Déjà Vu All Over Again: Congress Using in Iran Same Bush/Cheney Policies that Failed in North Korea

04/14/2015 03:07 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2015

Remember the incredibly successful foreign policy of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Condolezza Rice?

Remember how they improved stability and the balance of power in the world? Recall how they thwarted major attacks on U.S. soil on 9/11? Remember how we were greeted with dancing and flowers in Iraq after our invasion?

Remember how they imposed harsh sanctions and "stood up to Putin" when he invaded Georgia and then effectively annexed South Ossetia and Abkhazia as client states? Remember the high esteem in which the United States was held in the world when Bush and Cheney were in power?

Most importantly, remember how they stopped the spread of nuclear weapons to North Korea by being loud and tough and principled?

Dick Cheney remembers all that, but you can be excused if you do not.

Why? Because none of it happened.

Indeed, the opposite occurred. They left us with a far more dangerous world, while bankrupting the country and destroying middle class wealth at the same time.

Cheney, Bush and the Republican Congress ignored and dismissed every opportunity handed to them to prevent North Korea from going nuclear.

They literally snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory.

For those following the events surrounding the Iran Nuclear Framework Agreement, this is all going to sound very familiar, and it is. The very same attitudes, hidden agendas, and miscalculations that critics of the Iran Framework espouse were tried with North Korea, with the direct result of North Korea getting the bomb.

The Republicans would rather not deal with North Korea (or Iran) and let them have a bomb, than they would strike a bargain to prevent it.

As Fred Kaplan put it in his well-researched 2004 article, appropriately titled, Rolling Blunder:

The pattern of decision making that led to this debacle--as described to me in recent interviews with key former administration officials who participated in the events--will sound familiar to anyone who has watched Bush and his cabinet in action. It is a pattern of wishful thinking, blinding moral outrage, willful ignorance of foreign cultures, a naive faith in American triumphalism, a contempt for the messy compromises of diplomacy, and a knee-jerk refusal to do anything the way the Clinton administration did it. [Emphasis added].

It is also driven by the belief that it is better not to provide legitimacy to a rogue state by striking a deal with them, than it is to prevent that rogue state from obtaining nuclear weapons

The following history is distilled from the Kaplan article. (I urge my readers to read all the tragic details of this misguided, arrogant, incompetent and totally unsuccessful policy in the full article.)

Let me begin by stating the obvious: North Korea is an evil regime that will readily impose a famine on its own people, leading to 2 million deaths, to preserve its own power. Nothing in this article should be read as praise for North Korea's good behavior or intentions; rather, to the extent they were willing to compromise and not get a bomb, it was purely for self-preservation, nothing more.

Moreover, nothing in this article should be read as trusting North Korea to live up to the bargain; rather, exactly like the Iran Framework Agreement, that the intrusive inspections would provide a much better window into their compliance, as had been previously demonstrated.

What the following describes, then, is the Bush Administration's repeated failures to use North Korea's self-interest to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons, an outcome in the self-interests of the United States and the rest of the world.

Briefly, the history of North Korea's bomb begins in 1989 under George HW Bush when the CIA discovered North Korea was building a reprocessing plant next to its nuclear reactor. The purpose was clear: to take the spent rods from the reactor and reprocess them to plutonium for a bomb. No known attempt was made to halt the program before it matured.

In 1994, CIA learned that North Korea was ready to expel the international inspectors, to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty they had signed, and to move spent rods to the reprocessing plant. Bill Clinton literally made moves toward war: signaling a move of planes, missiles and troops to the area and sending a large advance team to show he meant it.

But, Hillary Clinton's husband also believed in diplomacy. He sent former President Carter to North Korea to negotiate a deal that became known as the Agreed Framework (sound familiar?). The deal did not require Congressional approval, but did require funding for our commitment to provide two light-water reactors and a large supply of oil. Japan and South Korea would help foot the bill, and movement toward normalization of relations would occur.

The Republican Congress balked, it refused to allocate the funds, and other unrelated events such as the landing of a North Korean submarine in the South, caused the Agreed Framework to languish. Then, in 2000, the heir to the North Korean throne, Kim Jong-Il, sought an improvement in relations, proposing they would halt all export of missiles and nuclear technology. The deal was nearly worked out, but time ran out on the Clinton administration.

Enter, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Condolezza Rice. Like Colin Powell, the new Secretary of State, one might have thought they would use this nearly negotiated deal as an excellent foundation. One would be totally wrong. The other three would have none of it. South Korea had just elected Kim Dae Jung, a former dissident, who believed in opening relations with the North. The Bush administration also went out of their way to humiliate him.

The working Bush-Cheney-Rice hypothesis was that by further isolating North Korea and ignoring South Korea, the former regime would crumble and the latter would elect a right-wing government.

Neither occurred. North Korea survived, and South Korea elected a president who not only favored rapprochement with the North, but in addition was decidedly anti-American.

Good job boys and girls!!

With the light-water reactors clearly not in the cards, with normalization of relations actually regressing, the CIA got wind that North Korea had been and was again acquiring centrifuges. While not directly part of the Agreed Framework that was about plutonium, it certainly violated its spirit. Confronted by the Bush administration, they admitted what they were doing.

The Bush administration then pulled out of the Agreed Framework. North Korea repeated its actions in 1994 (unlocking the storage facility, expelling the inspectors, and moving the plutonium to the reprocessing plant).

Unlike the Clinton administration in 1994, the Bush administration did nothing. They tried making the same noises, but it was half-hearted, not even sending a contingent to manage the purported influx of troops and weapons, and they soon abandoned the charade.

Nonetheless, despite all this, North Korea still sought a diplomatic way out, and contacted former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson to serve as the intermediary as former President Carter had done for Clinton. They miscalculated. The Bush administration would have none of it. It would not even allow its own envoys to speak to the North Koreans about it.

Now, today, this Republican Congress, regrettably joined by a contingent of Democrats, is about to repeat history, a very bad, totally unnecessary, and failed history.

Two years ago, I suggested that Congress could become a major threat to mid-east peace, hoping that I was wrong. Let me emphasize again that Iran bears the major burden of there being a crisis in the first place. But, wishing it away, is not going to stop an arms race in the Middle East.

As former Israeli President, Yitzhak Rabin, said: "you make peace with your enemies, not with your friends."

In that same article, I proposed that what Iran wanted more than anything was "mutual respect", and that a deal that a deal lengthened the time for them to "breakout" to a bomb was the goal.

As also pointed out, Senator Tom Cotton's (R-AR) assertion that we could destroy the Iranian nuclear infrastructure with several days of bombing would, if true, remove virtually all risk on our side from entering into that deal.

It would,however, provide Iran some measure of "mutual respect." It would also strengthen the moderates in the regime (exactly the opposite of what the Munich pact did to the Nazi regime, but that is another story).

Apparently, for members of Congress, and the entire rightwing, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is of less importance than denying them mutual respect.

And, for that, they will trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.