North Korea, part and parcel of the Dubya declared axis of evil, has torn the seals off its mothballed nuke plants, much to the dismay of the US, South Korea, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The assumption is the sinister Stalinists in Pyongyang will start making nuclear bombs. North Korea has over 300 Nodong-x missiles, which can reach Japan and Okinawa. It has a thousand Scud-B/C missiles, capable of hitting South Korea. Most worrisome for Bush and Clan, it has Taepodong-x ICBMs, which can reach all the way across the Pacific and hit Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and even Chicago.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Not to worry, though. Intrepid Donald Rumsfeld to the rescue. The prickly Secretary of Defense confidently told the world earlier this week the US can wage two wars at once, no problem. “We are capable of winning decisively in one, and swiftly defeating in the case of the other,” he insisted. “Let there be no doubt about it.”
No, there’s no doubt, especially considering Bush has warned the US will use nukes in response to “surprising military developments,” as spelled out in the Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The recent behavior of North Korea should come as no surprise since the Bush NPR specifically targets not only North Korea, but also Russia, China, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The Bushites want to employ a “flexible arsenal,” which is code for war-fighting with “mini-nukes” designed to be used in regional conflicts. As if to demonstrate it is not fooling around, and will pull out all stops to annihilate “rogue regimes,” the Bush administration has not only decided to throw deterrence to the wind, but will resume nuclear weapons explosions at the Nevada nuclear test site, has scornfully withdrawn from the ABM Treaty, and disrupted the work of the Biological Weapons Convention. All of this makes the assumed threat posed by North Korea and Iraq insignificant by way of comparison.
Now that Bush has drawn up his hit list and used colorful adjectives to describe his enemies, and has promised to use nukes against them if push comes to shove, we can likely expect these “evildoers” to begin developing nuclear weapon programs of their own. In fact, Russia has helped Iran build two nuclear sites, including a heavy-water plant crucial for the production of a plutonium-based nuclear bomb. Commercial satellite photographs, according to the New York Times, reveal a separate facility for producing highly enriched uranium. Iran, of course, may have what it considers good reason to develop nukes — less than friendly neighbor Israel is estimated to have around 200 ready-to-go nukes with the missiles to deliver them (the Jerico class missile can easily reach Syria, Iraq, Libya, even southern Russia; in 1998, the Washington Times reported, Israel bought three large submarines from Germany capable of carrying nuclear-armed cruise missiles).
Last year Israeli Defense Minister Director General Amos Yaron threatened to take out Iran’s nuclear program. Israel has a reputation for not kidding around when it comes to interfering in the private affairs of its neighbors — in 1981, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin ordered air strikes against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facilities. Naturally, according to the Bush neocons, the idea that Iran may consider Israel a threat hardly fits into the equation — not the way ragtag terrorists do, anyway. “We’ve never seen any evidence that Hezbollah was any place near [Iran’s] nuclear program,” one Bushite told the New York Times, “but obviously, given Iran’s support of terrorists, it’s got to be a concern.” Of course, the anonymous Bushite failed to mention that just about everybody in the Middle Eastern neighborhood considers Israel and the Sharon government as terrorists. But then double standards are old hat for US administrations going back almost fifty years.
North Korea, smarting from Washington’s abrupt cut off in oil supplies, warned that “US hawks” were “pushing the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war.” The Pyongyang government believes Bush and Crew are plotting an invasion — a not unreasonable assumption considering Bush’s outrageous evil axis rhetoric and its dangerous revision of the NPR, noted above, as well as Rummy’s recent braggadocio about fighting two wars at the same time. North Korea says it will stop developing nukes if the US signs a non-aggression treaty, something the hell-bent neocons in the White House have absolutely no intention of doing because it would sink their plan to conquer most of the world. Phil Reeker, a state department spokesman, says the US will “not give in to blackmail.”
“Even though it remains a small, failed Communist regime whose people are starving and have no petroleum, North Korea is a useful whipping boy for any number of interests in Washington,” writes Chalmers Johnson (Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, Henry Holt, 2000). Or, as Tim Savage of the Nautilus Institute notes, “If the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) didn’t exist, it would be necessary [for the US] to invent it.” North Korea, a paltry handful of nukes not withstanding, does not have the capacity or intent to threaten US interests. It simply wants reassurance the truculent Bushites will not attack. If attacked, however, the result may be deadly for hundreds of thousands of people.
But with neocons such as Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon Defense Policy Board, who is dictating policy toward “rogue states” such as North Korea, no such accommodation or understanding will be possible or forthcoming. Perle told the Korean paper Chosun Ilbo a military response to North Korea should be considered because “the danger to be brought upon us by North Korea’s nuclear development is so great that it will result in a quarantine of unprecedented comprehensiveness.” In other words, a blockade, or embargo, which most states consider an act of war. The regimes ruling both North Korea and Iraq, according to neocons William Kristol and Gary Schmitt over at the hard right Weekly Standard, “are evil, irredeemably so, and the lasting solution to the threat they pose is a change of regimes in both places… Either we act aggressively to shape the world and change regimes where necessary, or we accept living in a world in which our very existence is contingent on the whims of unstable tyrants.” Anything less is appeasement and treason.
Unfortunately for Kristol, Schmitt, Rumsfeld, and neocons far and wide, reality does not marry up with their Napoleonic dreams of empire. “In all due respect to Rumsfeld, [taking on North Korea] was a very patriotic thing to say,” retired Army Col. Ken Allard, a military analyst, told the Washington Times. “But we do not have the means, the manpower or the strategy to actually do that. We simply lack sufficient ground forces, sufficient airlift, sufficient sea lift to do those things.” Retired Rear Adm. Jeremy Taylor, a former attack pilot and carrier commander, was far less accommodating. “We have a [two-war] strategy that is totally out of whack with the size of the force we have. For the secretary to say we can handle two regional conflicts is ludicrous to the point where the rascals of the world, our adversaries, don’t believe us. We have lost our ability to deter war.”
Regardless of what Rumsfeld says about fighting two simultaneous wars, the North Koreans do not jump when the Bush Crew rattles the saber. Kim Chong-il is calling Dubya’s bluff. This is obviously an endless source of irritation for the neocons, especially after the Bush administration backed down on the North Korea to Yemen Scud missile fiasco. Or does it jive with the script devised by the Project for the New American Century (Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy), which declares unambiguously that the US will have “to intervene abroad even when we cannot prove that a narrowly construed ‘vital interest’ of the United States is at stake.” In other words, when nations such as North Korea do not actually pose a threat they become, as Chalmers Johnson explains, “a useful whipping boy,” a “rogue regime” of convenience. Not all whipping boys, however, sit passively by and allow themselves to be thrashed without a fight.
As I write this North Korea is moving hundreds of fuel rods to the reactor at Yongbyon. It will take several months to restart the reactor and possibly begin to extract weapons-grade plutonium. Meanwhile, in Seoul, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung is accusing North Korea of “nuclear brinkmanship.” Roh Moo-hyun, who will become president of South Korea in February, wants to begin talks with North Korea soon in order to defuse the situation. But the Bush neocons are not interested in talk or the “multilateralism” of the Clinton and Bush Senior years. “American policy must be to change the North Korean regime, not simply to contain it and coexist with it,” William Kristol testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 7, 2002.
Either Bush talks, or takes out the nukes in unabashed Israeli fashion. If he talks, the neocons will accuse of him of betraying his principles — which are, in fact, the principles of the neocons. If he attempts to take out the nukes and depose Kim Chong-il, missiles may very well rain down on South Korea. If he follows the latter course, he will have to fight two simultaneous wars — and imperial overreach will stretch the US military at the seams. Dread the thought, the use of “mini-nukes” on Pyongyang and the people of North Korea may then actually become an option, as spelled out in the ruthless NPR document which Bush and his cronies in the Pentagon have taken to heart.
No matter how you cut it, Dubya has painted himself into a corner. He may yet go on record as the most ill-advised and murderous US president.
For the people of Asia, let’s hope not.
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