diplomatic leverage to convince the communist regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions, [Condoleezza] Rice said.

"North Korea has been signaling and saying that it wants to break out of its economic isolation," Rice told CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer." "It has to break out of its economic isolation.

"This is a regime that in terms of its economic condition is going down for the third time. Its people are starving." ...

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday that he considered North Korea's nuclear ambitions and missile capability a bigger threat to the United States than Iraq.

Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged the White House to rethink its priorities.

But Rice said Iraq's history shows the Baghdad regime is harder to contain than North Korea.

"These are not comparable situations," she said. "They're dangerous, both of them dangerous. But we believe that we have different methods that will work in North Korea that clearly have not and will not work in Iraq." [ Kelly Wallace, CNN, October 21, 2002 ]

In December, oil shipments to North Korea were stopped.

Also in December, the people of South Korea elected a new President, Roh Moo Hyun, who favorscontinuation of the Sunshine Policy andgreater autonomy from the United States. For a good analysis of this election and Korean-U.S. relations in general, please see "Korea: Another Big Election Defeat for Bush" by Jim Lobe,, December 20, 2002 .


Uncontrollable Catastrophe

Tuesday, North Korea warned of an "uncontrollable catastrophe" unless the United States agrees to a negotiated solution to a standoff over its nuclear energy and weapons programs.

Yesterday, North Korea announced it is going back into the plutonium production business and ordered UNnuclear inspectors to leave the country.

The UN first said the inspectors would stay put, then announced the inspectors were leaving Tuesday.

The White House announced it might send an envoy to confer with allies, but made it clear that the United States was not speaking to North Korea. Nyah nyah nyah. However,

The Bush administration, surprised by the speed of North Koreas defiant reopening of the shuttered Yongbyon nuclear facility, intends to refer the matter to the United Nations as part of a policy one official described yesterday as "isolate and contain." [ Peter Slevin and Walter Pincus, "U.S. Will Refer North Korea Crisis to United Nations," The Washington Post, December 28, 2002 ]

So, Condi,why wouldn't "isolate and contain" work with Iraq? Oh, never mind ...

As I write, the latest news is that Kim John Il is vowing not to cave in to pressure from the United States. Yeah, Condi, he's just putty in your hands.

- Maha


- Barbara O'Brien, creator of The Mahablog! a.k.a., is a New York resident and a freelance writer. She previously provided a regular column for Scoop on the US Elections. Readers are encouraged to visit The Mahaweb!! and see the Timeline of Terror! and much, much more.

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