Dude, Where’s My Spine? Agreed Framework 2.0 at Four Months

Yesterday, the press reported that after months of multilateral bungling,  we had  finally transferred either 20 or 25 million dollars of frozen assets to the disposal of Kim Jong Il for whatever purposes he chooses.  Those assets had  gathered in a shady Macau Bank known as Banco Delta Asia until September 2005, when the Treasury Department  published an  interim rule noting  that they were, in large part,  laundered proceeds of counterfeiting and drug dealing.  Does anyone think  Kim’s purposes  will now  include the feeding of his desperately hungry subjects? 

[Update:   According to  more recent  reports, the Russians have now taken their own turn at bungling the transfer. It’s not completely clear whether Kim Jong Il is spending it yet.]

bush-to-carter.gifThere are almost too many levels on which this is repellent for me to know where to start, but let’s  start with this:  it will not help us disarm Kim Jong Il (in fact,  our suspicions about how Kim  has been spending  the U.N.’s money  suggest exactly the opposite (ht)).  Returning this money was never a part of the new  Agreed Framework Bush’s man, Chris Hill,  signed on February 13th.  That agreement  marked a staggering reversal of a strategy that had once demanded the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of all of North Korea’s nuclear programs before it would receive any regime-sustaining benefits or payoffs.   The policy we abandoned  had also  promised an  element of principle:  it seemed to suggest that Kim Jong Il’s treatment of his own people would be on the agenda one day, though exactly how was never clear.

The shutdown of one decrepit reactor and the invitation of a few U.N. inspectors were a part of the agreement, but those things did not happen  by April 13th, a deadline that came and went two months ago.  Here is the 60-day scorecard  for North Korea’s compliance, if you can’t already guess what it might show.  As of today, 60 days later,  none of  it has changed. 

My guess is that putting a  piece of yellow tape over  the reactor door and letting in some U.N. inspectors  are two concessions that  Kim Jong Il will eventually  give for the right price.  After all, each is easily reversible  for any convenient pretext.  Call them “pink” lines.  The “red” lines that  Kim will never cross  are  his agreement to fully disclose all of his nuclear programs or let us verify the completeness of that disclosure.  If I’m right about that, the February agreement  really looks like  a thinly veiled excuse for both  Kim and Bush  to “discuss” those matters for the next 18 months,  as the press obligingly looks the other way, and as the Bush Administration prepares to exit from office claiming that peace is at hand.  In reality, it will have solved nothing, but will have helped to perpetuate a tyranny that uses famine as a weapon of mass terror, manslaughter,  or murder; that gasses children with their parents; that treats the handicapped like untermenschen; that kidnaps the innocent citizens of its neighbors and distant nations; that runs gargantuan concentration camps of unspeakable cruelty; and that murders  infants it suspects of being  racially impure.  Even as these  topics are  politely swept out of our diplomatic conversation,  Kim Jong Il will keep building  a new plutonium reactor much larger than the one at Yongbyon,  he’ll continue  his parallel  uranium enrichment  program, and of course, he’ll keep the bombs he already has.

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Standing next to this, it’s almost insignificant that  this transaction  appears to  violate a  section of the criminal code  prohibiting transactions in “criminally derived property.”  Although  an uncharactically uncritical  press has said little about it, several of this President’s co-partisans in Congress  have just demanded a GAO inquiry into  whether this  transaction was itself  money laundering (Here’s the full text of their letter to the GAO).   How much of this money did Kim Jong Il collect by  counterfeiting U.S. currency or trafficking in narcotics?  The State Department  won the bureaucratic struggle before Treasury completed its investigation, but just last fall, a “senior administration official” said of Kim Jong Il’s deposits in  BDA,  “It is all one big criminal enterprise.  You can’t separate it out.”   Treasury’s final  report on BDA’s North Korean deposits described  their criminal connections and suspicious  history in exhaustive detail. 

Then there’s the  fact that this transaction violates two U.N. resolutions the United States so recently expended such political capital to secure.  The latter of those, Security Council Resolution 1718, was passed just last October, after North Korea’s partial success at testing a nuclear weapon and complete success at eventually extorting  Dane Geld  from us.  One of 1718’s provisions required that nations giving money to this Caligula of the East “ensure” that those funds were not used for his personal pleasure or weapons of terror, even as his people live hand-to-mouth to  survive each day.

What have we given up for those dubious benefits?   A chance to gain  everything  that Kim Jong Il will never give us, including a lasting peace, by  ending Kim Jong Il’s misrule.   Treasury’s pressure on North Korea’s money laundering  was reported to have “dealt a severe blow to [North Korea’s] economy,” “dried up its financial system,” “brought [its] foreign trade virtually to an end,” and had a “snowballing … avalanche effect” that created “huge pressure” on the regime.  The Banco Delta action and Treasury’s implicit threats to take similar actions elsewhere cost Kim Jong Il financial relationships not just in Macau, but in China, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, and South Korea.  Eventually, Kim was forced to start selling off his gold reserves, and even reportedly  confided in Chinese President Hu Jintao that he feared the collapse of his government.  Without question, that pressure was also our best hope of getting a disarmament deal on favorable and verifiable terms, if we’d only had the courage to insist on them.

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North Korea is only one of the issues on which Bush has lost his sense of direction.  Others have noticed the change  in a broader sense.  The irony here is that Bush appears to be trying to court the favor of those who loathe him because of Iraq, but even he can see that to follow invasion with surrender — and the terror and genocide that would undoubtedly follow — can only assure failure when success is still possible.  Instead, he surrenders everywhere else:  endless nuclear diplomacy with Iran even  as it kills our soldiers, a fruitless giveaway to North Korea, and soon, more largesse for the corrupt and unpopular collection of geriatric terrorists known as Fatah.  It’s a wonder that even 29 percent of the people can support an approach that seems calculated to  alienate everyone.

In a country that is  so sharply  polarized between fighting terror and surrendering to it, a middle way is an exceedingly difficult route to chart unless you have an exceptional compass and rudder.  Lacking these — and let’s face it, it was either this or John Kerry —  the best you can  do is choose sides and  hope that  no more than  45% of the people will despise you.  The middle way  does not consist of  appeasing some  terrorists and fighting others.   It consists of  picking your battles judiciously and fighting with the force of arms only when you must.  In the case of North Korea, we were fighting with our soft power, and we were winning, until we threw away so much of what we had gained.  Had we  applied that power  wholeheartedly, we might be talking about how to feed and reconstruct a post-Kim Jong Il North Korea by now.  Instead, we’ve assured that Bush’s successor will be tempted to make the same bad decisions he and his predecessors made.  That’s why we’ll be talking about this issue until Kim Jong Il’s rule  collapses under the weight of his own brutality and inefficiency, or until his ticker gives out from all the excess and binge-drinking.   

Our hopes for that latter outcome  also dimmed this week after a team of German doctors reportedly flew in, performed either artery or  heart surgery on Kim Jong Il, and  once again compounded the interest on their nation’s rather substantial debt to history.  As they say, “first, do no harm.”  So the outcome of this struggle, as with  so many others, will be decided by the balance of incompetence.  The  government that exercises  more stupidity than the other will lose, probably dragging  about  four million innocents down with it, give or take two million.

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There is still a small amount of time for Bush to reverse this disaster.  North Korea’s bad faith should be manifest to anyone.  Today, North Korea is demanding that the United States abandon its global missile defense plan and drop all sanctions against the regime, presumably even those covering dual-use technology.  If North Korea wants additional reasons to stand on its “pink” lines, stall our demands on the “red” lines, and extract even greater concessions, it will link those new demands to its own compliance on disarmament, just as it did the issue of its dirty money.  Certainly North Korea will never  allow broader inspections of its suspect facilities or re-admit the  existence of its  uranium program.   Any of those occurences  should  make it  clear to anyone amenable to reason that Kim Jong Il will never disarm voluntarily.  The seventh year of Bush’s presidency  ought to  conclusively refute the harshest critics of his North Korea policy for the first six years, as indecisive and halfhearted as it was.  Now that we have given Kim Jong Il everything they’ve been saying we should give him, can they explain why he still won’t  disarm?  Having moved beyond what should be obvious, it will be time to take our soft power campaign back to  where it had been,  to the next level, and to its logical conclusion

We must get rid of Kim Jong Il to disarm North Korea of nuclear  weapons, but we  need not invade North Korea to get rid of Kim Jong Il.  Indeed, a reduction of our  obsolete force structure in South Korea would be a prudent first step.  The last thing we want  is to be dragged into another Korean War, and the presence of  29,500 American service members in  South Korea is a boon to Kim Jong Il’s propaganda.  Today, with the threat of a North Korean invasion diminished, our troops  are less needed to defend the South, but are more at risk as hostages to the North’s artillery and missiles.  It is time for us to move beyond the  military and diplomatic solutions that have failed us.  We should instead shift our focus to  the political and economic  vulnerabilities of  Kim Jong Il’s  brutal, unpopular,  and inefficient  regime.

See also:   GI Korea’s take.

Update 2:   Chris Hill reacts to North Korea’s latest offer — no specifics or dates — to finally invite in U.N. inspectors: 

Obviously, it is a welcome step. It’s got to be followed by a number of other steps,” said Hill, speaking to reporters on a trip to the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator. “Everyone has a lot of work to do in the days and weeks ahead.” [WaPo]

That’s nothing.  Wait until  you see all the work  he has to do  explaining what the North Koreans actually did to shut the reactor down.  An insider source tells me to expect something very superficial and reversible — think yellow tape across the door  —  though even that concession has been sold for a tyrant’s ransom.   Watch.