Drudge Retort: The Other Side of the News
Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Josh Marshall, TPM, In almost every discussion of the North Korea situation, I try to remind everyone that North Korea made its nuclear break out under George W. Bush – not under Bill Clinton and not under Barack Obama. A key part of that backstory is that over the course of the late 90s the US negotiated a series of agreements called the Agreed Framework which shuttered the North Koreans nuclear weapons program in exchange for a combination of commitments and aid. The Bush team argued that the agreement was ‘appeasement' and that the US had caught the North Koreans cheating on the agreement during Bush's first term. The cheating argument has always struck me as questionable – quite possibly true but questionable. But the bigger issue is this: Does any of this really matter today as more than affixing blame for a situation we have to grapple with today whoever is at fault? I would argue that it very much does. Here's why.


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The Bush team didn't like the concept of the deal itself. Giving things to the North Koreans to get them to do things we wanted was rewarding misbehavior, ‘appeasement'. The proper way to handle such a situation was to get them to fall in line by the threat of US power, which is to say US military power. The simple reality was that the Bush team didn't like the deal but had nothing to replace it with. The threat of force wasn't credible because of the costs of a military confrontation which the North Koreans were well aware of. So the US got to act tough (or rather feel tough) and not go in for ‘appeasement' and the result was that North Korea became a nuclear power. Might they have become a nuclear power anyway? Maybe. But it seems very hard to argue that they would have gotten there as quickly as they did or would even be there today if the US had continued with the quite minor amounts of aid the Agreed Framework required.


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The real lesson I draw from this is that we should be extremely wary about actions which have the feeling or appearance of toughness but which are likely to have negative or even dire results because we have no viable, alternative policy. That seems very much like the situation we are moving toward with North Korea.

No less important, I'm quite certain that it is almost exactly the situation and folly that President Trump and his nuttier advisors are moving toward with Iran.... I would argue that in practice we have no real military alternative which is better than what we have now. And yet, we look likely to repeat the same mistake: taking the ego boost of feeling tough at the price of accepting a negative or perhaps catastrophic results. Refusing negotiation isn't tough if you're not actually willing to take up the alternative. Indeed, it is the most regular and orthodox military doctrine that threats only act as deterrents if they are credible. On both fronts, this is a lesson very much worth learning.

It drives me absolutely crazy to hear MSM talking heads speak of "decades of failed US policy towards North Korea" when in reality the policy was actually working until W and Cheney jettisoned the Framework agreement and now NK has nukes and missiles that threaten the continental US. At this point, it doesn't matter. We are going to have to learn to live with a nuclear NK just like we live with all the other nations that have nuclear weapons capabilities, both friends and foes. MAD is still the operative doctrine even though hand-wringing pollyannas try to imply the US can somehow force NK to give up their nukes, which is something that isn't going to happen and wouldn't happen if the shoe was on the other foot.

NK was a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and there used to be international inspectors inside NK keeping tabs on what they were doing at least to a point. Now, all of that is gone and we're in a far worse place than we were before Bush scuttled the agreement. Let's not make the same mistake with Iran.

#1 | Posted by tonyroma at 2017-08-09 12:54 PM | Reply

I was listening to talk radio yesterday and Carl Demaio (local politician turned talking head) made a dubious attempt at covering the political history of NK and it's nuclear weapon development in terms of U.S. Presidents' actions against it.

He hammered Clinton and Carter for the Agreed Framework, then completely glossed over the 8 years of Bush with a "then Bush kind of ignored the situation," only to lead to the real culprit: B. Hussein Obama. 8 years and a country primed for war all over the place was not enough for Bush to take care of Kim. But let's ignore all that and blame only one party, those who are the stereotypical spineless.

#2 | Posted by rstybeach11 at 2017-08-09 02:12 PM | Reply

TPT using TPM to deflect blame from any administration but Bush for the Norks getting the bomb.


#3 | Posted by Rightocenter at 2017-08-09 02:51 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

The Clinton deal did nothing to prevent NK from getting nukes.

#4 | Posted by JeffJ at 2017-08-09 03:23 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 2

May 2004

On Oct. 4, 2002, officials from the U.S. State Department flew to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and confronted Kim Jong-il's foreign ministry with evidence that Kim had acquired centrifuges for processing highly enriched uranium, which could be used for building nuclear weapons. To the Americans' surprise, the North Koreans conceded. It was an unsettling revelation, coming just as the Bush administration was gearing up for a confrontation with Iraq. This new threat wasn't imminent; processing uranium is a tedious task; Kim Jong-il was almost certainly years away from grinding enough of the stuff to make an atomic bomb. But the North Koreans had another route to nuclear weapons -- a stash of radioactive fuel rods, taken a decade earlier from its nuclear power plant in Yongbyon. These rods could be processed into plutonium -- and, from that, into A-bombs -- not in years but in months. Thanks to an agreement brokered by the Clinton administration, the rods were locked in a storage facility under the monitoring of international weapons-inspectors. Common sense dictated that -- whatever it did about the centrifuges -- the Bush administration should do everything possible to keep the fuel rods locked up.

Unfortunately, common sense was in short supply. After a few shrill diplomatic exchanges over the uranium, Pyongyang upped the ante. The North Koreans expelled the international inspectors, broke the locks on the fuel rods, loaded them onto a truck, and drove them to a nearby reprocessing facility, to be converted into bomb-grade plutonium. The White House stood by and did nothing. Why did George W. Bush -- his foreign policy avowedly devoted to stopping "rogue regimes" from acquiring weapons of mass destruction -- allow one of the world's most dangerous regimes to acquire the makings of the deadliest WMDs? ... Kim Jong-il may have nuclear weapons now; he certainly has enough plutonium to build some, and the reactors to breed more. Yet Bush has neither threatened war nor pursued diplomacy. He has recently, and halfheartedly, agreed to hold talks; the next round is set for June. But any deal that the United States might cut now to dismantle North Korea's nuclear-weapons program will be harder and costlier than a deal that Bush could have cut 18 months ago, when he first had the chance, before Kim Jong-il got his hands on bomb-grade material and the leverage that goes with it.

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.

Fred Kaplan provides a detailed chronology of events from Clinton's years until the unsealing of the nuclear reactor under George W. Bush. To point at this history as though it minimizes the responsibilities of every President who's had to deal with North Korea only deflects from the unquestioned tipping point where NK nukes went from a possibility into a definite reality. The most salient fact remains: NK did not begin the acceleration of their pursuit to build nuclear weapons under President Clinton, but they absolutely did during the Bush presidency and today's crisis stems from that decision alone.

#5 | Posted by tonyroma at 2017-08-09 06:14 PM | Reply

What is past may be prologue yet again. And no, it will not be Obama's fault if Trump undermines the current Iran agreement:

Trump's attempt to undermine the Iran agreement threatens to open up a nuclear crisis on two fronts.

What we are dealing with now is delusional thinking, a hair-trigger temper, willful ignorance, triumphalism, a decimation of the apparatus of diplomacy and a knee-jerk reaction against anything the Obama administration accomplished. While the Bush administration took their eye off the ball of North Korea's attempt to get nuclear weapons due to their obsession over whether Saddam Hussein had them, we are watching the Trump administration threaten nuclear war with North Korea and do everything possible to put Iran back on track to get them.

The Obama administration worked with the P5+1 nations to negotiate a halt to Iran's nuclear weapons program. Trump doesn't like it -- because it's working. So his plan is to drum up some excuse for the United States to withdraw from the agreement. Much like what happened in North Korea, that is very likely to lead to Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.

Miller, Sokolsky and Malley explain how that loops back and undermines any chance of de-escalation with North Korea -- leaving us with a nuclear crisis on two fronts.

" ... if the goal is to prevent Pyongyang from developing an accurate nuclear-tipped ICBM, then negotiating with Pyongyang may well be the only way to try to defuse a looming crisis.

Even under current conditions, such talks would be fraught, the odds tilted against success. But if the U.S. thrusts aside the nuclear deal with Iran -- and uses contrived evidence to do so -- the message to North Korea and others will be that America's word is disposable and the U.S. cannot be trusted to honor its commitments. This would deal a possibly fatal blow to any chance of a diplomatic effort to, if not halt or reverse, at a minimum slow down North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Indeed, walking away from the Iran deal, or contriving circumstances that force Iran to do so, would not only open up a now dormant nuclear crisis with Tehran, it would also close down perhaps the only option that might prevent a far more dangerous crisis with North Korea."

#6 | Posted by tonyroma at 2017-08-10 08:37 AM | Reply

North Korea can be deterred and contained. The only way that works is if U.S. leadership communicates clearly without boxing themselves into a corner. But both Trump and those administration officials most responsible for navigating the country out of the crisis have already needlessly put themselves in an uncomfortable situation. On August 5, about a week after North Korea successfully launched a second ICBM, McMaster said, "The president's been very clear about it. He said he's not gonna tolerate North Korea being able to threaten the United States. If they have nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States, it's intolerable from the president's perspective. So of course, we have to provide all options to do that. And that includes a military option."

Well, tolerate he must because North Korea claims it has engineered a nuclear bomb to fit inside its missiles. The nameless U.S. analysts that newspaper reporters cite are skeptical, but on July 3 those same analysts didn't believe North Korea was anywhere close to a fully capable ICBM.

Trump's "fire and fury" quote came three days after McMaster's. This, supposedly, moved Trump's red line from North Korea having the capability to launch a nuclear-tipped missile at the U.S. to merely any threat from North Korea. The North Koreans called Trump's bluff with their "turn the U.S. mainland into the theater of a nuclear war" statement. Last I checked, no U.S. warplanes are on their way to bombing Pyongyang. But better the casualty be American leadership's already flimsy credibility. Joshua Alvarez

#7 | Posted by tonyroma at 2017-08-10 12:40 PM | Reply

Who gave them nuclear material? Dos the name bj willie mean anything to you? Its a good deal bill.

#8 | Posted by Sniper at 2017-08-10 02:35 PM | Reply

Who gave them nuclear material?

Can you effing read?

The North Koreans had another route to nuclear weapons -- a stash of radioactive fuel rods, taken a decade earlier from its nuclear power plant in Yongbyon. These rods could be processed into plutonium -- and, from that, into A-bombs -- not in years but in months. Thanks to an agreement brokered by the Clinton administration, the rods were locked in a storage facility under the monitoring of international weapons-inspectors.
They got it from THEMSELVES moron. The rods were under lock and key BECAUSE of Clinton and the Agreed Framework. Bush scuttled the deal, NK kicked out the the inspectors, unlocked the vault, re-fired his reactor and began processing plutonium and built his bombs.

Please, go chase shiny balls in traffic. Your genes should never pollute the pool any further than they already have.

#9 | Posted by tonyroma at 2017-08-10 02:55 PM | Reply

The Clinton deal did nothing to prevent NK from getting nukes.

#4 | POSTED BY JEFFJ AT 2017-08-09 03:23 PM | FLAG: | NEWSWORTHY 2

Did North Korea "get" nuclear weapons during the course of the Agreed Framework or did they get nukes from the fuel rods they processed that were previously secured by international inspectors until after Bush abrogated the Agreement? The Framework was scuttled because the Norks were trying to process uranium, yet the nukes they've since built originated from plutonium from reactor fuel rods they already had, which were only processed AFTER the Framework was blown up by Bush.

That is the most singularly demonstrably false thing that's ever been written on this blog and two posters agree with the absurd conclusion. Nothing means nothing. Clinton had EVERYTHING to do with inhibiting and delaying North Korea from getting nukes and every single piece of factual evidence and unarguable history proves it.

#10 | Posted by tonyroma at 2017-08-11 07:08 AM | Reply

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