moral clarity doesn't equal policy
Talking Points Memo also points out this Newsweek column observing that, while the Bush administration's bellicose stance toward North Korea has moral clarity, it lacks strategic coherence.
Let’s start at the beginning. What is the goal of our policy toward North Korea—nuclear disarmament or regime change? President Bush has repeatedly hinted that it’s regime change. Most recently he explained to Bob Woodward that while there are those who worry about the fallout of overthrowing the regime, he did not. “Either you believe in freedom ... or you don’t,” he explained.
But we have no way of achieving this goal. A military attack on North Korea is impossible, not because it may have one or two crude nuclear weapons, but because it will retaliate by obliterating a large part of South Korea. Seoul is 35 miles from the North Korean border. Our options are constrained not by nukes, but by geography. Without the means to do it, regime change is not a policy, but a daydream.
And the crisis at hand is not that Kim Jong Il has suddenly become more evil. It is that North Korea will, within months, become a plutonium factory. A nuclear North Korea will overturn the strategic landscape of East Asia, weakening deterrence on the Korean peninsula. It might make Japan go nuclear, which would push China and Japan into a nuclear-arms race. In other words, very bad stuff. That’s why our primary short-term concern has to be disarmament.
Harvard professor Ashton Carter, one of President Clinton’s senior defense aides, puts it sharply: “We told the North Koreans that we were not out to topple them but we would not tolerate their going nuclear. The Bush administration is doing the opposite. For two years it signaled that it was out to get them, but now that they’re going nuclear, it says that’s not a crisis. For American interests, this gets things backwards.”