Jewish World Review Oct. 24, 2002 / 19 Mar-Cheshvan 5763

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

One war at a time | A whole flock of chickens is coming home to roost.

If it's not Iraq's Saddam Hussein who's about to get a nuke of his own, with all the chaos that promises, it's Korea's Kim Jong Il.

That dictator, too, has been developing his own Bomb. And may already have one.

North Korea's military, the only part of its society that may still work, will have to be denuclearized. Because its deranged leader may not only deploy nukes but use them to threaten his neighbors. He'll have to be disabused of any such plan. But he'll have to wait his turn. We've got other dictators to fry. Notably, Saddam Hussein.

Why is this threat from the Far East less immediate than the one out of the Near East? Gentle Reader will find my geography impeccable when I point out that North Korea is not Iraq:

North Korea is an isolated little redoubt surrounded by powers great and small and medium who know they've got a crazy in their attic, and are willing to restrain him. Two of North Korea's neighbors are nuclear powers -- China and Russia. Another is a commercial power: Japan.

In short, Kim Jong Il is dangerous, but he's hemmed in by neighbors who know they've got a dangerous megalomaniac to deal with.

But Saddam Hussein has cowed his neighbors in the Arab world, none of whom dare challenge him openly, much as they quietly wish him gone. Remember what Fred Thompson said? To quote the senator and country lawyer from Tennessee: "The Arab countries in the region want Saddam either dead or happy. They don't want him aggravated, and we've been just aggravating him for years."

More important, unlike Iraq's Saddam Hussein, North Korea's Kim Jong Il has confessed to violating his agreements. Just as he's admitted that his secret police kidnapped maybe a dozen young Japanese back in the 1970s. A dictator who's started to admit his crimes may be ready to throw himself on the mercy of the neighbors, at least if they're big and powerful neighbors.

Nor does Kim Jong Il sit atop a vast pool of oil wealth in his own country and threaten a vaster one just across the border in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, with all the power that resource gives Saddam Hussein. He can hope to split the major powers by giving the French and Russians first dibs on cheap oil. In a crisis, he could also hope to undermine the whole world's economy, which runs largely on oil.

There's no comparing the magnitude of these two different threats to the world's stability, unsettling as the news about North Korea is. There will be time to neuter Kim Jong Il's nuclear ambitions, diplomatically or more abruptly. Right now Iraq requires our undivided attention, and soon.

So before we mount our horse and ride off in all directions, we would do better to take as our guide Mr. Lincoln. It seems his secretary of state came up with a brilliant way to avoid the immediate threat to the Union in 1861: Declare war on both England and France. It would unite the country! Mr. Lincoln didn't buy the idea. "Mr. Seward," he replied, "One war at a time."

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