Whenever I mention Glyn Davies, I like to remind readers of the time he tried to pressure a State Department colleague into airbrushing a report on North Korea’s human rights atrocities for “the cause” of Agreed Framework II. Davies is about to fly to Beijing for talks with North Korean negotiator Kim Kye Gwan next week, and Kim wouldn’t have booked his ticket if he didn’t see a payday at the end of the journey. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Davies, once a protege of Chris Hill and now his successor, would love nothing more than to sign American taxpayers up for Agreed Framework III. In fact, the appointments of Davies and Wendy Sherman are the two most disturbing signs about the future of Obama’s North Korea policy, which so far has appeased North Korea much less than George W. Bush’s did.
This time, however, the timing will be tricky. Davies can’t go too fast, because if the details of what he’s offering leak before November, Obama’s opponent will be able to accuse him — correctly — of reviving a failed appeasement policy (never mind that the most recent failure was by a Republican President). On the other hand, Jang Song Thaek is smart enough to see that American and South Korean elections are perfect opportunities for extortion, and that a nuclear test could do real damage to an incumbent president’s electoral prospects. Davies will have to offer the North Koreans enough to buy them out of the headlines, at a time when Jang and his porcine puppet have an incentive to make a display of martial audacity for their own domestic audience. I’ll pass on the opportunity to wish Davies success.
The other wild card here will be the South Korean elections. If I were forced to wager on the outcome, and assuming that Obama will be reelected, I’d bet that the political left will win. One thing that I’ve learned from watching this issue for a few years is that American presidents tend to let South Korean presidents have their way on North Korea policy, even at the expense of America’s own interests. The only reason I see for this is South Korea’s extraordinary influence in Washington. If that is the outcome, we’ll be on our way to Agreed Framework III, and vastly greater odds that North Korea’s dynastic regime will survive its immediate succession crisis. This would guarantee more years of worrying not only about North Korean nukes, but also about its missiles, its artillery, its chemical and biological weapons, and its willingness to sell anything to anyone.