I think Asst. Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific and our chief envoy on North Korea negotiations Christopher Hill is one of the finest and most capable diplomats in America’s foreign service — but he not only has Kim Jong Il to outmaneuver but also has to outfox Vice President Cheney and his team who are always threatening to knife Hill from behind.
Hill has been close to some serious breakthrough deals with North Korea over the last 18 months, but each time Cheney and his team have unceremoniously and quietly strangled Hill’s initiatives. Cheney’s fervent opposition to negotiated outcomes with North Korea was more flamboyantly on display when his then State Department puppet John Bolton attacked and blew up the North Korea related initiatives of then Secretary of State Colin Powell and then chief North Korea negotiations envoy Jack Pritchard in 2001.
But Cheney has been at war with the Six Party Negotiations process throughout the entire Bush tenure.
The tug-of-war over North Korea INSIDE the Bush administration has created a climate of uncertainty and inconsistency in the Six Party Talks. The absence of coherent U.S. strategy combined with astute North Korean exploitation of tensions and divisions among the U.S., Japan, South Korea, China, and to some degree Russia has produced a dangerous climate where rather than deploying a sensible and compelling strategic framework and judging progress or setbacks against that — we have moved into a far more fragile situation where micro-moments of Bush or Kim’s twist this way or that have been substituted for considerations of strategy.
In other words, Bush rather than shrugging off the North Korean missile tests might just as well have announced a limited military strike against North Korean launch sites or other military assets, or might have announced a naval buildup of U.S. and allied ships off of the Korean peninsula, or could have initiated with Japan and South Korea strident and threatening joint military exercises.
But the problem with any of Bush’s actions is that they are not measured against a coherent strategic game plan.
On the one hand, one might want to applaud Bush for not “over-reacting” to North Korea’s launch of its seven missiles. One might argue that Bush is working hard to “show restraint” in his response — but the overall climate of failed results and missed opportunities needs be fixed on the Bush administration as well.
Chris Hill needs room to run, and he should be given a platform to articulate the carrots and sticks of the Bush administration’s approach to North Korea within the Six Party framework. Bush should go public and either wholeheartedly endorse what Hill is doing — or roll back the parts he doesn’t support and suggest an alternative.
But given the absence of such robust articulation, Cheney and his team focus on the parts of the North Korean agenda which strangle the economic inputs into North Korea while at the same time undercutting and sabotaging the diplomatic exchanges and opportunities — the incentives part of the package — that Hill has helped to develop.
In the absence of American leadership, Japan is now flirting with harsher security options to preserve its own security. In other words, Japan is calculating that America may be so weakened or internally consistent that it can’t be the guarantor of Japan’s security. Counting on America less, Japan may consider adding to its security tool kit preemptive strike options of its own. Fascinating and disturbing.
Japan is far away from actually instituting such doctrine, but the fact that Japan’s likely next Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is speaking out loud about such a policy is stunning. While Japan has a serious domestic allergy to home-based nukes, if America looks even less dependable in the future, Japan may flirt with nuclear weapons acquisition as well.
It’s a slippery slope.
That is the cost of the failed North Korea diplomacy of George W. Bush, Vice President Cheney, Scooter Libby, John Hannah, Robert Joseph, David Addington, Stephen Rademaker, John Bolton and others.
They have failed.
Hopefully, our envoy Chris Hill will be protected by Condi Rice and may — given the desperation of the situation — be given the opportunity to potentially succeed where the VP and others have produced such miserably poor results.
— Steve Clemons