Saturday, October 06, 2007

North Korea Without Nukes or Nuttiness?

From both sides of the ideological divide, Americans who pay attention to politics are in uncharted territory with the seeming remission of North Korea from the madness of Kim Jong-il.

After almost seven years of disdain for diplomacy, the Administration now needs judgment and skills that may have atrophied in a politicized State Department. Critics on their part will have to put aside reflexive Bush distrust and do some actual thinking about what is in the best interests of the U.S.

North Korea’s agreement this week to disclose nuclear programs and disable facilities in exchange for fuel oil or economic aid calls for a post-axis of evil policy.

It won’t be easy to get beyond slogans and do the diplomatic scut work of detailed tradeoffs, verification and policing that the Clinton experience showed are vital in dealing with one of the world’s most unreliable and capricious regimes.

Karl Rove is gone, but Dick Cheney’s warlike gnomes will still be an obstacle. John Bolton, their link to the outside world, has already decried agreements to take North Korea off the U.S. terrorism list and that of “enemy” nations forbidden from trading with us, warning that without “final” verification of nuclear disarmament, “the president will have embarrassed his administration in history.”

From the other direction, Democrats are wary too, with Rep. Edward Markey warning against being too trusting about removing sanctions against North Korea.

Although logic has never been his strong suit, Bush himself will have to reconcile cozying up with North Korea while threatening war with Iran. In public this week, he held up the former as an example to the latter of what would be possible if Iran agreed first to stop nuclear enrichment. Ahmadinejad won’t be leaping at the chance.

But as he enters a final year of lame-duckness, the most relentlessly warlike of recent presidents has the chance to undo a small fraction of the international damage done during his tenure. Will he take it, and will his friends and foes help him do it?

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