I’d been waiting for the day when Tony Snow would slip into full wing-nut claptrap overdrive. And today I think we’ve got it.
Here’s what Snow said today when he got backed into a corner about the dismal failure of the administration’s Korea policy …
I understand what the Clinton administration wanted to do. They wanted to talk reason to the government of Pyongyang, and they engaged in bilateral conversations. And Bill Richardson went with flowers and chocolates, and he went with light water nuclear reactors, and he went with promises of heavy oil and a basketball signed by Michael Jordan, and many other inducements for the dear leader to try to agree not to develop nuclear weapons, and it failed.
You know Snow felt deeply under the gun here, because this claptrap comes from deep in the ‘winger brain stem.
Let’s review a few salient, uncontested facts.
Back in 1994, the US came close to war over its nuclear activities and particularly the reactor complex at Yongbyon. War was averted with the so-called ‘Agreed Framework’ in which North Korea suspended its production of plutonium (and put the facility under international inspections) in exchange for assistance building light water nuclear reactors (the kind that don’t help you make bombs) and fuel oil for energy generation.
There are all sorts of details to what was going to be in exchange for what, who exactly would be doing the giving, and lots of other details you can see here. But that is the essence of it. And it shut down the North Koreans’ plutonium reprocessing activities for close to a decade.
The agreement began to come apart in 1998 when the North Koreans did an unnannounced test firing of one of their missiles, which went over Japan and crashed into the Pacific. There was also, by the end of the Clinton administration, evidence that the North Koreans were attempting to enrich uranium, something not explicitly covered in the Agreed Framework, but certainly a violation of the spirit of the agreement.
There’s a fairly detailed explanation of the US reaction and the efforts to arrive at a new agreement during the late Clinton administration. It’s a Times , oped written by two of the policy makers at the time, Bill Perry and Ashton Carter.
The Bush administration came to office convinced that this entire process was one of appeasement and set in motion a series of events that led to a complete breakdown of the initial agreement. In response, the North Koreans started reprocessing plutonium again.
Now, most agree, the North Koreans probably have enough for several nuclear warheads.
Now, the premise of the Bush administration’s North Korea policy was that North Korea was a bad acting state that had to be dealt with through force, not negotiation. That didn’t necessarily mean going to war. The goal was to intimidate the North Koreans into better behavior if possible and resort to force if necessary.
Yet, when the North Koreans called the White House’s bluff and starting reprocessing plutonium, the White House’s response was … well, nothing.
That was three years ago.
Rather than talk softly and carry a big stick it was a policy of talk tough and do nothing.
The bomb making plutonium keeps coming off the conveyor belt. And the White House policy is to say they won’t negotiate and also ask the Chinese to get the North Koreans to behave.
The remaining conceit of the Bush administration is that the Clintonites met with the North Koreans in bilateral talks while they insist on multilateral talks.
That’s the policy, which is to say, they have no policy. The salient fact is that under Clinton plutonium reprocessing stopped and under Bush it restarted. The Bushies angle was that you don’t coddle bad actors like the North Koreans. You deal with them in the language they understand: force. But the NKs called their bluff, they weren’t prepared to use force. So they decided to forget about the whole thing.
That’s the record. That’s the policy. A total failure.
Tony Snow knows it. That’s why he went into overdrive. The truth hurts.