Regular readers know that I’ve been a persistent critic of politicians of both parties who would politicize and trivialize two essential and long-standing principles of American national security policy: the intolerance of state terrorism, and the intolerance of proliferation. North Korea’s refusal to be bound by any norms of human civilization tempts a certain class of politician to simply exempt North Korea from those principles. Notwithstanding President Bush’s hawkish and mostly empty words, his administration is about to do exactly that for the dubious political rewards of a deal that won’t disarm North Korea.
You will also recall that in this recent post, I published a letter containing Barack Obama’s signature, in which Obama and other members of the Illinois congressional delegation promised to oppose de-listing North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism until North Korea accounts for Rev. Kim, whom its agents are believed to have kidnapped in China in 2001. (I invite anyone to correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe I’m the first to have published it.) Rev. Kim is believed to have died under interrogation [Update: Another theory has it that they starved him to death]. His body is still in North Korea. North Korean agent Ryu Young-Hwa* was convicted of taking part in the crime and sits in a South Korean jail today.
An appeasement-loving press corps has mostly suspended its withering criticism of George W. Bush on North Korea, in spite of his unprincipled betrayals regarding Kim Jong Il’s human rights atrocities. That’s why it’s doubly unexpected see any of them scrape Barack Obama’s hair off of their tongues long enough to speak of his first broken promise:
In January 2005, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and other Illinois lawmakers co-signed a letter to North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, describing Kim as a “hero” and demanding answers from North Korea about his whereabouts. The signatories warned that they would oppose North Korea’s removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism — long a goal of the government in Pyongyang — until a “full accounting” of Kim’s abduction was provided.
But the case of the only North Korea abductee with U.S. connections has been largely forgotten as the Bush administration has pressed ahead on a diplomatic deal to end North Korea’s nuclear program. The State Department has all but ignored the pleas of lawmakers and Kim’s wife for greater attention to the case. And the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee no longer believes that North Korea’s removal from the terrorism list should be conditional on information about Kim. [Washington Post, Glenn Kessler]
There’s a personal irony here for me. Last February, I attended this panel discussion at a synagogue in northern Virginia that featured Kessler, Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, and NPR’s Don Siegal. The subject was North Korea’s suspected nuclear proliferation to Syria. I didn’t mention this before because I wanted to do some research first, but at the Q&A session at the end of the event, I specifically asked Kessler about Rev. Kim’s case in the context of removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Had you been there, you’d have agreed that Kessler seemed dismissive and uninterested in the question of Rev. Kim and the implications of his abduction — or any other abductions — for North Korea’s terror de-listing. When I related the facts of Rev. Kim’s case, Kessler’s reaction was nonplussed, and he seemed unfamiliar with it. I asserted, and Kessler disputed, that congressional action would be necessary for de-listing North Korea (in fact, such action is Congress’s prerogative, only if it objects to the de-listing).
Now that more congressional action — successful or otherwise — to oppose that de-listing seems imminent, I hope Kessler will have enough class to award me the argument. As for Kessler’s implicit concession of the significance of this story, I’m frankly so astonished by Kessler’s decision to cover this story and cover it accurately that I’ll waive any claim on that.
* By an unfortunate coincidence, one of Rev. Kim’s kidnappers shares a common first name with his widow.