If there is one thing that all Washington should be able to agree on, it is that the United States does not want to fight another war in Korea. The bloodbath would be horrific, the financial cost would be ruinous, and the effects of such a war on the stability of northeast Asia would be unpredictable. Plus, we might not win.
Yet when President Bush was asked during his recent Asian trip about North Korea’s request for a non-aggression pact with the United States, he replied, “We will not have a treaty, if that’s what you’re asking. That’s off the table.”
For heaven’s sake, why?
North Korea has offered to give up its nuclear weapons program for such a treaty. Speaking with Thailand’s prime minister, Mr. Bush later said, “We have no intention of invading North Korea.” If that is true, then what is the Administration’s objection to a formal non-aggression pact? At the very least, offering North Korea such a pact would put the onus on them if they chose to continue their nuclear program instead. And if they did in fact give up their nukes in return for a treaty, we would walk away with a very good deal.
Here we see the underlying problem with the Bush administration’s foreign policy. On the surface, its actions often do not make sense. There is no obvious, clear, or even rational explanation for positions the administration takes. Naturally, that leads people at home and abroad to ask what is really going on. What is the Bush team up to? What is their hidden agenda? What are their real intentions and plans?
The Iraq war is exhibit A. Since Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and was not working with non-state, Fourth Generation forces (aka “terrorists”), what are the real reasons America attacked Iraq? For oil? For Israel? For world dominion? Everyone speculates, because the official answers don’t make sense.
Now the same speculation is underway about American intentions in Korea. Does America perhaps plan to attack North Korea’s nuclear facilities? Does it think a war in Korea would injure China, which elements in Washington see as a probable future enemy? Do Pentagon advocates of the so-called “Revolution in Military Affairs” believe they could win an easy victory over North Korea, thereby justifying even more money for high-tech weapons? What are the unstated, real reasons behind Mr. Bush’s refusal to consider a non-aggression pact?
It appears that North Korea may save the Bush administration from itself in this case. Secretary of State Colin Powell has indicated that the U.S. might offer a written guarantee of some sort that it will not attack North Korea, a guarantee that would be backed by China, Japan and Russia as well. After first rejecting this offer, the North Korea now appears willing to reconsider. This is wise from their perspective, because a guarantee involving the other regional powers would put more, not fewer, constraints on Washington than would a bilateral treaty. If America signed, then attacked North Korea anyway under the administration’s preventative war doctrine, it would have serious problems with China, Russia and Japan. It is all too easy to imagine Mr. Rumsfeld, at a news conference following an American strike on North Korea, referring to a non-aggression pact as a mere “scrap of paper.”
But the underlying problem remains. So long as Washington’s actions do not make sense in terms of its stated policies and intentions, people will keep wondering what the real game is. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say. One is tempted to revise a bon mot from that worst of years, 1914: in Pyongyang, the situation is serious but not hopeless; in Washington, it is hopeless but not serious.
WILLIAM S. LIND’s On War column appears weekly in CounterPunch.