The Washington Post sets a new milestone by reading my mind when it asks the question. The position of Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea was created in the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which President Bush signed in November of that year. After a long delay in filling the post, President Bush finally nominated Lefkowitz. Despite a few promising words and some forthright challenges to South Korean appeasement and apathy, the White House has never allowed this issue to intrude into our public or diplomatic conversations with or about North Korea, as the law mandates.
Why? The word on the street is that Lefkowitz came to the job with little background on the relevant issues and without an assignment to perform that job full time. He was then assigned a staff of State Department loyalists assigned the job of watching him and making sure he didn’t say anything that might interfere with Agreed Framework II, which was to be our latest illusory bargain to disarm North Korea until they were caught cheating on that, too. I question that theory, at least to a degree. Lefkowitz has actually said many of the right things about refugees, about Kaesong, and about the actions of China and South Korea, although one could argue with more success that he hasn’t said them nearly often enough. The problem is with what the Administration does. And because of the perception that the two have little to do with each other, journalists have stopped caring what he does say.
The picture the WaPo article gives of Lefkowitz is of a man too preoccupied with other things to do this job. All in all, you can’t say much good about the Bush Administration’s record for defending the human rights of the North Korean people. You can only say they’ve done a lot less badly than the Dems have done. That doesn’t mean that the right Democrat couldn’t steal this issue from the Republicans.