On Jan. 13, 2003, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright blasted President Bush’s handling of North Korea in an interview with The Times of London. She told the paper that “her Republican successors had squandered their inheritance from the Clinton administration and unwisely depicted North Korea as a member of the ‘axis of evil’ with Iran and Iraq.”
A day earlier, former Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger had also blasted the blunt talk from Bush. “This kind of rhetoric just plays into the paranoia of North Korea,” Berger asserted on CNN’s “Late Edition.” Berger also rejected criticism of the Clinton administration’s handling of North Korea: “For some people in this administration, I’m beginning to think that blaming Clinton is a substitute for thinking.”
Thus continues the all-out effort to redeem the 1994 Framework Agreement. Democratic strategists and Clinton apologists understand the stakes. Having been repudiated at the polls in November, Democrats understand that national security issues are likely to dominate the politics of the country for at least a decade, and the Clinton record is the record that all Democrats, but especially Hillary, will have to defend. The trouble is, it cannot be defended. The Clinton administration did almost nothing to contain the menace of al-Qaida, allowed itself and the U.N. to be expelled from Iraq, and oversaw the depletion of the nation’s military readiness. One of the very few “achievements” of the eight years of Clinton “statesmanship” was the North Korean deal. If it turns out to have been a fool’s play, it is going to be very hard to craft the exhibits for the foreign-policy wing of the Clinton Library.
So the defenders of the Clintons have strung together a series of arguments and tactics designed to divert attention from the central question: Had the United States known the North Koreans would embark on the uranium-enrichment program shortly after signing the 1994 deal, would Clinton have signed it? The answer is clearly no, and thus the Clinton administration is revealed to have been trusting of a Stalinist thug who has starved 2 million of his people to death.
Though the Clinton machine was terrible at foreign policy, it was and remains very good at domestic politics, so a close examination of the Clinton crowd’s various arguments is in order.
First, the biggest lie is that the ’94 deal prevented the production of at least a score of plutonium weapons that would otherwise certainly have been made. This argument requires the reader to forget the various Clinton statements about the possible military options on the table in 1994. Evidently those options didn’t really exist. It was either pay and pay and pay, or watch the bomb assembly line gear up.
A corollary to this argument is that the secret uranium-enrichment program has not produced any weapons and can’t produce any weapons for at least another three years. Of course, this cannot be proved, and even participants in the negotiations leading up to the 1994 deal refuse to rule out that uranium-based weapons have been acquired. So, too, did State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who, on Oct. 17, 2002, was asked if the attempt to enrich the uranium had succeeded. Boucher responded that “It is our assessment that they had a program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, and that is as far as I can go onto the details.”
Three different sites are believed to be involved in the uranium-enrichment program, and the Washington Times has reported that one CIA estimate puts production capacity as occurring “as soon as mid-decade.” “North Korea already has several nuclear weapons, we believe,” a senior U.S. military official in Seoul told the Los Angeles Times recently. “There is a concern that if they get more, they will sell them to anyone.” Most of the Clinton apologists will admit that North Korea has at least two plutonium weapons, but none will talk much about the secret uranium program and a “worst case” scenario. To do so is to give up any hope of defending the 1994 deal.
We cannot know what has been going on in the remote bunkers and underground labs of the Hermit Kingdom, and the insistence that no real harm has occurred as a result of the secret programs is to again believe the very best scenario out there. Recall that CIA estimates on the Iraqi nuclear program were revealed as far off when the Gulf War ended. That’s the problem with brutal dictatorships – we underestimate their capacity time and time again.
Some of the more brazen partisans have also taken to arguing a variation on the “Bush Knew” attacks of early last year in reference to 9-11. Joshua Micah Marshall at TalkingPoints Memo.com cited the Nelson Report for the assertion that “the Clinton administration first found out about the illicit program in 1999, though at the time the much more pressing issue was North Korea’s ballistic-missile program. Nelson’s reporting makes clear, however, that whatever plan or agreement the previous administration did or didn’t have in the works, they fully briefed the Bush administration on North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program in January 2001.”
If this is true, it destroys the last ounce of credibility of the Clinton team. Recall that Secretary Albright clinked glasses with Kim Jong Il in October 2000 – not the preferred way to discourage dictators from breaking treaties. And if Clinton knew about the cheating, how can anyone defend Clinton’s almost desperate attempt to visit North Korea in the last weeks of his administration? When Clinton finally gave up the idea of a legacy-building state visit, on Dec. 28, 2000, the Washington Post reported that he had concluded that “negotiations on the details of a missile accord had not progressed sufficiently to reward Pyongyang with a visit.”
Clinton issued a statement that said, in part: “Let me emphasize that I believe this process of engagement with North Korea, in coordination with South Korea and Japan, holds great promise and that the United States should continue to build on the progress we have made.”
Only Clinton-haters of the first order could attribute to him, Albright and Berger knowledge of the uranium gambit in light of such statements and actions. He and his team got played for fools and did enormous damage to American security interests, but I cannot believe he would have tried so hard to get to North Korea had he known that he had been duped by his new friends.
Of course, Marshall and Nelson might believe that the Clinton administration was so badly run that the intelligence never made it to Clinton and his secretary of state, but to argue that it did get to Bush but not Clinton is a remarkable leap of logic.
So why would anyone float such a scenario? Again, it is all about diverting attention from the essential naivete of Democrats dealing with dictators.