If War Doesn't Work, We May Have to Try Diplomacy


Michael Kinsley zings the president:

And tell us again why we're about to invade Iraq but we're "working with the countries of the region" to pinion North Korea, which is further along the nuclear trail and can't even be bothered to lie about it. Bush's "axis of evil" coinage last year and recent flagrant North Korean nose-thumbing made it almost impossible for him to avoid addressing this logical conundrum. His solution was artful but mysterious: "Our nation and the world must learn the lessons of the Korean Peninsula, and not allow an even greater threat to rise up in Iraq." He seems to be saying that the United States should have invaded and conquered North Korea years ago. But as Bush sets it out, the "lesson" of Korea seems to be that if you don't go to war soon enough, you might have a problem years later that can be solved through regional discussions. That doesn't sound so terrible, frankly. So what exactly is this lesson the Korean experience is supposed to offer?

Note to Taranto: This is how it's done.

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  1. Not very impressive, Mr. Kinsley. The difference between Iraq and North Korea is China, and the fact that North Korea already *has* the bomb, and you don’t have to be artful or mysterious to see that.

    Facile ‘questions’ about why there is a difference in treatment between Iraq and Korea aren’t much more than rhetorical trick, and without a zinger punchline. And at least Tarnato can occasionaly be funny.

  2. Quite frankly, the only thing facile here is the notion that the only options are war now or war later. It is perfectly rational and legitimate to assume that diplomacy and negotiations will eventually win the day. Now hawks tend to scoff at this opinion and say “Saddam lies.” Well those in favor of the diplomacy route don’t argue that Saddam is a truth teller – but they do argue that Saddam can remain checked nonetheless. Furthermore, hawks tend to argue that the military option gets rid of the risks of the negotiation option. In fact, it may do so, but in turn it creates its own risks. Those risks tend to dismissed as naysaying but they do exist. Which leads one to the question: which is the best option? The answer likely depends on the types of risks that you are willing to take on.

  3. Way to miss the point, Todd.

  4. It’s easy to conceive the the risks of letting Saddam stay in power and of using containment. Hawks can conjure up images of planes flying into buildings or worse – all easily imaginable and frightening.

    People favoring diplomacy are required to speculate about the fall-out of war. A protracted war. Instability in the Middle East. American troops in Iraq for 30 years and possible targets of Islamic extremists who want them out. The emergence of a new precedent in international affairs: smash threatening states – like Pakistan – before they do harm to you (if you’re India). War in the Middle East that is taken advantage of by N. Korea. Antagonizing Russia (and other European nations) by apportioning oil to American companies over Russian (or French… etc.) All these things are conceivable, but seem less threatening (although in the long run they are) because they’re not immediate in our minds.

    I don’t know where I’m going with this, except that it pisses me off that the rhetoric that hawks use is so morally unambiguous when the possible outcomes are.

  5. Some zing. Nothing like putting words in the prez’s mouth, then attempting to knock down that straw man.

    One lesson “might” be that you don’t trust murderous dictators to hold up their end of a deal without vigilent verification. Didn’t happen in Korea. Isn’t really happening now in Iraq.

    Another lesson “might” be that a rogue country without U.S. allies around it will be harder to deal with. We can turn to China and say “you got us in this mess, help us fix it.” We can turn to South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan for assistance. Who do we turn to surrounding Iraq for diplomatic help that would actually consider helping us?

  6. I’m with Todd F. and Chrees.

    North Korea has nukes and would probably not hesitate to use them on us if it suited them. Kinsley claims this “doesn’t sound so terrible” and DC describes it as “morally []ambiguous.”

    Being a dove in a case like this is almost like some sick, twisted variant on Pascal’s Wager: Let’s sit around and hope nobody annihilates us, since if they do drop the bomb we’re all toast anyway.

  7. Then there are of course the actual, well, real world differences between North Korea and Iraq that exist outside of one-variable logic games to consider as well when making policy. North Korea has been sitting pretty for about fifty years, and has undergone a leadership change since it’s, hrm, “expansionistic” days. Iraq, well, has not. The Iraqis also fought a war relatively recently against the US. They lost, but the leadership remained, under the ceasefire condition that Iraq should be disarmed under UN supervision. As we all know, that hasn’t really happened. Add to this the fact that North Korea is likely to be a rather more formidable opponent than Iraq (Including the possibility of them already having nuclear weapons.), and it’s stronger army, and the military option seems far less attractive than in the Iraq scenario. Plus of course the fact that Iraq is situated in one of the most strategically important areas of the world. All in all, I say this makes up a rather substantiative laundry list of important factors that make the military option less attractive in the case of North Korea.

    Regards / GulGnu

    -Stabil som fan!

  8. “a problem years later that can be solved through regional discussions”.

    Just as soon as something exceeding jack is solved by discussions with North Korea, I’ll count myself as persuaded.

    It is true: Kinsley’s kung fu is way better than Taranto’s. Doesn’t make one of them righter than the other, however.

  9. All excellent points on why it’s a better idea to get into a war with Iraq rather than NK. But you seem to start out supposing that war is necessary against someone, and it’s only a matter of choosing who. Um, what about the not having a war because our country is in a shitpile of trouble domestically and we can’t really afford to go about the world overthrowing people right now option?

  10. The differences between N. Korea and Iraq:

    Both import food. Iraq pays with Oil. North Korea pays by promising not to build a bomb. Oops, they did. So now they pay with not *using* that bomb.

    Again: Iraq::Oil, N.Korea::Nothing. We can negotiate with North Korea because **THEY** need to. Saddam doesn’t need to play that game.

    This is assuming that diplomacy works.

  11. Spork – Disagree with your premise, but I’m frequently wrong. Are you suggesting that the primary reason for an Iraq war (in this corner of the internet) is to set an example for the other naughty nations? I’d say that if Iraq were more like NK, and more importantly, surrounded by neighbors like NK’s, then Iraq should be left to stew in it’s own farts too.

    Re your reason for no war: Depends on if 6% unemployment, $2 gas and the popularity of American Idol is “a shitpile of trouble”. Not exactly Black Plague stuff these days. What’s the shitpile, ‘zactly?

  12. In what way is Bush responsible for the lesson that North Korea is learning? Actually, why would anyone suggest that the have anything left to learn at all?

    If you have the force to badly injure your neighbor they will be less likely to try to use force against you. Is there a 6 year old alive who doesn’t already know that?

    This Iraq = North Korea thing is really beyond the pale brainless. What happened to Reason? A couple of years ago it had some of the smartest commentary on the web.

  13. There’s an angle that occured to me earlier this week. Iraq is America’s monster- we supported the Hussein regime even right on through the missile attack on the USS Stark. Now that the Cold War is over, we are in some ways responsible to clean up “our” messes our diplomacy or covert action encouraged upon the world. (akin to Manuel Noriega back during Bush 41, or, heck, displacing the Taliban/Mujahedeen in Afghanistan) Hope it also extends to the Saud family regime in SA.

    On the flip side of this particular coin, China and Russia ought to be at the head of any committee to oust the present regime in North Korea.

  14. Many participants in this thread have made good points about the differences between North Korea and Iraq.

    Just to make sure the debate is fair and honest (a concern that is always uppermost on the web), I’d like to point out that it was President Bush, not Michael the K, who made the comparison to begin with. Kinsley merely followed through on that comparison. I think he did so in way that doesn’t contribute to the foreign policy discussion so much as it demonstrates why Kinsley is the eternal Head Boy in this great prep school we call America; but it’s still a valid point of debate. To dismiss the comparison, if anything, invalidates the President’s point more than it does Kinsley’s. (I believe it invalidates neither man’s position, since every political situation is both unique and susceptible to comparison.) Carry on.

  15. Steve, excuse me.

    War is justified when you and I and the rest of the world agree it is best. Like porn, we’ll know it when we see it.

  16. The Kid,

    There is no credible evidence to support the notion that Saddam would attack the US. The Iraqi regime has never attacked a nation it thought it would lose to – it attacked those nations it felt it could defeat (a major miscalculation with regards to Iran).

    Furthermore, I would argue that far more than 1,000 people would die in a US led attack on Iraq.

  17. Jesse–the reason the “lesson” IS applicable is precisely because of the DIFFERANCE between North Korea and Iraq. “What?!” you say? As noted, N.K. has little to bargain with, such as oil. Diplomatic pressure from it’s neighbors and the rest of the world, whom N.K. depends on for it’s neccessities, can go a long way toward resolving the WMD issues (so long as we all don’t take the Carter-Clinton approach of neglect and wishful finger-crossing). Iraq has oil, occupies an important piece of real estate in a troubled region, and is ruled by a callous homocidal sociopath. It is a whole helluva lot more dangerous to launch armed conflict with a country with nukes, like N.K. probably is (they say they don’t have any yet, I know…) But if Iraq aquires nukes, then diplomacy would almost certainly become the default method of engagement; in which case we would be where we are today: trying to “contain” a prevaricating, stonewalling, vicious tyrant with designs of modest regional conquest, and probably not-so-modest terror initiatives,, using weapons inspections in a hopelessly ineffectial game of hide-and-seek. So, the “lesson” of North Korea with respect to Iraq (because of the similarities) is that if/when Iraq aquires nukes then diplomacy becomes the primary option. Then the most important of the “lesson’s” lessons is that (beause of their differances) being reduced to diplomacy with Saddam is the most dangerous of outcomes. Sorry this turned out so wordy…hope I was clear.

  18. Jesse, I’ll spell this out for you.

    “He seems to be saying that the United States should have invaded and conquered North Korea years ago.”

    If Iraq in the future is not equivalent to Korea now (it is not,) then there is no way to draw this conclusion.

    Bush, in Kinsley’s own quote, states that Iraq would be an “even greater threat” if it “rose up.” “Rose up” here presumably means got to the point where it could challenge the U.S. without fear of military reprisal, as Korea has.

    It is absolutely logically consistent to say the “greater threat” may not be so easily “solved through regional discussions” as the lesser threat. It would even be logically consistent to say that the lesser threat (Korea now) should be solved militarily while the potential future greater threat (Iraq now) should not, as long as they are different in any way.

    On the flip side, it is logically consistent to argue that the lesson of North Korea, which I think is clearly that more powerful nations are more difficult to get your way from, can be applied to Iraq without Iraq being the equivalent of North Korea, as long as it is similar in that both have military power, which they do.

    Every sentence of the paragraph you quoted is illogical if you grant that North Korea does not equal Iraq.

    There is much to be criticized about Bush’s policy in regards to North Korea (or just about anywhere else,) but Kinsley is not doing that in any useful or intelligent way.

  19. Yes, you’re wordy but you are perfectly clear. Diplomacy is for wimps and fags. If you have more nukes than the next guy, better use them before he catches up.

    Diplomacy has kept this planet from incinerating itself. It is built on respect and practiced by principled nations and their representatives, even with unprincipled nations. Anybody remember our current friend, Russia, 10 years ago? It is not the same as “doing nothing” as is so often given as the alternative to bombing somebody.

    Quit operating on your brain stem and let process work. It’s slower but much more effective.

    By the way, Osama’s laughing his ass off at us right now.

  20. Bush isn’t exactly free to speak his mind. If he came out and said that he’d like to overthrow the North Koreans, but that they’re just too dangerous, or that he won’t because China wouldn’t be very pleased with the United States invading and occuping its neighbor and trading partner there would be some pretty serious ramifications. To have a one sided sniping match with Bush, who is bound by diplomatic convention, is beyond pointless. It is juvenile.

    The obvious fact is that it would be much more dangerous to invade North Korea at this point, and this obviously has an effect on the way that Bush deals with them. Any commentary on the situation which ignores this, including Kinsley’s, is useless and utterly insipid.

  21. “By the way, Osama’s laughing his ass off at us right now.”

    Unless, of course, he’s one with the worms right now.

  22. Fact is, the US is a chickenshit bully that only picks on countries it can whip in a month. After Iraq, it will be Iran. North Korea will have a pass forever.

    The only sacrifice we’ve been asked to make is to shop more. If things ever get to the point of actual conservation and serious American bloodshed based on tenuous, rather than real, threats, Bush will be turned out and go back to being a failed CEO of a failed oil company.

    By the way, where the hell is Osama?

  23. Ah, Lefty…when WOULD it be ok to go to war? And what conservative or libertarian would be ok as Prez, in your mind. You strike me as one of those “against everything and for nothing” types. get a grip. This is the real deal.

    I think Billy O. had the best statement of all the arguments. We rely heavily on petroleum. Not necessarily Middle East oil, but oil nonetheless. Saddam is a clear and present danger to the stability of middle eastern oil. Kim has nothing and lots of it. The national interest here is stability in the oil producing regions of the middle east. Call it blood for oil if you feel like it, but that is simply the deal. Any link with the terrorists is all well and good, but there’s certainly a national interest in this regardless.

  24. Kinsley?s engaging again in cute banter better suited for a cocktail party than a newspaper column. The regional differences are significant.

    Iraq is in a wild and crazy neighborhood and has no real allies who can influence it. Should Turkey host a coffee klatch with Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Syria to clear matters up if Iraq gets a nuke?

    All of North Korea?s neighbors are reasonably mature countries engaged in world trade; one, China, has some small influence over NK. All could realistically engage in a sober exchange on what to do with this miscreant.

    The lesson that the Korean Peninsula offers is that the UN is indecisive and impotent. The US must bide its time until it figures out the least messy way to eliminate this threat too. I?m sure Kinsley?s figured that out, but it would have been a harder column to write: he?d have to offer a solution instead of merely sniping.

  25. I still remain highly skeptical of this administration’s justifications for war against Iraq. The Bush administration has repeatedly attempted to connect terrorism with the regime of Saddam Hussein, yet for the most part what we have are quite frankly rumors, and not very good ones at that. In my mind these connects are just too damn tenuous. Thus the administration has, well, “linkage” issues. Everything about their effort seems, well, fuzzy around the edges. And given the fact this is a discretionary war (Iraq hasn’t bombed Charleston, SC after all), I need more than “fuzzy justifications.” Others are perhaps comfortable with this situation, I am not. And its not because I am a dove. If the Iraqis bombed Duluth, Minnesota, Marseilles, France or Warsaw, Poland (the latter two nations are our allies), I would be the first to call for an invasion. But the Iraqis haven’t, and quite frankly, I don’t believe they are likely too.

    All of which brings me back to my earlier remarks – what are the risks of attacking vs. the risks of not attacking. Donald Rumsfeld has said that the former outweigh the latter, but he did not explain how. From my vantage point, I see it the other way around. Especially given the “fuzziness” of the justifications mustered by the Bush administration. Flame away.

  26. Kinsley understands that there are differences between Iraq and North Korea; indeed, he says so explicitly in the next paragraph of the piece. He was pointing out the unintended implications of Bush’s rhetoric — that “as Bush sets it out, the ‘lesson’ of Korea seems to be that if you don’t go to war soon enough, you might have a problem years later that can be solved through regional discussions.”

    In other words, he was doing the same thing that Taranto was trying to do to Nelson Mandela the other day — except that Kinsley’s wisecrack actually worked, because there really is a contradiction in Bush’s rhetoric. He’s saying, on the one hand, that Korea is sufficiently comparable to Iraq to give us the “lesson” that Iraq should be invaded before it gets WMDs, and on the other hand, that a North Korea that already has WMDs can be tamed through diplomacy. If that’s the case, then the “lesson” isn’t applicable after all.

    Basically, Bush was trying to sugar-coat the situation in Korea, and Kinsley called him on it. I would think that both hawks and doves could understand that — Kinsley wrote very clearly, after all — but I guess I was mistaken.

  27. How’s this?
    Risk of attacking –
    – lost lives 1,000 (US and Iraqi),
    – need to occupy Iraq for five years,
    – some economic turmoil,
    – possible destabilization of neighboring regimes (certainly Iran, probably Syria, possibly Saudi Arabia)

    Risk of not attacking –
    – lost lives 100,000 (US or ally), 2.5M Iraqi after retaliatory strike,
    – no need to occupy anywhere,
    – worldwide economic turmoil
    – who’s not destabilized?

    Saddam does want WMD for something, no? He?s not just an avid collector of military memorabilia.

  28. TheKid,

    So, because of your “psychological assessment” you make this wildeyed prediction that Iraq will attack the US, when over the past, well, twelve years, it hasn’t done so? I’m sorry, but this sort of psycho-babble reminds me too much of the rantings of one “Counselor Troi.” Color me incredulous.

    Oh, as to your prediction that “1,000” US soldiers and Iraqis will die, think again: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/01/25/1042911596206.html

    BTW, Bush is as much an oppurtunist as any other politician is. I’ve see the man waffle on dozens of policies since he was elected – free trade (steel, lumber tarriffs and that damn farm bill he signed), vouchers, dealings with North Korea (they are currently pissing their pants over that issue it appears), a blue ribbon panel invesigation into 9/11 (he opposed this for a long time, then waffled when it appeared that he could no longer oppose it), and the Department of Homeland Security (he also opposed for a long time). Though I do understand the Republican party’s need to create an “Apotheosis of Bush,” at the same time I don’t buy into its huckersterism.

  29. The differences between Iraq and NK are obvious to anyone who looks, and have already been pointed out above. Add the threat of enormous casualties to SK if war breaks out, the vulnerability of Japan, the nasty shit that a strong wind could carry from a pre-emptive strike, the stated aims of NK (as enshrined in their constitution), etc., and you’ve got a giant mess of lousy options. In Iraq, we have a good chance of averting a WMD exchange with Israel in the not-too-distant future, the relief of a population suffering under sanctions and oppression, a relatively short campaign, and stabilty in world energy markets. Is it foolproof and perfect? No, but it beats the hell out the options on the Korean peninsula. It’s not hard to envision SK falling under N Korean dominance, Japan re-militarizing and going nuclear (they already have the second biggest defense budget in the world and the plutonium), and the US back to relying on MAD and maybe a missle shield. Somewhere in all that, China soils its pants, and says “Ooops”.

  30. Lefty, thanks for the links but they don’t support your case very well. The articles are months old. The Observer piece offers as its primary evidence that an Afghani thinks he heard OBL’s voice in the background of an intercepted phone call. That’s hardly solid evidence. Remember there are benefits to our government of having people believe OBL is still alive. If it was confirmed that he was dead we’d get lots of calls of “ok, you got him US, now go home and leave the Taliban alone.”

  31. Am I the only one who notices the president did not say the NK problem can *definitely* be solved through “discussions” as Kinsley implies? Clearly we hope that it can, but there’s no guarantee. Why put ourselves in that position with Saddam if we can *definitely* rid the planet of him right now? And, btw, where is the proof that OBL is 1) alive and 2)”laughing”?

  32. Hey, it’s the best I can do in proving a negative.

    Nobody’s claimed the 25 million reward “dead or alive”.

  33. “War is justified when you and I and the rest of the world agree it is best.”

    It’s going to tricky to get Iraq onboard for your worldwide consensus. The only wars the Left likes are those the remaining dictators of the world wage on their own people. Go Chavez!!

  34. EMAIL: pamela_woodlake@yahoo.com
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    DATE: 01/20/2004 11:05:16
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