Korean Word of the Day: 막무가내

This word, pronounced mak-mu-ga-nae, roughly translates to that most untranslatable of Yiddish words:  chutzpah.

On Tuesday, North Korea had the chutzpah to demand (막무가내로 우기다) that the U.N. Security Council apologize for the flaccid non-binding presidential statement it offered in lieu of any meaningful enforcement of the two Security Council resolutions North Korea’s recent missile test violated:

The UNSC should promptly make an apology for having infringed the sovereignty of the DPRK and withdraw all its unreasonable and discriminative “resolutions” and decisions adopted against the DPRK.

North Korea’s very ridiculousness can be (if this is the right word) disarming.  It’s hard to take a man, even a democidal tyrant, seriously when he resembles an unkempt fishwife or when his state media has a fondness for peculiar words like “brigandish.”  This dismissive consequence of ridicule has a way of obscuring the depth and scale of Kim Jong Il’s brutality, a case of mass political cleansing that has had no equal in this world since Pol Pot’s overthrow.

But at least we’ll be spared the sight of Kim Jong Il’s face on coffee mugs and tote bags.  A million deaths is a statistic, but a bad haircut will not stand among the right-thinking.

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Study: N. Korea Reduced Public Executions in Reaction to S. Korean Criticism

Does Kim Jong Il care what South Koreans, Americans, or other earthlings say about his regime?

Citing interviews with about 50 North Korean defectors who fled their homeland between 2007 and 2008, the Korea Institute for National Unification said in a report that North Korea appears to be mindful of criticism from the international community about its human rights condition and has responded with limited changes.

According to the annual report “White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2009,” those interviewed said they had witnessed fewer public executions than before. The report also noted changes in the legal system in recent years in favor of human rights, such as a 2003 law on the protection of the disabled and revisions to the criminal law in 2004 and 2005 stiffening requirements for permission to interrogate or arrest individuals.

“North Korea appears to be reacting sensitively to criticism from the international community,” Kim Soo-am, a research fellow at the think tank and major author of the report, told reporters.

“Adjusting its legal system and reducing public executions, North Korea appears to be trying to find a way to reduce international criticism in a way that will not threaten the regime,” he said. [Yonhap]

There are several problems with this conclusion. First, there are no reliable before-and-after data to show that North Korea’s atrocities have actually declined. Second, even if such data did exist, this could easily be a case of coincidence being confused with causation.

That said, there are sound reasons not to dismiss this report completely. North Korea certainly puts on a harsh reaction to criticism of its system in its external media. That’s mostly for external consumption, but it’s hard to believe that a regime so obsessed with the creation of gauzy utopian illusions doesn’t care about how it is perceived. Otherwise, the people who write those KNCA screeds could just as well be put to work growing cabbages or tapping phones.

Close observers of events inside North Korea will tell you that foreign criticism sometimes has a discernible impact on how North Korea treats its own people. Part of that may be that foreign criticism makes its way inside North Korea these days.

Lisa Ling, take heed: silence isn’t going to help bring your sister home. Unleash the furies.

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It’s North Korea Freedom Week

The list of events this year looks extremely interesting. For most of these, you have to be in Washington D.C. I only wish I had time to attend more of these. More here. One that I’d especially like to attend is a screening of “Kimjongilia,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Calls for the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee will also be heard, but so far, Lisa Ling is maintaining her public silence. Sort of.

Their families and acquaintances plan a candlelight vigil on Tuesday in front of the headquarters of Current TV, where the two were working, in San Francisco.

Lisa Ling, Laura Ling’s sister and herself a TV personality, told reporters, “This has been an incredibly difficult time for us. Please understand that due to the extreme sensitivity of the case, it is vital for our families to stay quiet. Please know however, that when you are out there holding those candles, that we are there with you with fires lit in our hearts.” [Chosun Ilbo]

But as we now know, the State Department is telling the families that it’s vital to stay quiet because the State Department is more interested in “bigger issues” — like rolling the stone up the hill again — than in protecting American citizens.

For those of you in the San Francisco Bay area, there will be a candlelight demonstration in Fair Oaks tonight from 7 to 8.

[Update:  There will also be a vigil in Santa Monica tonight at 7, where Ocean Park Boulevard meet the beach.]
At this point, it scarcely matters where Laura Ling and Euna Lee were caught. Wandering across the border would not justify such a lengthy detention, and it’s clear that North Korea continues to detain them in exchange for some sort of political, economic, or diplomatic concession. That makes this terrorism.

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Kaesong Death Watch

There’s enough bile circulating in my veins as it is, so it’s a burden lifted to read reports like this, via G.I. Korea, and have the confidence that the behavior will be terminated and deterred in due course. These days, Kaesong isn’t shipping much merchandise, but a lot of karma is about to arrive on some manufacturers’ loading docks.

Exhibit A: Amid North Korean demands to increase “wages” for Kaesong workers — the workers themselves probably see little or any of the money — panicky South Korean investors are appealing to their government to insure the free flow of freight traffic and the release of a South Korean employee still being held by the North Koreans. It’s hard to see what the South Korean government can really do about this.

Exhibit B: Inter-Korean trade in March 2009 was a full 30% lower than it was in March 2008.

The two Koreas exchanged goods and services worth US$108.74 million over the last month, down 31.1 percent from $157.9 million in the same period in 2008, the data from the Unification Ministry said.

North Korea sealed the border three times in March, disrupting South Korean production in a joint industrial complex in the North’s border town of Kaesong. Pyongyang imposed the ban in retaliation against a joint military exercise South Korea staged with the United States from March 9 to 20 south of the border. [Yonhap]

The latest convenient excuse was an annual military exercise. Even in March 2008, Kaesong’s output fell far short of early predictions about its potential.

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27 April 2009

ROH MOO HYUN takes the Fifth.

NO WORSE THAN HAVING THEM THERE, I guess: The Economist calls for proceeding with six-party talks without the North Koreans. I happen to be a supporter of continuing this charade, but only because charades have cosmetic value.

CITING SOUTH KOREAN INTELLIGENCE SOURCES, the Joongang Ilbo reports that the North Korean military is reasserting itself “over several key policy-making issues” in a restructuring of the ruling Worker’s Party. This would dial back a trend reported last year, in which the the civilian party leadership gained at the military’s expense. Or, all of this could be bullshit….

A CAUTION THAT ALSO APPLIES to fresh reports that Kim Jong Un is being groomed for succession. Far too slowly to take power before his old man goes to the big meat locker, if you ask me.

North Korea marked the 77th anniversary of its military on Saturday with vows of a ‘merciless strike’ against the United States and its allies, which it accuses of attempting an invasion.” Thank goodness they’re not in league with the terrorists anymore.

IT ISN’T COWBOY DIPLOMACY when a Democrat does it:

Responding to North Korea’s purported reactivation of its plutonium-producing facilities, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday that Washington wants dialogue with Pyongyang, but the communist country should first retract its brinkmanship. “We’re not going to be blackmailed by the North Koreans,” Clinton said during her surprise visit to Baghdad. [Yonhap]

Good for her for saying it, but let’s see if events bear that out.

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Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassy in Seoul Calls Laura Ling and Euna Lee “Stupid”

ling-lee.jpgI wonder how many years of studying international relations it would take a guy like me to become a suave, smooth-talking ambassador of American values like this guy:

A US diplomat in Seoul has shocked a group of visiting Congressional staff members by allegedly making highly insensitive comments about two journalists — Taiwanese ­-American Laura Ling and Korean-American Euna Lee — now facing serious criminal charges in North Korea.

William Stanton, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in South Korea and a candidate for the next director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), is said to have told the visitors during a briefing that the two young journalists were “stupid” and that their case was “distracting from bigger issues. [Taipei Times, William Lowther]

First, let me get one thing out of the way: I am absolutely, positively not related to this person. Second, let me posit that this statement is proof that William Stanton has absolutely no idea what the “bigger issues” are.

Congressional sources said most of the nine visitors — all in their 20s and on a training trip to Asia — were particularly distressed because both Ling and Lee could be sentenced to long prison terms and there is strong evidence they did nothing wrong.

At least one of the visitors was so upset about Stanton’s attitude that he wrote a memorandum to a member of Congress giving full details of the briefing, including Stanton’s statements.

The memorandum has become a topic of hot discussion among senior Congressional staff and a copy has been sent to the US State Department. No officials would comment on the situation last night and it is not known if it will lead to a formal inquiry.

The Taipei Times reports that William Stanton has been the subject of previous complaints, but doesn’t specify what for. Oh, and did I mention that he’s believed to be at “the top of the short list for [American Institute in Taiwan] director,” our de facto ambassador to Taiwan and quite possibly the most diplomatically sensitive post in existence? Shockingly, he is “known for his strong support for Chinese policies” and accused of having “impeded internal reports critical of the Chinese regime.” What? You mean in our State Department? Tell me it isn’t so.

William Stanton isn’t the only one in the embassy with that contemptuous view. According to a memo written by one of the staffers, the Seoul Embassy Political Counselor, Joseph Yun, chimed in to say that because of Ling and Lee’s captivity, the United States would now “have to raise thousands of dollars,” presumably in ransom money. (Thousands? Yet again, State underestimates North Korea’s negotiating chutzpah. Surely Kim Jong Il knows how promiscuously we’ve been bailing out insolvent empires lately.)

The families of Laura Ling and Euna Lee have also heard William Stanton’s comments, and now, of State’s true rationale for having “advised [the families] to keep low profiles and not to talk about the case.” State must dread the idea that Lisa Ling could get this story wide media exposure through The View, Oprah, or any number of outlets. State had even promised the families that the North Koreans would release Ling and Lee as part of an April 15th amnesty for Kim Il Sung’s birthday. Astonishingly, our diplomats had believed North Korean “assurances” that it would be so. Tough luck.

The Taipei Times report also says, without offering further detail, that “[t]here is evidence that the North Korean guards crossed the river and grabbed the women on the Chinese side, forcing them into North Korea at gunpoint.” I’d like to know what Lowther has heard, but here’s what a knowledgeable reader told me: Ling and Lee’s Chinese driver was a North Korean operative who led them into a trap — a suspected North Korean plot to take American hostages. Such a plan could only have been approved by Kim Jong Il himself, and was almost certainly meant to shield North Korea from the diplomatic consequences of its then-planned missile test. The main purpose would have been to take the measure of the Obama Administration, and of that, mission accomplished. I don’t doubt that a second North Korean motive was payback for Lisa Ling.

My source tells me that the Chinese cameraman has since disappeared.

If the report is true, it would fit each and every element of the U.S. Code’s definition of international terrorism.

It’s fair to say, then, that the circumstances under which Ling and Lee ended up in North Korean captivity are far from clear. So if William Stanton doesn’t know the circumstances under which these women were seized, we can only assume that what he really means to describe as “stupid” is the act of trying to report the truth of a grave and underreported humanitarian crisis. Would he have said the same about journalists killed or taken hostage while reporting in Iraq? Would the media have let him get away with that?

Regardless of the circumstances of Ling and Lee’s seizure, it’s a strikingly callous thing for a “diplomat” to say, and it’s one for the books as an example of simple diplomatic incompetence. The Chinese will now understand that their “good offices” need not be expended on obtaining the release of two American citizens who may have been seized from their territory. Even assuming that Lee and Ling had intentionally crossed the border — which seems exceedingly unlikely — any North Korean justification for holding them as prisoners ended hours after their detention.

One person who could help us get to the truth of the matter is the Current TV cameraman, who managed to escape. Like everyone else associated with Current TV, he’s suspended his dedication to fearless truth-telling.



Hat tip: Curtis.

Current TV has gone so far as to scrub its site of all postings referring to Ling and Lee. Current TV is doing this, of course, on the advice of our State Department, which would be the same State Department that has been so effective in resolving North Korea’s human rights atrocities, nuclear weapons program, threats to nuke Seoul and Tokyo, proliferation, and defiance of U.N. resolutions. The futility of “quiet diplomacy” isn’t helping to bring Laura Ling and Euna Lee home, either:

Is this what happens when information becomes more democratic? No one’s willing to step up? If you work for a viewer-supplied TV cable network, does that mean no one has your back?

This does not help the argument that the value of large news organizations is dwindling to nothing in favor of small entrepreneurs. There’s no encouragement for 2.0 reporting when its practitioners can disappear into the gulag with no one to fight for them.

Maybe there are furious back door efforts going on and these two reporters aren’t just pawns in the overarching political drama of North Korea’s imminent launch of a long-range missile. CNN, where Wikipedia says Ms. Ling’s sister works as a reporter, and other news outlets report that a Swedish diplomat is hot on the case.

But that shouldn’t stop some public uproar. Do we have to ask Google to go in there and flex a little muscle on behalf of the free flow of information? [Phil Bronstein, Huffington Post]

If there is any good news to this story at all, it’s the fact that this confession of breathtaking moral retardation may block one incompetent’s rise to a position of potentially catastrophic responsibility. The more distressing news is that Kim Jong Il has learned a lesson from the Mohammad Cartoons controversy: that all the talk we sometimes hear about the courage and independence of the news media is just that — talk. When faced with a challenge to their reporting of a legitimate news story that demands real courage, the media kneels before terrorists, and our government treats freedom of information like an encumbrance to its pursuit of bigger deals.

Hat tip to a anonymous reader.

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North Korea’s Indictment of Laura Ling and Euna Lee Is Meant to Terrorize Journalists and Paralyze Our Government (And It’s Working)

Someone wake up Al Gore and tell him Manbearpig has two of his reporters:

North Korea said Friday that it had decided to indict two American journalists who have been detained for more than five weeks on charges of illegally entering the country and committing “hostile acts.

“Our related agency has completed its investigation of the American journalists,” North Korea’s state-run news agency, KCNA, reported. “It has formally decided to put them on trial based on confirmed criminal data. [….]

North Korea has said that it would allow the reporters consular access and treat them according to international law. Amnesty International has said it doubted that they will receive a fair trial, given the North Korean judicial system’s lack of independence or transparency. [N.Y. Times]

Nice of Amnesty to put in a token appearance now and then when they’re not too busy fluffing Khalid Sheikh Mohammad’s pillow. Now if only they decided to get vocal about North Korea’s attempt to reenact the Holocaust. Note also that someone in the MSM has finally picked up on what OFK readers caught almost immediately:

Ms. Ling, 32, is the younger sister of Lisa Ling, a television journalist who reported undercover in North Korea for National Geographic in 2006. In the piece, “Inside North Korea,” Lisa Ling posed as part of a medical team that used a hidden camera; her report exposed some of the hardships of living in North Korea and criticized the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il.

Purely coincidental, of course. You can watch Lisa Ling’s documentary here.

A Facebook group with about 2,400 members has sprung up to show support for the women and members have pledged to hold several rallies: one at the MSNBC studios in New York next month and two next Tuesday, one outside Current TV’s office in San Francisco and the other at the high school that Laura Ling attended in California.

There are actually two large groups, one with over 500 members and one with over 2500 members, and if you can figure out how to post a link in the comments, please do. For the record, I haven’t heard a peep from Gore, Obama, or Clinton since Euna Lee and Laura Ling were first grabbed at the border.

A message to Mr. Gore’s spokeswoman on Friday was not immediately returned. In addition, Current TV has removed content relating to the capture of Ms. Ling, a reporter, and Ms. Lee, an editor, on its web site.

No doubt, they’re believers in the kind of quiet diplomacy that proved so wildly successful for South Korea. No doubt, Ling and Lee can go free for the right price or concession from us.

I swear, they have a word for that kind of tactic.

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Thank goodness for that, because our government has absolutely no idea how to deal with terrorism. Maybe they should mobilize the New York Philharmonic again.

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23 April 2009

RISING CRIME against the “upper classes” and “party officials” in North Korea’s border regions.

THAT’LL TEACH ‘EM: Behold the dreaded awesomeness of European diplomacy!

A FEW DAYS OLD, but here’s some idea of the emerging policy paralysis in the Obama Administration. I’m starting to believe that the Obama Doctrine will be, “Never make a decision.”

THE SEAL MEN of Seoul. I’d say my main question was answered:

Kim doesn’t crawl in his “off” hours. He can walk fitfully with crutches. He lives in a first-floor apartment on the outskirts of Seoul. At 7 a.m. each day, before the morning rush, a disabled friend who can drive drops Kim off at his chosen spot. He spends the next 10 hours in a rough-hewn horizontal world. “I know I look pathetic,” he says. “But if I used my crutches, nobody would give me money.”

OFF TOPIC: Eric Cartman joins the Somali pirates.

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North Korean Military Service Loses Its Luster

In Hoeryong, a group of North Korean children has been sentenced to a life of laboring on collective farms for refusing to join the army:

As a result of a first-of-its-kind refusal to sign an army enrollment petition, students soon to graduate from a middle school in Hoiryeong, North Hamkyung Province have been ordered by the Party to work on collective farms for life.

Furthermore, during this process the parents of some of the students protested after the children of government officials in Hoiryeong were granted exemptions from the same order.

The incident occurred at the Osanduk Middle School in early February. The Army Mobilization Department had urged graduating middle school students to sign the “People’s Army (KPA) Enrollment Petition,” stressing that “America and South Chosun puppets are taking provocative wartime measures. [Daily NK]

Military service used to be desirable and genuinely voluntary in North Korea. Until recently, it was seen as a meal ticket and a route to higher social status. Apparently, those days have even passed in a bleak backwater like Hoeryong.

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Telling Half the Story at Yongbyon

The Washington Post reassures us that North Korea’s threat to restart plutonium processing is mostly empty because of the current condition of its 5-MW reaction. Not only do I agree that the reactor is probably a wreck, I believe that was also true before the North Koreans sold us their scrap heap for such a high price. Funny, I don’t remember Siegfried Hecker telling us that in 2007 when the State Department was telling us what a breakthrough this deal was.

The major premise of Post’s story relies mostly on Hecker, who strongly supports any deal the North Koreans give us, and on a few like-minded others. It also focuses exclusively on one reactor in North Korea’s plutonium reprocessing program. The Post would have written a more balanced and informative story if it had started with its own archives and questioned Hecker — and some contrarian experts like Caroline Leddy or Henry Sokolski — about the 50-MW reactor nearby. I could be convinced that the 50-MW reactor isn’t really the danger the Post suggested it was in 2005, but I have yet to see any serious recent reporting on that big pink elephant in this room.

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Trouble at the DMZ

Those North-South Korea talks lasted just 22 minutes, all of them tense, and hopes that they would end with make-up sex were not realized.  It looks like there’s trouble at the DMZ:

North Korea accused South Korea of a “serious provocation” by moving a marker on their heavily guarded border, raising tensions after rare talks between the two ended without agreement.”This serious military provocation is a wanton violation of the Armistice Agreement and a deliberate and premeditated action to escalate tension in the areas along the MDL,” the North’s official news agency said, referring to the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) which marks the border.

South Korea’s military denied moving the post. “We call on North Korea to stop unnecessarily raising tension by making groundless claims,” said a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  [AFP]

The South also asked the North Koreans to release the South Korean Kaesong manager it’s been holding for several weeks now, on charges of inducing a North Korean woman to defect.  It’s now threatening to go narc to the U.N. (no! please!)   And the most delicious irony of all?  North Korea is suddenly in an activist mood about the low wages of the slave laborers at Kaesong!

“North Korea said it will reconsider all privileges it has given to the South at Kaesong,” the South Korean government said in a news release. The North demanded talks on “readjusting wages to a realistic level.   [N.Y. Times]

The North Korean government deducts either most or all of the cash from the “wages” South Korean companies pay to Kaesong workers, who receive either a small cash pittance and rations, or perhaps some rations and nothing else.  The answer has never been entirely clear, except that the lion’s share of the “wages” goes directly to Kim Jong Il and his minions.

Even the Hankyoreh sees that Kaesong’s future is in doubt, but it’s anyone’s guess what the real reason for that is.  North Korea always seems to find excuses to blame everyone else for its own behavior, but it always has reasons of its own for doing what it already wanted to do anyway.

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Chris Hill Slips Through; New Bills in Congress Would Roll Back His Unilateral Concessions

[Update:   I have the House bill, too.  Scroll down for the link.]

The AP is reporting that Christopher Hill is now confirmed as Ambassador to Iraq.  Having managed to inflict a slight flesh wound on Hill, we can at least claim to have alerted potential critics to some of the less desirable aspects of his character, which (I fear) will reveal themselves again in due course when he opens secret talks with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though I predict that eventually, some of those who voted for cloture on this debate will eventually have reason to call for Hill’s head.

I shudder at the damage Hill could do in Iraq, but as far as North Korea policy is concerned, at least he’s out of that picture.  On the other hand, Hill’s “legacy” — and of course, it’s Bush’s legacy, too — is a long series of concessions that we were assured would be strictly conditioned on North Korea meeting its disarmament obligations.  Here is what Bush said when he announced the relaxation of sanctions and North Korea’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism last June:

The six-party process has shed light on a number of issues of serious concern to the United States and the international community.  To end its isolation, North Korea must address these concerns.  It must dismantle all of its nuclear facilities, give up its separated plutonium, resolve outstanding questions on its highly enriched uranium and proliferation activities, and end these activities in a way that we can fully verify.

North Korea must also meet other obligations it has undertaken in the six-party talks.  The United States will never forget the abduction of Japanese citizens by the North Koreans.  We will continue to closely cooperate and coordinate with Japan and press North Korea to swiftly resolve the abduction issue.

This can be a moment of opportunity for North Korea.  If North Korea continues to make the right choices, it can repair its relationship with the international community ….  If North Korea makes the wrong choices, the United States and our partners in the six-party talks will respond accordingly.  If they do not fully disclose and end their plutonium, their enrichment, and their proliferation efforts and activities, there will be further consequences.  [….]

[O]ur policy, and the statement today, makes it clear we will hold them to account for their promises.  And when they fulfill their promises, more restrictions will be eased.  If they don’t fulfill their promises, more restrictions will be placed on them.

Here is what Barack Obama said:

This is a step forward, and there will be many more steps to take in the days ahead. Critical questions remain unanswered. We still have not verified the accuracy of the North Korean declaration. We must confirm the full extent of North Korea’s past plutonium production. We must also confirm its uranium enrichment activities, and get answers to disturbing questions about its proliferation activities with other countries, including Syria. [….]

Sanctions are a critical part of our leverage to pressure North Korea to act. They should only be lifted based on North Korean performance. If the North Koreans do not meet their obligations, we should move quickly to re-impose sanctions that have been waived, and consider new restrictions going forward.  [Barack Obama]

My suspicion then and now was that this was just disingenuous talk meant to soften opposition to misguided unilateral concessions, but it’s even more important to hold politicians to their insincere words than to their sincere ones.  And if the relaxation of sanctions was to be conditioned on North Korea keeping its promises, President Obama should now reimpose those sanctions as a consequence of North Korea breaking them, for holding two American journalists as hostages, for threatening to nuke its neighbors, and for flagrantly violating U.N. resolutions that banned its WMD programs.  Several bills are now percolating in Congress that would do just that:

H.Res. 309, a non-binding resolution, calls on North Korea to stop threatening neighboring countries, meet its disarmament obligations, and comply with U.N. resolutions.  In other words, it’s an empty gesture, but it has some bipartisan support.

H.R. 485 would codify sanctions against North Korea, mainly relating to arms sales and technology transfers.

H.R. 1980 and S. 837, both introduced yesterday, are still too new for the GPO text to be published yet.  The House bill would “continue restrictions against and prohibit diplomatic recognition of the Government of North Korea,” and the Senate bill would “require that North Korea be listed as a state sponsor of terrorism [and] ensure that human rights is a prominent issue in negotiations between the United States and North Korea.”  These bills have teeth, and it’s probably no coincidence that neither has Democratic co-sponsorship.  Although I have not seen the House bill, my understanding is that both bills have similar provisions.  I do have a copy of the Senate bill, which you can read at the link below.

I now have both the House and Senate bills (my thanks to the friends who forwarded them).  Their provisions are indeed similar, and you can read them both below.  One of my own suggestions was to include language demanding the release of Euna Lee and Laura Ling, and I’m glad to see that language in both the House and Senate bills. 

senate-nk-sanctions-bill.pdf                                           house-nk-sanctions-bill.pdf

You can read Curtis Melvin’s take here.

My take — I strongly doubt that the Democrats, who now enjoy one-party rule over our entire government, will ever let any bill that would reimpose sanctions get voted on.  Remember that the next time Democrats campaign on how tough and smart their brand of diplomacy is.  The reality of a Democratic-controlled government is unilateral concessions, provocations without consequences, and the promotion of people like Chris Hill — in short, a rudderless, masochistic, and ineffective foreign policy.  When it comes to the most dangerous rogue nations, all but a few Democrats (and too many Republicans) can’t think beyond appeasement, and no amount of hollow campaign rhetoric can erase that basic truth.  If the Democrats really have a smarter, tougher foreign policy to offer, then let President Obama act match his campaign rhetoric with action and support these bills.

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Stand With Sam Brownback

According to my latest information, which is just short of a day old now, the nomination of Chris Hill was to go to the Senate floor yesterday, where it was expected to get more than enough votes to close debate.  Under Senate rules, Senator Brownback now has his chance to go to the floor and speak, to see if he can change a few more minds.  I’ve passed him as much ammunition as time has allowed.  Now, the rest is up to the Senate.  The odds heavily favor Hill’s confirmation today, but Brownback is prepared to go down fighting.
I often hear conservatives say that their party has run aground because it doesn’t know what it stands for.  Christopher Hill typifies the rudderless, unprincipled, and failed Republocrat foreign policy that mislabels itself as “realism.”  Brownback was the man who tried to stand in its way then, when Bush was in office, and he’s doing the same now that Obama is in office.  Plenty in the press see fit to ridicule Brownback for being principled, because they happen to disagree with the principles themselves.  History will continue to reveal that Brownback is right, and the rest of them are wrong.

I’m going to contact both of my liberal Democratic senators today, knowing full well that it’s unlikely to matter and that Hill — America’s most conspicuously unsuccessful diplomat — will probably be confirmed anyway.  If this quixotic cause matters to you, I hope you’ll do the same.  Here’s what I will be writing:

Dear Senator Mikulski, Please vote against the confirmation of Christopher Hill as Ambassador to Iraq until you have an opportunity to study Hill’s extensive record of disregard for the law, for dishonesty with Congress, and for professional incompetence in his dealings with North Korea that have made North Korea a greater danger to the United States.  Some of Ambassador Hill’s efforts to mislead Congress about his diplomatic efforts to deal with North Korea are detailed at this article:


Among Ambassador Hill’s deceptions furthered his efforts to avoid raising the issue of North Korea’s horrific concentration camps with that country’s government, which you can learn more about here:

North Korea’s Largest Concentration Camps on Google Earth

I am also gravely concerned that Hill’s nomination results from his personal friendship with Richard Holbrooke, rather than his record or qualifications.  Ambasador Hill has no middle eastern experience and speaks no Arabic.  His prior qualifications do not suggest that he is prepared for the political, military, or cultural challenges he will soon confront.  Many other, better qualified candidates could do this job better than Christopher Hill.  I urge you to study Ambassador Hill’s record of failure carefully before voting on his confirmation.

I agree that we need an Ambassador in Baghdad as soon as possible, but let’s choose the best qualified person for such an important job.

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Banzai for Nuclear Japan!

Japan should consider possessing nuclear weapons as a deterrent to a neighboring threat, former Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa suggested Sunday.

In a speech in Obihiro, Hokkaido, in reference to North Korea’s rocket launch earlier this month that many believe was a ballistic missile test, the hawkish lawmaker said: “It is common sense worldwide that in pure military terms, nuclear counters nuclear.”

In Sunday’s speech, Nakagawa said he believes North Korea has many Rodong medium-range missiles that could reach almost any part of Japan and also has small nuclear warheads.

“North Korea has taken a step toward a system whereby it can shoot without prior notice,” he said. “We have to discuss countermeasures.”

He added that public discussions must be promoted on what has long been considered a national taboo: whether Japan should possess nuclear weapons.  [Kyodo News via Japan Today; (ht)]

I loved what came next:

Nakagawa stepped down as finance minister in February over what appeared to be drunken behavior at an international news conference in Rome.

Those of you who dread this idea should take some comfort from the word “former,” and I’m not sure that the clownish drunken man is a likely spokesman for an orchestrated trial balloon from the Japanese government.  Even the title of the article ridicules Nakagawa.  I’m guessing that Nakagawa probably speaks for himself and plenty of unstated opinion that will mostly remain unstated for the time being.  But with America increasingly perceived as an unreliable protector in Japan recently, I can understand why some in Japan are starting to think about going nuclear, and I have very good reason to suspect that South Korea has similar ideas.

Count me as cautiously enthusiastic about a nuclear Japan.  Let’s list the pros and cons:


1.  Another Asian ally begins to shoulder more of the burden of its own defense.  Let’s hope this results in a more equal alliance in which American taxpayers aren’t subsidizing the defense of the entire region.

2.  Finally, North Korea’s shenanigans impose a strategic cost on China.

3.  Japanese possession of nukes would hollow out explicit North Korean threats, or implicit Chinese threats, of a nuclear strike against Japan.

4.  A less sanctimonious spin at the Hiroshima Peace Museum.  Of course, it would be too much to expect that the museum would place the A-bombings into the context of the Rape of Nanking or Pearl Harbor.

5.  We’re two tests away from a full and final resolution of the status of Tokdo.


1.  One more state with nuclear weapons; but in the grander scheme of things, the existence of a functionally uncontained North Korean arsenal gives relatively little cause for anyone to worry about Japan having one.

2.  An arms race has broken out, but I’d argue that China and North Korea started the arms race a decade ago, even as South Korea was disarming.  The fact that Japan is rearming restores some of the military balance.  Yes, that’s going to be a lot of expenditure on weapons, but a relatively greater percentage of that spending will be by nations other than us.  Indeed, Japan may invest more in missile defense and delivery systems that it will end up purchasing from the United States.

3.  The sneaking suspicion that they haven’t quite gotten the whole Pearl Harbor thing out of their systems.

If the goal of appeasing North Korea was to limit nuclear proliferation, that certainly hasn’t been the effect.

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20 April 2009

THE STATE DEPARTMENT given the North Koreans a stern talking-to.  Because, you know, they’re still reeling from that U.N. presidential statement.

OH, GOODY:  North Korea wants to talk to South Korea about God-only-knows what.

IT NEVER FAILS TO AMAZE ME how North Koreans, including defectors, often continue to revere Kim Il Sung, even after the break with the system.  Don’t underestimate the ability of reverence and skepticism to coexist.

NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES you hear that the Pentagon and the ROK have agreed on USFK restructuring, disregard it.  Every agreement just marks the start of the next negotiation.


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The “Realism” Fad, Truth in Labeling, The Obama Doctrine, and Godot

Jeff Jacoby asks how many Democrats still believe in the moral superiority of democracy.  Nowadays, I wonder.  I frequently hear it said, especially by adherents of the fad mislabeled as “realism,” that nations have the “right” to choose their own way.  The problem with this argument is that invariably, “nations” really means a tiny clique of thugs and oligarchs with the keys to the helicopter gunships, who exercise that “right” by proxy and do the choosing for everyone else.  I’ve also wondered how happy the voluble chatterers who espouse this theory would be without their rights to speak freely.  This is just one level of hypocrisy away from the pederast mullahs who want to save the purity of their societies from the destructive urges of other people to hold hands.

The new crop of realists being stamped out of grad schools today reminds me of nothing so much as the shiny new neoconservatives of 2003 — enthusiastic ideologues who have been compressed by their philosophy’s basic truths, but who will in due course be unleashed with the excess that faddish views inevitably produce.  In the case of the neoconservatives, with whom I admittedly share many points of agreement, the excess was to go beyond the moral and pecuniary superiority of propogating personal freedom to support for “using U.S. power, including military force, to bring democracy and human rights to other countries.”  Neoconservatism has become such an ill-defined epithet that it’s fair to suspect that a straw man is being attacked here.  But to the extent that this is an accurate characterization of neoconservatism, it’s a not view I’m often inclined to join.  Indeed, I’ve wanted to remove most of our troops from South Korea and Europe for years, and I’ve been less solicitous of using force against North Korea than either William Perry or Newt Gingrich.  It would be far better to sell the Koreans and the Europeans all the arms they choose to buy, in much the way that Israel does and Taiwan doesn’t.  I believe that foreign deployments risk entanglements in foreign wars not of our choosing, and I believe we can continue to exercise as much influence as we need to through the supply of superior weapons, intelligence, air and naval superiority, command/control, and logistics.

My hopelessly out-of-vogue view derives from the old Nixon/Reagan Doctrines of helping people to either defend or win their own freedom with their own arms and blood, but with arms we provide if diplomatic means fail.  I recognize the basic impatience of Americans with foreign wars, and that freedom fighting is best left to the people who must live or die on the land they fight for.  At the same time, I recognize that some societies (Lebanon) are relatively better prepared for democracy than others (Palestine), and that the pursuit of democracy should be a gradual, Hegelian thing calibrated to a society’s maturity, education, and capacity for self-government.  I believe in the importance of diplomacy, but I recognize the pointlessness of diplomacy with nations that don’t share our values or basic interests, unless that diplomacy is backed by the alternative of political, economic, or military consequences.
I still remember when most “realists” and neoconservatives agreed on something:  like the vast majority of Americans, I supported the decision to invade Iraq based on what I thought we knew in 2003.  At the time, I was wearing a uniform myself.  I don’t regret my views, and history is gradually revealing how much better off the world might just become because of the invasion.  I also have a fairly vivid picture of what the Middle East would be like today with Saddam in power and the U.N. utterly powerless to contain him.  True, we suffered needlessly because of the misbegotten tactics of 2004 and 2005, but if you’ve studied insurgencies through history, our casualties and the time it took for us to achieve a decisive shift in popular attitudes in Iraq will — from the safe distance of time — mark Iraq as one of history’s more successful counterinsurgencies.

Ironically, I let the ex-interventionist, born-again “realist” Kenneth Pollock talk me out of the idea of helping the Iraqis to overthrow Saddam on their own, but unlike Pollock and most of the intellectuals in this town, I opposed the panicky flight for Iraq’s exits after we’d already made the decision to invade and things got hard.  Wars cannot be retracted ex-post-facto based on shifting intelligence without inviting an even greater disaster.  Unlike most war-weary intellectuals, I’ve actually served in the military and know what defeat would have done to our morale and to our standing as a nation.  Thank God George Bush made the single best decision of his otherwise dismal presidency and ignored the herd then.  Today, we and the Iraqis have a decent shot at avoiding a catastrophic defeat and catalyzing Iraq’s evolution into a habitable place.  Certainly Iraq is not approaching Jeffersonian democracy, nor was it ever realistic to expect as much.  If it can be as free as South Korea was in the 1960’s, it may eventually evolve into something as free as South Korea is today.  Just as certainly, the “realist” views that we could negotiate our way to a peaceful Iraq with Iran and Syria from a position of prostration, or that we could leave a victorious al Qaeda in possession of vast swaths of Iraq, were madness.  That view would have brought Iraq to a place somewhere between 1990’s Afghanistan and 1970’s Cambodia.  It could have been the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster since 1945.

The “realist” view of North Korea is equally unrealistic.  After all we’ve experienced in the last two decades, one self-described “realist” at Real Clear World even said this:

[T]he best way of gaining the support of the North Korean regime to stop nuclear proliferation is…by diplomacy and offering the North Koreans incentives.  [Real Clear World Blog]

Here is someone who has never heard of the al-Shifa reactor, which North Korea was building at a furious pace at the height of Agreed Framework II, as American fuel oil warmed Kim Jong Il’s clot-sodden veins.  Quite the contrary — Kim Jong Il used diplomacy to hoodwink us into relaxing the enforcement of UNSCR 1695 and 1718, thus licensing even more proliferation and letting him cross more “red lines.” The “realist” way accomplished absolutely nothing of value toward disarming North Korea, but did much to undermine international counterproliferation and the authority of the U.N. in general.  In the end, to have a “realist” view requires belief in a whole series of wishful delusions:  that Kim Jong Il can be persuaded to give up his nuclear weapons, that he proliferates because of rational incentives rather than malice, that he seeks to open his society to the world to improve the lives of his subjects, and that China means us no harm and really wants North Korea to play nicely with everyone.  It is not possible to defend any of those views against a rational interpretation of recent history.

But is Obama’s foreign policy “realist”?  Frankly, I have no idea.  What I see is a vaporous muddle without any coherent world view.  Ex-post-facto opposition to the war in Iraq seems to be the whole extent of its unanimity — all together now:  “We’re tiiiiired.”  Take the incoherence of Obama’s North Korea policy.  Just after North Korea’s missile test, Special Envoy Bosworth was telling us that we’d be back to bilateral talks with them shortly, as though nothing more was amiss than the usual kidnapping, genocide, and threats to turn Tokyo into a sea of fire.  Today, we’re hearing that bilateral talks aren’t going to happen just yet (but just give them time).  This smacks of the sort of gridlock that the Bush Administration, notwithstanding its portrayals for ideological rigidity, never quite overcame.  This is how presidencies fail to deal with crises, and the urgency of creating coherent policies (ie., “ready from Day One”) is why we give presidents-elect nearly three months of transition time from election to inauguration.

When did I realize we were in trouble?  When I heard that Obama had brought three hundred foreign policy advisors aboard his campaign, an image that smacks less of “brain trust” than “circus tent.”  Now whittle that understrength battalion down to the collection of svengalis who’ve emerged as influential figures since the transition:  liberal interventionists (Samantha Power),  Jew-baiting kooks (Chas Freeman), panda-huggers (Dennis Blair), left-wing Machiavellians (Hillary Clinton, Christopher Hill) and traditional liberal doves (Susan Rice).   Mix  them all  that together and you have scrapple,  with just as much mystery about the beast of origin.  Imagine what fun it would be — to say nothing of the pay per view revenues — to arm them with sharp pencils and letter openers, lock them in a gymnasium, and tell them that no one leaves until we have a written statement on our new Tibet policy.

The question remains:  what is the Obama doctrine?  To say that it is not the Bush Doctrine isn’t enough anymore.

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Joining the Great North Korea Debate

I’m gratified to see that my latest New Ledger article has picked up so much linkage and circulation, including at Instapundit, Real Clear World, the Memeorandum, Pajamas Media, Rantburg, Google News, and even the Puffington Host.  I doubt that I’ve done much harm to Chris Hill’s chances of being confirmed, but it’s gratifying to see my ideas debated by people not necessarily predisposed to agree (which must be nearly everyone, given that I’ve been highly critical of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama).  Indeed, I argue that all three presidents’ policies have all been functionally indistinguishable thus far, and even Barack Obama talked a good game until he acquired 300 foreign policy analysts.  Over at the RCW blog, there’s a good discussion going on between myself and the host about my New Ledger article.  If you drop by, please make us proud of the calm clarity of your logic.

Robert Koehler has the rare privilege of hosting a discussion between two of the people whose views about North Korea I respect the most – Andrei Lankov and B.R. Myers.  Frankly, I usually avoid TMH comment threads, but I hope this one continues (Baduk notwithstanding) because it’s such a rare privilege to see an exchange of views between two people as well informed about North Korea as these two men.

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