Friday, September 23, 2005

Krauthammer's Rationalization

Clinton-hating, W-loving conservatives are having a tough time swallowing the "joint statement" in which North Korea agrees to give up its nuclear program and the U.S., China, South Korea, Japan and Russia agree to provide energy assistance and not to attack North Korea. After all, the right-wing has been contemptuous of Clinton for making a bilateral deal with similar terms back in 1994.

But Charles Krauthammer has figured out a way to have his cake and eat it too. In today's Washington Post, he puts forward this rationalization:

Why is the Beijing agreement different from the worthless "Agreed Framework" Bill Clinton signed in 1994 and North Korea violated (we now know) from the very first day? That agreement was bilateral. This one is six-party, but the major player is China.

No doubt that's a difference, but it isn't exactly clear why it is so important. Krauthammer rightly notes that China has leverage with North Korea that the United States lacks because of trade ties. But Krauthammer provides no reason to believe that China will utilize this leverage to make the agreement work, nor that such leverage will be effective. He just speculates that maybe China will do so, and maybe it will work.

The more important difference between the Clinton and Bush agreements is that, as Fred Kaplan has pointed out, the Agreed Framework was an actual agreement with a specific timeline of obligations. The new agreement, according to Kaplan, is merely a "preliminary step before the real negotiations—where, if history holds, North Korea will frustrate us with tricks and backtracking, and we just have to hang on tight." Moreover, this is an agreement that we could have had, Kaplan says, two years ago, before the North Koreans before the North Koreans "dropped out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, kicked the international inspectors out of their nuclear reactor, unlocked 8,000 fuel rods, and reprocessed them into enough plutonium to build several atomic bombs."

In addition to making the "joint statement" seem better than it is, Krauthammer ignores the real accomplishments of Clinton's so-called "worthless" Agreed Framework. In the absence of this deal, North Korea could have built dozens of nuclear weapons by now, instead of the handful they are thought to have. But Krauthammer, desperate for a way to make sainted Bush look better than wicked Clinton, ignores all that and focuses instead on the fact that China's on board this time.