Now that the "bad faith" rumpus over North Korea's follow-up statements on the Six-Party Agreement have died down, and the talks are chugging along toward Vietnam peace-talk style prolonged futility, it's interesting to gain another perspective on U.S. motivations. Why did the White House allow itself to sign onto a process that promises to provide neither disarmament, peace, inspections, or civilian nuclear reactors, but to date has only yielded the Bush administration an unwanted image of Clintonesque feckless accommodation?
Speaking at Steve Clemons' conference Beyond Bullets: Economic Strategies in the Fight Against Terrorism on September 21, renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh stated that he had been told in August by his sources that an agreement with North Korea at any cost was in the works so the Bush administration "could clear the decks" to deal with Teheran's nuclear ambitions.
The urgency, Hersh reported, came from the need for the United States to "keep [Arial] Sharon in the game" i.e. delivering a worthy quid pro quo to Israel--dealing with the existential threat of Iranian nuclear weapons--in return for Israel's sticking with the Gaza withdrawal (and presumably providing support for a neo-con "democracy on the march" version of events in the Middle East that justifies continued adventurism vis a vis Iraq, Syria, and Iran).
It's unclear what "dealing with Iran" would mean, since the Security Council referral by a divided IAEA is expected to result in a veto from Iran's nuclear patron, Russia, despite any multilateralist, "grownups back in charge" diplomatic cred the Condi Rice team may claim on behalf of U.S. foreign policy as a result of the hastily-concluded North Korea boondoggle. One would think the world is unlikely to go along with White House efforts to gin up an anti-Iran coalition after the Iraq fiasco just because we caved on North Korea.
This is unlikely to be an outcome satisfactory to Arial Sharon. With the Bush administration's international clout at low ebb and the American public showing little appetite for escalated Middle East adventures, perhaps the best Israel can do is attempt to reprise its "consequences be damned" pre-emptive strike against Saddam Hussein's Osiraq facility, this time against Iran's Bushehr reactor and its well-protected constellation of nuclear facilities, under a U.S. diplomatic--instead of military--umbrella.
This interpretation implies that U.S. commitment to the negotiation process on the Korean peninsula is merely temporary and tactical. When Iran is dealt with--effectively, incompetently, disastrously, or indifferently--the Bush administration will turn its attention to North Korea once again with its original pre-September regime change aims and malice undiluted.
Neo-con sympathizers may draw unexpected encouragement from Hersh's remarks. After all, by this scenario, the Chinese did not extort humiliating concessions on behalf of Kim Jung Il from a politically and diplomatically neutered Bush presidency.
Instead, the North Korea agreement can be comfortably construed as a Machiavellian master-stroke: a merely tactical retreat disguising the Bush administration's resolve to deal righteously with the Mini-Me oriental leg of the Axis of Evil at a later date--after America has resolutely grasped the Iranian nettle in a reaffirmation of its implacable determination to transform the Middle East with its gun-barrel vision of democracy.
Time will tell if the advocates of confrontation with North Korea will settle on this more flattering explanation for recent events that otherwise appears to be setback for their cherished goals.
On the other hand, those of us who believe that the neo-con's "democracy by apocalypse" agenda has delivered so much disaster and so little triumph that using the word "hubris" undeservedly implies that the neo-cons actually achieved something positive before overreach revealed their incompetence, the neocons remain what they have always been: useful, complicit tools providing an ideological veneer for conservative elites working to create their "Have It My Way" super-sized self-perpetuating imperial state devoid of accountability and transparency.
North Korea--and the suffering of its people--is merely a distraction, sometimes useful and sometimes irritating, in the evolving American effort to contain and confront China. When--if ever--the United States gets the Middle East under its control and can deny its resources to China, the time may come for America to join with Japan to use the North Korean situation as a lever to destabilize and alarm the PRC. Then the neo-cons will be let slip to confound and distract opinion with their lunatic baying about Pyongyang.
But the other dangers--to American interests and American democracy--are closer to home and more immediate.
In this context, Hersh's revelation (to me) that a 1700 square foot, multi-billion dollar stack of Saddam's US currency stash has disappeared into the insatiable maw of the burgeoning "off-the-books" covert operations empire of Bush's executive branch is a sign that Kim Jung Il and his regime should not number among the greatest of the our worries.
Note: Tip of the hat to Billmon comment site Moon of Alabama for unearthing and publicizing Hersh's remarks.