Axis Of Evil Loses Charter Member

[ Posted Thursday, June 26th, 2008 – 16:02 UTC ]

President Bush is in the news today declaring, in essence, that North Korea need no longer be considered as part of his "Axis Of Evil." With absolutely no proof whatsoever, Congress is now supposed to remove North Korea from the list of countries which are considered state sponsors of terrorism. So much for all that fiery rhetoric Bush used to use about terrorism.

Let's start with some facts everyone can agree upon. Uranium in its natural state consists mainly of two isotopes, U-235 and U-238. The lighter U-235 is what is used in atomic energy and atomic weapons. Unfortunately, U-238 makes up over 99% of natural uranium. Meaning that you have to enrich natural uranium until the proportion of U-235 is high enough to be effective. Enrichment for nuclear reactors brings the proportion of U-235 up to around five percent. Enrichment for weapons brings it above 90%. In a nuclear reactor, the U-235 is split (by fission) and part of it breaks down to plutonium, which can also be used for nuclear weapons. The "spent" or used fuel rods from such a reactor can be reprocessed to separate out the plutonium, which can then be used to build nuclear weapons.

That's the life-cycle of uranium (as it applies to building nuclear weapons) in a nutshell. It's a little more complicated than that, of course, but those are the basics necessary for this discussion.

Now we get into the history of North Korea, the United States, and nuclear weapons. Recent history, though -- we don't need to go all the way back to MacArthur wanting to drop lots of nukes on the peninsula in order to win the Korean War. Back in Bill Clinton's time in office, North Korea signed up for an agreement (the "Agreed Framework") to cease attempts to reprocess their spent nuclear rods to remove the plutonium. Reprocessing plutonium is (as these things go) a fairly easy process -- much easier than enriching uranium. And it was easy to verify, as well -- since the pool where the rods were kept was opened to international monitors who assured the world that the North Koreans weren't reprocessing plutonium.

Enter George Bush on the world's stage. Seven years ago, Bush announced that he had seen intelligence which proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that North Korea had secretly begun to enrich uranium for use in weapons. The intelligence he cited has since been shown to be rather flimsy, but even putting that aside and assuming that it was indeed true doesn't change the history of what happened. George Bush made his famous "Axis Of Evil" speech, and swore that North Korea would never get nukes on his watch.

Unfortunately, during these early days of his administration, President Bush was still caught up in the juvenile "we're going to do everything exactly the opposite of how Clinton did things" way of thinking. If Clinton held talks with North Korea, and reached diplomatic agreements, then that obviously was not the way to go. Stonewalling them was obviously the right thing to do. And warning everyone that they were one of the three most Evil nations on the planet. That would obviously get some results, right?

From a Washington Monthly article by Fred Kaplan back in 2004 (the whole article is worth reading for an in-depth history of this issue):

The pattern of decision making that led to this debacle -- as described to me in recent interviews with key former administration officials who participated in the events -- will sound familiar to anyone who has watched Bush and his cabinet in action. It is a pattern of wishful thinking, blinding moral outrage, willful ignorance of foreign cultures, a naive faith in American triumphalism, a contempt for the messy compromises of diplomacy, and a knee-jerk refusal to do anything the way the Clinton administration did it.

Having nothing left to lose on the international stage at this point, Kim Jong Il then proceeded to renounce the Agreed Framework, and kick the inspectors out of his country. He then concentrated his efforts not on enriching uranium, but on the much easier and quicker method of reprocessing the fuel rods into pure plutonium. Which he subsequently used to build a few nuclear weapons (how many is a subject for some dispute, but most estimates are in the 6-to-12 range), Just in case anyone didn't notice, he then went ahead with testing them to see if they worked (they did, but not as spectacularly as estimated, meaning they probably still have some bugs in their weapon design program).

This all happened on Bush's watch.

Since then, a remarkable diplomat named Christopher Hill has fought with John Bolton (when he was our U.N. Ambassador) to even get this far back down the road of diplomacy. But it's really leading right back to where we were when Bush took office -- the new agreement has stopped plutonium reprocessing, but doesn't do anything about uranium enrichment -- except that now, of course, North Korea has a small arsenal of nukes.

Now, because the North Koreans are taking some steps down the path to where we were under Clinton (they gave some documents to China, which prompted Bush's announcement), Bush has said they are no longer state supporters of terrorism, and furthermore that they should be removed from American laws which deal with trading with the enemy. This is to reward North Korea, even though they have not given up their nuclear weapons, they have not identified them yet, or even given an accurate accounting of them. North Korea may have just helped Syria try to build a nuclear reactor in the desert. But all of a sudden, it's OK to welcome them into the world's community.

This -- it should be noted -- is definitely not appeasement. You see, "appeasement" is when Democrats do things like this. Bush even made some snide comments (without mentioning his name) about Bill Clinton during his announcement this morning. Even though the North Korean nukes happened on Bush's watch, not Clinton's. But I'd be willing to bet that Neville Chamberlain's name will not be invoked much by the right wing in the next few days, because (of course) Republicans don't "appease" anybody anytime anywhere.

There's a real lesson here, but the American news media won't touch it. The rest of the world listens to what American leaders say (sometimes with alarm), but they pay a lot more attention to what our government does than to what it says.

Bush said several times and in several ways that it would be absolutely unacceptable for North Korea to have a nuclear weapon. And then he sat back and watched while they built a few. Now, of course, he says similar things about other countries.

Let's say you are the leader of such a country, say... in the Middle East. You take a look at Iraq, and you take a look at North Korea. Now, the question you ask yourself is: "Can I get a better deal for my people -- and also incidentally remove the possibility of an American military attack -- by making and testing a few nuclear weapons?" Like I said, you look at how the U.S. has dealt with Iraq, and then you look at how we've dealt with North Korea. You say to yourself "If Saddam actually did have a nuke and a way to deliver it, would the United States have attacked Iraq -- or negotiated, as they're doing with North Korea?" And then you make up your mind what to do about it.


-- Chris Weigant


4 Comments on “Axis Of Evil Loses Charter Member”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    Ya know...

    Poor Bush...

    When he claims that NK is on the AXIS OF EVIL list, he is castigated and decried for war-mongering..

    When he takes NK OFF the list, he is castigated and decried for taking them OFF the list...

    Sometimes, it just doesn't pay to get up in the morning.... :D


  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    I was actually trying to castigate him for wasting most of the last six or seven years. But sometimes when typing about Bush, the flames do tend to fly from the keyboard...


  3. [3] 
    fstanley wrote:

    When to use the stick and when to use the carrot seems to be the question here. And should all countries/governments be treated the same [by the US] or do some get special treats?


  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:


    That's kinda my point.. Logic seems to flyout the window where Bush is concerned..

    But, to be perfectly fair, you are better than most... Now, excuse me while I wipe this brown stuff off my nose. :D


    I would say that those who do the right thing get special consideration.. Those that do the wrong things, get the stick.

    The trick is knowing the wrong that is more right...


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