Which Is More Dangerous? Kerry Starting a Nuclear War with North Korea or Bush’s Iraqi Folly?

The first debate was certainly interesting, mainly because it showed that the substantive policy differences between the candidates were so tiny. It came down to “I could have done everything better” and “No, you couldn’t have — it’s hard work.” The only substantive difference was unsettling: whether A) to continue multilateral talks with North Korea or B) do what the North Koreans want and start bilateral talks. It seemed that since Bush supports A, Kerry had to differentiate himself by promoting B. (I cannot imagine a good reason for unilateralism in that case, and it’s bizarre coming from Mr. Multilateralist on everything else.) And now Kerry has said that he would consider a first strike against North Korea, possibly initiating a nuclear war and an invasion of South Korea, with millions of casualties. As Morton Kondracke put it on the tube the other day, every time you think it would be a great idea to fire George Bush, you’re struck with the reality that that would mean hiring John Kerry. What a choice.

(I’m also not sure which candidate would be more likely to get us out of Iraq. Kerry thinks that the French are going to send troops because of his command of the language, but it’s more likely that the French would all abandon the language of Voltaire for German. So his “more troops/fewer troops,” “bring in more allies/belittle the allies you have and encourage them to leave” strategy may generate a longer and much more costly and dangerous commitment.)

8 Responses to “Which Is More Dangerous? Kerry Starting a Nuclear War with North Korea or Bush’s Iraqi Folly?”

  1. I was amazed at Kerry’s answer also. Unlike Iraq, the Norks are surrounded by countries that have a real stake in keeping the Korean peninsula free of nukes, and China has a good deal of political pull with them. It’s a perfect opportunity at multilateralism and to avoid bilateral talks that marginalize the only country that has any actual influence.

  2. According to some guy on NPR (take it for what you will), the Chinese have repeatedly asked the U.S. to include North Korea in these talks. If true (I have not seen anyone in the Bush team refute it), that casts doubts on Dubya’s superheated rhetoric that China will be alienated if North Korea is included.

  3. David,

    The idea is to include the Norks in the talks — always has been. The issue is whether we should have bilateral talks that exclude the other four stakeholders. The NPR guy is confusing the issue — we’ve always wanted North Korea involved.

  4. Robert:

    I never heard that Kerry wanted to exclude the other powers from the talks, only that he wanted to include NK. According to the NPR guy (he certainly could be wrong), Dubya has spurned China’s request that NK be included. Do you have a source on this? Thanks.


  5. David,

    You can look here.

    The NPR guy has to have been smoking something. Excluding the Norks would defeat the purpose. A little history:

    Jimmy Carter negotiated a treaty, on Clinton’s behalf, in 1994 to get the DPRK to stop producing plutonium or enriching uranium (can’t remember which). We agreed to supply the Norks with heating oil and help them build some soft water reactors to generate power, though they wouldn’t be able to generate fissile material. I think we gave them some food as well. The IAEA was brought in to monitor their compliance.

    It came to light that the Norks had been violating the agreement and, after Bush listed the Norks as being members of the “axis of evil”, Kim Jong Il began to do some major saber-rattling. He was insisting on getting a “nonaggression pact” from us because he was afraid he might meet Saddam’s fate (I know this is an oversimplification, but not that much). He also insisted on getting bilateral talks with us. We refused.

    President Bush / the State Department decided that the best way to approach the Norks was in a multilateral way that included the primary stakeholders (the Norks, South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and ourselves). The parties roughly break down along these lines:

    Japan is a neighbor, has had citizens kidnapped by the Norks (very bizarre behavior on their part) and the Norks have test fired missiles over Japan. Clearly, they have a stake in this situation.

    China has a great deal of political influence over the Norks, as the Chinese are, quite literally, the only friends they have left. China also has an interest in not seeing a rival nuclear power in the area.

    South Korea should be obvious: they share a border, have a 600,000 man army garrisoned just south of the DMZ and would be hit first should the Norks ever fire a weapon.

    Russia is a smaller player, but they are a major power, are in the same neighborhood and play a great role (in my estimation) in demonstrating to the Norks just how isolated they are.

    As for the U.S., our only influence is the threat of force and perhaps more bribery, though that has failed already. The Norks are very afraid of us if Mr. Kim’s behavior is any indicator. He was spazzing out in insisting on a nonaggression pact between us.

    The short reason we can’t allow bilateral talks is that if they fail, our only recourse is violence since that’s the extent of our influence over the Norks. Not so with China, in particular, and the others are more directly threatened by the Norks than us.

    We can’t go down the path that Kerry has specified because that exactly what Kim Jong Il wants and it has failed before.

    I pulled most of this from memory but I believe it is largely accurate.

  6. Instead of comparing the rhetoric of Bush and Kerry, more of the emphasis should be on how their respective administrations would handle the various issues. It’s hard to speculate about the Kerry cabinet, but some people are doing it. (I cannot evaluate with what reliability.) Clearly though, that’s really where the action is as far as addressing likely policy differences is concerned.

    Having said that, Kerry does have the upper hand as to libertarian rhetoric in unexpected areas, e.g. Bush defends his administration’s closing the northern border to drug imports.