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A Foreign Policy Success for Bush?!

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Reposted from Foreign Policy In Focus

The vehemence of the hard-line opposition to the Bush administration’s North Korea policy suggests that, after seven years of blunders and miscues and outright war crimes, Washington has finally done the right thing on a foreign policy issue.

I know: it’s really hard to keep the knee from jerking. Heck, I wrote a whole book on the flaws of Bush’s North Korea policy, so I am predisposed to skepticism. But just look at how angry John Bolton and the congressional hawks are at the recent Bush administration decision to take North Korea off the Trading with the Enemy Act list and the State Sponsor of Terrorism list. Never mind that North Korea has served up an accounting of its nuclear programs and even destroyed the cooling tower of its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, as per agreement. The bottom line: this is what diplomacy smells like. Bolton and company, however, catch only the whiff of sulfur.

Some hardliners are furious that the Administration has pushed ahead on a nuclear agreement with the North Korea without addressing human rights concerns. Tokyo is furious that Washington didn’t consider North Korea’s abductions of Japanese citizens in the decision to remove Pyongyang from the terrorism list (an issue I explore in more detail in The Abduction Narrative of Charles Robert Jenkins). Others have argued that North Korea has not come clean on its uranium enrichment program or the proliferation of nuclear technology. It’s like “the police sitting down with the Mafia to discuss their common interest in law-enforcement,” writes John Bolton.

But it’s not just Republicans doing the screaming. Some Dems want to get their licks in too. “The president has caved,” says Brad Sherman (D-CA), a liberal hawk who, with his pal across the aisle Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), is trying to block the removal of North Korea from the terrorism list. “He’s desperate to tell voters that the Republicans have accomplished something, and even more desperate to get something good in the history books, and he just took whatever they could get out of North Korea, which is pitiful, as far as a declaration.”

Wait a second, Brad. The declaration is pitiful? First of all, North Korea delivered 18,000 pages of documentation on its plutonium program. Second, it has provided an accounting of its reprocessed plutonium that now falls within the range of U.S. estimates. Third, it has not just frozen its nuclear facility – it has begun wiping it from the face of the earth. Finally, it is ready to submit to a rather strenuous verification process that includes visits to facilities, interviews with North Koreans, and technical sampling.

What about uranium and proliferation? The uranium program has been largely a red herring. It was never a significant program, not now and not in 2002 when the Bush administration used such allegations to deep-six a 1994 agreement that froze North Korea’s plutonium program. As for proliferation, neither Israel nor Syria nor the United States has produced a smoking gun. Still, the only way to get to the bottom of these issues is through continued negotiations, and Washington says that Pyongyang has acknowledged these concerns.

In the meantime, we’re seeing a repeat of the 2000 mini-détente between the United States and North Korea. In addition to lifting sanctions, Washington will be paying North Korea over $100 million in funds to dismantle its nuclear program and in energy aid. Thousands of tons of U.S. wheat arrived in North Korea last week, and the United States will be providing the bulk of the World Food Program’s food aid to the country. Chief U.S. negotiator Chris Hill has even been talking about institutionalizing the Six-Party Talks and establishing a regional security mechanism (one of China’s big asks).

There are plenty of obstacles on the path toward denuclearization and normalized relations between the United States and North Korea. And the latest development is not exactly a geopolitical realignment on the order of Nixon in China. U.S. policy toward the Korean peninsula and East Asia generally remains a potent cocktail of militarism and neoliberalism.

But this latest news out of East Asia is cause for modest celebration. And when the Bush-bashing comes from the likes of John Bolton – he laments with a straight face that the North Korea agreement signifies the administration’s “total intellectual collapse” – it’s time to take a deep breath, get a firm grip on those jerking knees and give praise where praise is due.

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