Jewish World Review Oct. 23, 2002/ 17 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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True confessions,
and making out | Since a diplomat is a man who is paid to lie for his country, there ought to be a codicil to the Geneva Convention to prohibit diplomats from playing True Confessions.

No sooner had North Korea admitted that, yes, it has been building nuclear weapons - "and more powerful things as well" - despite its 1994 promise not to, than George W. Bush, wary of fighting the axis of evil on a two-front war, climbed down from his promise to impose "regime change" in Iraq.

Or did he? Both Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice, the president's chief national security adviser, said on the Sunday television interview shows that demands for "regime change" were history, that all Saddam Hussein has to do to stay in power is disarm himself and be nice. Saddam was, after all, re-elected last week by a landslide. Phony or not, 99.99 percent will fill any pol's drooling cup.

Mr. Powell, in fact, tried to make the point that "regime change" was never a goal of the Bush administration. "Remember where regime change came from," he said. "It came from the previous administration."

So the debate at the United Nations over what to do about Iraq being not nearly as fierce as the debate within the Bush administration, the president insisted that "regime change" is, too, his policy, even if it might not be the State Department's policy. He's willing and ready to give Saddam one more chance to be nice, the president said, but he wanted to "caveat" that, as a former famous secretary of state might say. "The stated policy of our government, the previous administration and this administration," he said firmly, "is regime change, because we don't believe he's going to change.

"However, if he were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations, the conditions that I've described very clearly in terms that everybody can understand, that in itself will signal the regime has changed." (And if Saddam's mama had iron wheels, that would signal that she's a streetcar.)

Following so closely on the North Korean disclosure, ungenerous skeptics might be tempted to see the fine hand of Karl Rove, the president's political guru, trying to fine-tune reality at the beginning of the stretch run to the Nov. 5 congressional elections. George W. is universally popular, but prospects for war are not, and the first instinct of Republican campaign gurus is always retreat.

The North Koreans are somewhat easier to read. They're the misunderstood waifs of Asia, hungry and unloved, and desperate for a friendly scratch between the ears. Only yesterday the South Korean minister for unification said he had been told privately that all Pyongyang wants is a little attention. "If the United States is prepared to abandon its hostile policy towards us," the deputy leader in Pyongyang told him, "we are ready for dialogue to resolve security issues of concern."

Kim Jong-il, the beloved (or else) Dear Leader, loves true confessions in the way of a giggling schoolgirl (which he sometimes resembles in other ways as well). He stunned the Japanese a month ago with his confession, confirming what the Japanese had always thought, that the North Koreans had years ago kidnapped several Japanese nationals and took them to Pyongyang to teach spies how to act Japanese. Playing true confessions this month with a special American envoy, he admitted that despite the agreement that Bill Clinton sent Jimmy Carter to arrange in 1994, North Korea has been diligently at work on nuclear weapons. This may have surprised credulous American diplomats, but everyone else understands that sending Jimmy Carter to negotiate with anyone is sending lettuce by a rabbit. But Bill Clinton got what he wanted, something to paper over disagreement so he could get back to the important affairs of state in the Oval Office pantry.

Under that agreement, the North Koreans promised to halt production of plutonium and not to work on nuclear weapons in return for fuel oil and nuclear reactors to produce electric power. We delivered, and now, as it turns out, they didn't. Food sent by others, like the fuel oil, was doled out only to the politically favored few. Millions starved, trying to get by on eating dogs, cats, rats, tree bark and maybe even, in a few grisly instances, each other.

Now the North Koreans see a vulnerable pressure point to get the attention they crave. They figured that George W. can deal with only one evil at a time, and sure enough, Kim Jong-il is to get smart diplomacy and Saddam Hussein smart bombs. If Pyongyang actually has nuclear weapons - Washington figures it may have two bombs ready for delivery - it's not at all clear how George W. or anyone else can turn back clock or calendar.

"The fact is," George H.W. Bush said of his son over the weekend in Des Moines, Iowa, "he is wrestling with problems probably as tough as any president has wrestled with since Lincoln." If there's a consolation here, it's that Saddam Hussein is no Robert E. Lee, and Kim Jong-il is no Stonewall Jackson.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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