Democrats & Liberals Archives

North Korea - Wrong Again

Well, the cat is out of the bag. The U.S. blew it on North Korea’s uranium enrichment program. That’s right. North Korea did not have a uranium enrichment program, but because of U.S. accusations, they did jump into a plutonium program out of self defense. Think that Bush didn’t start another nuclear arms race? Well think again.

For over four years BushCo has claimed that North Korea was involved in a uranium enrichment program which would lead them quickly (if it had not already done so) to nuclear missile capability. Based upon that belief, the Bush listed North Korea among the "axis of evil," and instigated sanctions that have cost North Koreans dearly. In spite of arguments from North Korea's "crazy" leader Kim Jong Il that nothing of the sort was going on, the U.S. broke off all diplomatic relations with North Korea and started a process for the UN to add its sanctions to those of the US.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? Iraq? Iran?

Now why do we have (until the Bush administration) the rule in our criminal justice system that you are innocent until proven guilty? For exactly this reason. It is almost impossible to prove an absence of guilt.

The actions by the administration are more than a "whoops." They did force nuclear development by North Korea - plutonium rather than enriched uranium based - but now they are nuclear capable. Do you feel safer now? Just as Hussein was contained and al-Qaida was largely constrained to Afghanistan, those problems are larger now too are they not?

There is another cost to the actions taken against North Korea. It is a very human cost.

According to a 2003 Congressional Research Service report:

U.S. economic sanctions are imposed against North Korea for four primary
reasons: (1) North Korea is seen as posing a threat to U.S. national security; (2) North Korea is designated by the Secretary of State as a state sponsor or supporter of international terrorism; (3) North Korea is a Marxist-Leninist state, with a Communist government; and (4) North Korea has been found by the State Department to have engaged in proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In accordance with U.S. law, the United States limits some trade, denies trade in dual use goods and services, limits foreign aid, and opposes entry into or support from international financial institutions.

The imposed sanctions cut oil imports into North Korea, significantly impacting power generation and commerce. "Dual use" items were banned (anything that might potentially have a military use - the lead in pencils for example), economic and food aid was largely curtailed, and travel into and out of the country was also severely restricted. Bill Gertz, writing in the 6/16/06 Washington Times, states the "U.S. sanctions cost North Korea millions." However, it also likely cost more than that in human life. The people of North Korea were already on a knife's edge. It would be foolish to think that the sanctions did not push many beyond that point. Another cost of the "mistake" was the resolution of issues between North and South Korea, and a prolonging of the reunion of families that have been separated for decades.

Bush consistently refused to participate in the six party talks with North Korea. He consistently refused to give any credibility to what North Korea was saying (just a he refused to believe "that liar" Saddam Hussein). The outcome? A wronged, hungry, and more militarized country; significant damage to relations between North Korea and its neighbors.

The information regarding the intelligence uncertainty came to light in the testimony of intelligence official Joe DeTrani before the Senate Armed Services Committee. In an interview after the hearing, Senator Jack Reed (R.I.) is quoted as saying"The administration appears to have made a very costly decision that has resulted in a fourfold increase in the nuclear weapons of North Korea. If that was based in part on mixing up North Korea's ambitions with their accomplishments, it's important." (NY Times, 3/01/07) To make matters even worse, these doubts were known by the administration in 2002, and intelligence confidence continued to drop over the years as Bush continued to push his perceptions and policy.

The NY Times article quotes John Bolton in what has become the stock response regarding Bush administration policies: "there was no dissent at the time, because in the face of the evidence the disputes evaporated."

Ah that "intelligence." The spin it till it fits "intelligence." That massage it till it supports your world view, then present it to "decision-makers" intelligence. Then everyone can say (at least until the truth comes out) "Well we all saw the intelligence and it was convincing." That of course can be followed at a later date by "If we knew then what we know now..." Unfortunately, what we know now we did know then. And what we know now is that the damage to North Korea and its people, relations in the region, the increased military threat of North Korea, and yet another blow to U.S. credibility, are likely beyond simple dollar calculations.

Posted by Rowan Wolf at March 3, 2007 8:14 PM
Comment #210388


Foreign affairs and intelligence is not a court case. Our intelligence missed predicting/underestimated Pearl Harbor, the Chinese invasion in N. Korea, the N. Vietnamese conquest of the South, Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, the Pakistani A-bomb.

We do not have that kind of luxury with threats. North Korea would belong on any axis of evil just because of the regime there anyway.

You give the benefit of the doubt to every county except your own. Your point of reference is way wrong.

So you think that N.Korea behaves the way it does only because of George Bush? Read a little history. There were many in the 1930s who blamed Hitler’s behavior on the democracies.

In North Korea, as in Iran, Bush has steadfastly stuck to multilateral negotiations. Read a little about diplomacy.

Posted by: Jack at March 3, 2007 9:13 PM
Comment #210389

Looks like it is time for another round of Bushco backpedaling and rhetoric to begin. I am sure Cheney can come up with some creative positives to mask yet another damaging endeavor. Just add this to a long long list of mistakes and failures. You know what I find really revealing is that I no longer see any of their misjudgements or possible tampering as surprising. These people obviously have an agenda of their own and are lacking of either concience or brains. (take your pick) I wonder how long it will take our nation to recover from their incompetant practices. They have twenty two months to make things even worse. Too bad impeachment is off the table.

Posted by: ILdem at March 3, 2007 9:16 PM
Comment #210394

Rowan, you’ve gotten a key point, one which your whole argument rests on, horribly wrong. It’s in your first paragraph, and it’s fundamental inaccuracy pretty much makes your entire argument collapse.

You wrote:

That’s right. North Korea did not have a uranium enrichment program, but because of U.S. accusations, they did jump into a plutonium program out of self defense.

But the article you link to says this about the allegedly innacurate intelligence about a uranium program:

The blunder does not concern the plutonium-based bomb technology that North Korea used in its test and has clearly been developing for decades.

So this notion that North Korea started their plutonium weapons program out of self-defense in reaction to Bush is clearly false. They had been doing it for “decades” already according to your own evidence.

This is no small matter, because it completely undercuts the notion of an innocent North Korea that was just peacefully playing by the rules until they were falsely accused by Bush and forced into an arms race out of “self-defense.”“

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at March 3, 2007 9:42 PM
Comment #210409

Well, I’m not trying to make a court case, but the trend of policy decisions points to more than one mistake. I believe that what the situation with North Korea shows is the impact of group think.

From early on, the administration has been described as operating within a closed circle. That seem pretty clear with what we know of the machinations going into Iraq, and now a similar set of issues regarding North Korea. Now we see a similar technique being used to build a case against Iran.

Beyond that, the closed loop (referred to as a “cabal” by some)is costly in life, land, and economically. It is not making us “safer.” In fact most analyses show a direct increase in the dangers facing the world.

I made no claim that North Korea was an ally. There are long and ongoing issues there. However, things were relatively smoothly with North Korea before the Bush administration decided to throw a working agreement into the trash.

Posted by: Rowan Wolf at March 3, 2007 10:35 PM
Comment #210415

Nearly every country on this planet is in an arms race out of self-defense. North Korea is no exception, reguardless of how long they have been at it. Prior agression does not in and of itself prove future agression. The United States likes to claim that only it and those countries that it deems allies are doing it for self-defense and other countries are only engaged in an arms race for agressive purposes.

The United States, while claiming self-defense, has gone beyond that and is now embracing a new policy of preemptive agression. The countries that have been chosen for this new policy are countries who are not cooperating in the American version of the New World Order.

Posted by: jlw at March 3, 2007 10:52 PM
Comment #210417


“Smoothly with North Korea”

You might want to check into the regime’s history.

With Iran, what exactly is your problem? The U.S. has no objection to Iranian nuclear power. The Iranians brag about their push to nuclear weapons. I think they called it a train w/o breaks. The U.S. is working with allies and others to rein in Iran with mulitlateral action. Do you suggest something else?

With N. Korea, for the first time we have managed to get the Chinese (who have the influence with N. Korea)& Russians committed. There is a reason N. Korea likes to make it bilateral and it is not in our benefit. The Six Party agreement is a great achievement. What would be your policy? Do you prefer the bilateral bribery strategy?

Dems are very frustrating. They advocate a policy until Bush does it. Then they complain, but offer no real solutions.

Posted by: Jack at March 3, 2007 11:02 PM
Comment #210418

Jlw, the fact is that “nearly every country” is NOT engaged in an arms race, which is precisely why we try to curtail North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. If they have nuclear weapons, then Japan and South Korea will need them too. And this is not just idea held by the US—it’s the UN, and all of North Korea’s neigbors.

However, things were relatively smoothly with North Korea before the Bush administration decided to throw a working agreement into the trash.

Rowan, please explain. In what sense were things going smoothly? How was there a working agreement in place that was trashed by Bush?

You mean the “working agreement” in which North Korea was bought off with food shipments, technology, and cash in exchange for retiring a nuclear weapons program that they had never abandoned for a second?

Honestly, I see a pattern here.

Things are “quiet” and peaceful—which means that we are looking the other way, lulling ourselves to sleep and pretending everything is perfectly okay when it obviously isn’t. Then those nasty Republicans come along and start making noise, pointing out things like active illegal nuclear weapons programs that were so much easier to ignore. And presto: the illusion of peace and quiet vanishes.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at March 3, 2007 11:03 PM
Comment #210427
So this notion that North Korea started their plutonium weapons program out of self-defense in reaction to Bush is clearly false.

No, it’s absolutely correct — as I ponted out in my article on the subject a couple weeks ago.

President Bush accused North Korea of having a uranium enrichment program and pulled out of the 1994 agreed framework that kept Kim from building nukes.

Kim subsequently kicked out the IAEA monitors who sealed and guarded North Koreea’s plutonium reactor, removed the plutonium fuel rods that had been used for electrical power generation (not weapons, LO), spent a couple years reprocessing them to weapons grade, and built ten to twelve bombs. And even tested one.

Kim had no nukes or nuke program until after President Bush broke the treaty. In response to the broken treaty, Kim developed plutonium weapons. The uranium program President Bush accused him of having has never been found, and the Bush administration is now backpedalling on the charge.

Rowan is absolutely right.

But the absolute worst part is that President Bush drew line after line in the sand, and Kim crossed every one without suffering any consequences.

You righties like to complain that talking about the Iraq war emboldens our enemies, but when President Bush rolls over and allows North Korea to develop ten nuclear weapons, you guys give him a pass.

There’s no doubt that Iran is emboldened by how President Bush utterly failed to “keep the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous regimes.”

Posted by: American Pundit at March 3, 2007 11:48 PM
Comment #210439

By “smoothly” I meanly generally stable and not hostile. The Clinton administration had negotiated an agreement with North Korea whereby they would not continue their nuclear weapons pursuits in exchange for aid and oil (among other things). From what I read (back when Bush decided to take the Clinton agreement off the table) nothing substantive had changed with North Korea - at that time. The Bush administration pulling out of that agreement started a process of deterioration (and threats from Il).

North Korea has clearly been problematic for a long time - we did fight in the Korean War after all. However, until whatever happened between Il and Bush, North Korea seemed to be contained. In fact, negotiations were going on between North and South Korea to formally end the Korean War.

Posted by: Rowan Wolf at March 4, 2007 12:35 AM
Comment #210443

How do we determine what’s a threat in the first place? That is the Catch 22 of downplaying the problem of groupthink in Bush administration intelligence. The fervent pursuit of a war in Iraq, and the botching of the intelligence gather are not not unrelated.

We determine what our threats in the world are by examining the intelligence. When our intelligence is flawed, our picture of what threatens our country is flawed.

Iraq was not the threat to this country that Bush made it out to be. The only reason we fight terrorists there now at all, in the few numbers that al-Qaeda actually has there, is the botching of the war plan also precipitated by a failure to accept intelligence and expert opinions that would inhibit their taking this country into war.

Result? The problem they intended to make better, they’ve made worse.

We don’t need to make an airtight court case. We just need to know what our enemies are really up to, rather than stumble and flail around at the shadows of our leader’s paranoia.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at March 4, 2007 1:12 AM
Comment #210462


I am not privy to the “real” intelligence, but I followed the Iraq debate as closely as any ordinary citizen can. Before the war, the intelligence operations all over the world thought Saddam had WMD. The Russians, Egyptians & Saudis warned us NOT to attack Saddam BECAUSE he would use WMD. The intelligence services all over the world failed becuase intelligence is hard.

When the Libyans revealed their program. They were well in advance of what we thought. Pakistan tested an A - Bomb and neither our nor India’s intelligence predicted it. Intelligence is always flawed. Otherwise they would call it news (which is also wrong a lot, BTW).

Decsion makers always must act in the climate of uncertainty. That is what a decision is. We do not make decisions about certain outcomes, we just do them.

When people talk about the certainty of a court case in intelligence, they clearly know little about either intelligence or decision making in general. I get a little annoyed at all the ex-post-facto analysis. It is like those movies where some ordinary guy gets elected president and his common sense triumphs. A nice thought, but kinda unrealistic.

The other imporant thing to remember is that the game is never over. We are making decisions today based on flawed intelligence and incomplete analysis. This is unavoidable. We can work to improve particular decisions, but we are still stuck with what we have. We do not have a choice about decisions. Doing nothing is an option, but not a safe decision.

I think the debate should be something like this. We made the decision about Iraq based on generally accepted by flawed intelligence. Since then, events have not unfolded as we anticipated. HOW did we make mistakes and what processes can we improve and where do we go from here?

Posted by: Jack at March 4, 2007 10:54 AM
Comment #210475

They “seemed to be contained” but on the other hand, when confronted with evidence about clandestine nuclear weapons programs they ADMITTED it. And this preceded their inclusion in Bush’s “axis of evil” comments.

It wasn’t just intelligence, which may or may not have been faulty. It was North Korea saying, “Yep, we’re building nukes.” I don’t know what more you people want—that is, except to tirelessly blame Bush for the bad behavior of everybody on the planet.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at March 4, 2007 1:55 PM
Comment #210478


The intelligence was never accepted by the world community and if it was we would have had more allies in this war. People like Scott Ritter, the chief inspector in Iraq, were saying there were absolutely no weapons there. The intelligence was crafted to support an argument bamboozling Americans into supporting a war.

The weapons inspections Clinton set up in North Korea worked. Bush stopped negotiating with North Korea and pulled out the inspectors. Things fell apart. Again, Bush made a decision based on neocon philisophy, in this case no discussion with dictators of any kind, and it didn’t work. It was the wrong choice. I can respect where Bush was coming from, in many of his choices, but now we all know he was wrong.

So now there’s a mess to clean up.

Posted by: Max at March 4, 2007 2:13 PM
Comment #210485


Please look back at what people actually said at the time, not what they say they said now. As with all intelligence, there were those who disagreed. The consensus, however, the reason all those Dems voted for the Iraq resolution, was that he had WMD.

Re intelligence - Bill Clinton made regime change in Iraq a U.S. policy in 1998. He never changed his opinion and when he left in 2001, it was still U.S. policy based on the accepted idea that Iraq had or was developing WMD. Nothing spectacular was developed to change those opinions in the next two years.

SO this is what we know for sure. Bill Clinton thought Saddam had WMD until at least 2001. Contradictory new information came in after that, but most intelligent people - including the professionals at the CIA, thought Saddam has WMD. The Clinton appointee CIA director told Bush it was a slam dunk.

As for allies, how many allies would we have to stop the genocide in Darfur? We had plenty of allies, but not many wanted to contribute very much. A majority of the European countries supported the U.S.

Besides, not everyone was equally unhappy about Saddam. The Russians, Chinese and French were making good money. They were not very upset about the WMD or the oppression.

In the case of Korea, the U.S. has done a great job of getting others, especially the Chinese, involved. A bilateral agreement is very unstable. The N. Koreans - the strangest regime on the planet - can decide not to cooperate. If it is just the two of us, leverage is limited.

Re negotiating with Iran, it has been and is being tried.

In both Korea and Iran, Bush has done exactly what his critics complain he should do re mulitlateral. And he is achieving success.

Posted by: Jack at March 4, 2007 3:03 PM
Comment #210493

Jack said

Before the war, the intelligence operations all over the world thought Saddam had WMD. The Russians, Egyptians & Saudis warned us NOT to attack Saddam BECAUSE he would use WMD. The intelligence services all over the world failed becuase intelligence is hard.
Two comments:
  • Then this was all the more reason to leave the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq to finish their job, instead of ordering them out so we could invade.
  • Egypt also warned Bush not to invade Iraq because it would “create 100 new bin Ladens”.
So why did the Bush Administration ignore the warnings? Why weren’t they prudent? What was wrong with the Powell Doctrine?
Bill Clinton made regime change in Iraq a U.S. policy in 1998. He never changed his opinion and when he left in 2001, it was still U.S. policy based on the accepted idea that Iraq had or was developing WMD.
C’mon, Jack. There’s a huge difference between “a policy of regime change” and a “policy of pre-emptive invasion” of a country that had nothing to do with 9-11, nothing to do with those who attacked us on 9-11, and who posed little or no threat to us. Surely you understand the nuance.

Posted by: ElliottBay at March 4, 2007 4:30 PM
Comment #210503


We are not debating the wisdom of the war here. I am merely pointing out that the idea that only Bush thought there were WMD or that he lied is not supported by the facts. I was pointing out that Clinton believed the same things. He had reason to believe Saddam had or was developing WMD. He also mentioned many other reasons, BTW.

Posted by: Jack at March 4, 2007 6:03 PM
Comment #210512

Maybe I read thru this too quick. I don’t think I saw any of the neocons use the “all carrot and no stick” line. Did I miss something?

Have we now evolved to the “intelligence is always faulty” defense? Wouldn’t that be the reason to exercise a certain degree of restraint?

In the case of Iraq I paid a lot of attention. Hans Blix all but begged for more time and the AEI and PNAC pushed like crazy from the neocon “fringe” of the Republican party………..oops, did I say fringe?

That was, nor is, any “fringe” movement. The neocons are alive and well. In just the past few days Condi has appointed Eliot Cohen who was one of PNAC’s founders and, while he’s been critical of our failed occupation of Iraq, he advocates an Iraqi “coups d’état” as a plan B if the “surge” fails.

In the meanwhile Bush & Company continue with the same braggadocious BS. What they’ve really achieved is the outsourcing of American diplomacy. Given the stature of our current diplomatic corps maybe that’s not a bad thing. We do have Ahmadinejad meeting with the Saudi’s.

The Arab League is demanding a timetable for the exit of Coalition forces from Iraq. Maybe, just maybe, the rest of the world will rescue us from the mess Bush and Co. have gotten us in. It’s doubtful though if we continue to rely on the “group think” of PNAC and the AEI.

The North Korean people are suffering. We could improve our international image a hell of a lot right now by giving a little “carrot” in the form of humanitarian aid. That hardly means kissing Kim’s butt. I seriously doubt “food aid” to North Korea could be sold for arms at this point.

In the midst of all this what’s up with Putin? IMO we have already initiated the beginning of a new cold war. Are we so convinced that armageddon is near that we feel we must set it in motion? Does anyone else think it’s a bit insane to open our southern border to foreign truck traffic?

The insanity of this “regime” is simply mind boggling.

FYI, Rowan’s article was also posted at:
with a very complementary pic of GW.

I hope it’s OK to post that. If not let me know. I make it a policy to never repeat the same mistake, unlike certain (most) members of our government.

Posted by: KansasDem at March 4, 2007 7:36 PM
Comment #210568
Besides, not everyone was equally unhappy about Saddam. The Russians, Chinese and French were making good money. They were not very upset about the WMD or the oppression.

WMDs? Which WMDs? The 1441 was a very twisted resolution puting the burden of proving innocency on the accused, not the accusator(s).
Any first year law student knows it’s flawed.
And the pro-war never said publicly “we suspects Iraq could have WMDs”. No, they said “we *knows* Saddam have WMDs”. Powell did. Cheney did. Bush did.
They never present any valid proof, though.

But no, they said “we knows” *based* on what fragile intelligence they got at this time.
If that was really the case, they should have said “we highly suspect Saddam to have WMDs”.

But no. They said they “knows”.
Which was not truth.

And not many in the world fall to their prescient Irq’s WMDs “knowledge”. Powell speech at UNSC was not well received. Check again. He made a fool of himself (and the US with him).

Oh, looks, nice 3D WMD mobile lab truck! What a definitive proof!
Oh, looks, small white powder in a tube! Yeah, that’s our proof Saddam have antrax ICMB ready to spread it all over american cities!
Oh, looks, here a document we don’t care being classified as forged proving that Saddam buy Yellow Coke to Nigeria and have ICMB ready to form a mushroom cloud over London!

What a disgrace… Ruining US foreign credibility for decades in a few insane lines.

But who cares today!?
Everything changed since. Today, everybody is equally happy about Saddam. The Americans - alone - are making good money in Iraq, at a very cheap soldiers lives price. They’re not very upset about the lack of WMDs or the civil war they ignite.

You’re right, Jack, only the name of people making money and spreading violence in Iraq have changed since.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at March 5, 2007 12:53 PM
Comment #210596

Bush supporters believe Bush will be vindicated in 20 or 30 years. Well guess what? There ain’t gonna be no America, as we know it, in 30 years. Some idiots, like the North Koreans or Hezbolah or even the Isreali’s are gonna push the button and why? Because we didn’t talk to them…how grown-up is that? Dump all the politicians as they are all crooks, liars, incompetants and care nothing about you or me. Where are the good people? These guys are passin bills, Patriot Acts w/o even reading them. Quit taking sides and DO SOMETHING! We need to get mad, real mad!, Yeah we got bad intelligence and it’s running rampant throughout our government and society as a whole.

You wanna fix oil addiction, hey DO IT! You want to stop the war, cut off the money. You want to fix health insurance? Socialize it and say FU to the doctors and pill makers, just DO IT!

If our polititcians would get off their behinds and do some WORK! these problems are fixable. What happen to the idea that we can do whatever we want? When did that die?

Posted by: chuck soda at March 5, 2007 4:07 PM
Comment #210652
What happen to the idea that we can do whatever we want? When did that die?

I guess the globalization of economy was quickly used by ultraliberalists to justify the notion that people, not the market, have their destiny in their hands is now void.

But the idea is not dead. Just snozzing.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at March 6, 2007 4:08 AM
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