Good Riddance, Chris Hill

Regular readers already know that Christopher Hill is one of the few career civil servants I write about here whom I loathe almost unreservedly. The first job of an American diplomat is to represent American interests and values. Hill did neither. In his parting remarks before heading off into obscurity — if history is kind to him — Hill encapsulates in one statement what made him the best diplomat North Korea ever had:

“We know the Iraqis don’t have nuclear weapons,” Hill said. “It’s a good thing. Probably Iraq is easier because at the end of the day what can you say about North Korea? You really can’t ask them to reform because asking them to reform is asking them to be destroyed. So what will be the future there? Whereas, in Iraq, I can see the future.” [Yonhap]

And by “reform,” he might as well mean “disarmament.” Indeed, it’s pretty evident he did mean disarmament, if you recount Hill’s oily salesmanship of Agreed Framework II even as the North Koreans steadily reneged on it. Hill’s belated concession that he “can’t see” North Korea’s future is really a concession that he has no vision of a North Korea that ceases to brutalize its people, attack its neighbors, and arm terrorists. But this is the vision that Hill was ostensibly charged with realizing, and it’s the vision he aggressively sold to President Bush in accumulating his power to give away so much in his negotiations with North Korea.

Of course, Hill is absolutely correct when he says that North Korea doesn’t dare to reform … or disarm. I don’t fault him for perceiving the truth. I fault him for concealing it from everyone from President Bush down to his adoring media harem who were largely too stupid to grasp that on their own. Was Hill’s perception of North Korea’s interests that much more acute than his perception of America’s interests, or did Hill simply conclude that appeasing North Korea’s interests aligned more closely with his own than advancing America’s interests? I’ll leave that question to others. What’s evident to me is that for Chris Hill, having a deal — any deal — was the object that eclipsed all others. Stated differently, Chris Hill’s diplomacy certainly seemed to be all about Chris Hill’s ambition. I’ve met plenty of people who would say the same in private, but Senator Sam Brownback was the only person with the spine to act on it.

Despite the lack of any competent reporting on why Hill left Baghdad barely a year after a difficult confirmation, I can’t bring myself to believe that someone this ambitious would be retiring to an academic job in the outer provinces if he’d been seen as an effective ambassador in Iraq. In the end, the best service Hill gave to his country was to demonstrate the futility and dishonesty of everything he advocated.

Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.