The entire North Korean debate hinges on the question of irrationality.
Are the North Koreans so irrational that they have forfeited their sovereignty, thereby exposing their country to the full range of sanctions, destabilization, subversion, and pre-emptive attack that the Bush administration and its nutbar fellow travelers can inflict upon it?
Accusations of irrationality—and the insistence that the US must therefore act on the very worst of worst-case assumptions about tiny countries that otherwise would appear to pose no threat to the United States—have been the bedrock of neo-con geopolitical strategy.
But now Bill Clinton joins the fray.
In an interview with Fox News (!) the Big Dog lays out the common sense proposition:
"Oh, they are irrational to some extent, but I don’t think they’re totally irrational," he said. "I think they watch American cable channels. I think they watch the European cable channels. I think their decision makers keep up more than we know. And I think they want us to think they’re a little crazy.
What’s interesting is that Clinton has been spending quality time with Poppy Bush on tsunami relief and assiduously positioning himself as a mainstream emeritus president sufficiently palatable to the forebrain-endowed wing of the Republican Party, in preparation for his wife’s run in 2008 and/or his campaign to become U.N. General Secretary.
The fact that he’s willing to say something sensible about North Korea is an indication that there is enough support within the Republican apparatus for a non-confrontational approach with Pyongyang that Clinton feels he can make such a statement without getting his head snapped off as an appeaser.
One could also look at it as a sign that he’s acquired enough mainstream political capital that Condi Rice and the foreign party realists could conceivable use his remarks to support a step back from the regime change/democracy crusade that looks more and more as a counter-productive dead end.
In a high-profile statement in the Washington Post, Condi repudiated a Pentagon leak, no doubt from a grumpy warlord with the initials DR who is currently touring Asia to hype the regional security threat from China and North Korea--that the US would be referring the North Korea issue to the Security Council soon.
Today came a timely report that representatives of the DPKR and the US are meeting again in New York for direct talks—just like Bill Clinton said they should!
So yes, the Chinese can help us, yes, others can help us, these six party talks can be valuable, but sooner or later we’re probably going to have to take more initiative. And I see that, the administration has basically been saying that. Just kind of read between the lines, that’s pretty much what they’ve concluded, I think.
In the past, the neo-con litany of failure in prediction and execution has not resulted in lasting political damage to their stature in Washington.
But if Bill Clinton-the last American president with the credibility to act as an honest broker in the realm of conventional diplomacy--can enter the fray on North Korea in a productive way, it may be a sign that the power of the neo-cons to drive US policy in North Korea and Iran has been broken.