Monday, June 08, 2009

Another Failed Bismarck with Delusions of Wisdom

You probably think this song is about you
Henry Kissinger has, in The Washington Post, a classic case of neoconservative amnesia: he imagines, incomprehensibly, that there is a demand for his advice, while stealthily dropping hints that the Obama administration wants to let North Korea keep its nuclear weapons. Best of all though, Kissinger hews to a few clangy old ideas that happen to be drug out by every neocon as foreign policy panaceas: increase missile defense and fight terror.

One thing’s for certain: Kissinger deserves credit for sticking his horrible wares out there in the free market. Somewhere in Egypt there’s a guy trying to sell sketchy-looking pigs who realizes his might not be the toughest sales job in the world. But to insist, after a thorough repudiation of neoconservative brinksmanship, that “the issue for diplomacy has become whether the goal should be to manage North Korea's nuclear arsenal or to eliminate it” and then make sly innuendos that President Obama will adopt “acquiescence” to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions – when that country tested its first nuclear bomb in 2006 – seems like a huge display of historical revisionism if not simply mad cow disease.

In spite of the facts, Kissinger frets. “The negotiating process is on the verge of legitimizing North Korea's nuclear program by enabling Pyongyang to establish a fait accompli while diplomacy runs its stately course,” worries the great statesman. He seems unaware that North Korean nuclearization has been a fait accompli for about three years now. But he has suddenly discovered that the status quo is unsustainable:

Furthermore, some public statements imply the United States will try to deal with specific North Korean threats rather than eliminate the capability to carry them out. They leave open with what determination Washington will pursue the elimination of the existing stockpile of North Korean nuclear weapons and fissionable materials. It is not possible to undertake both courses simultaneously.

So the United States must pursue either an elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons or – um – deal with its various actions after they’ve happened? The neocons have finally discovered the ominous mushroom cloud of their speeches and dreams – in the rogue nation their sabre-rattling has long nurtured.

And how would our master diplomat, advisor to Dubya about Iraq, architect of the lasting peace in Vietnam and offerer of unsolicited advice handle such a threat? With missile defense and – um – a global response to terrorism:

The enhanced role of non-state actors with respect to terrorism would have to be addressed. The concepts of deterrence against state actors are familiar, though not in a world of multiple nuclear powers. They have little or no relevance to non-state actors operating by stealth.
So our reaction to North Korea must somehow involve an emphasis on non-state terrorism? It sounds curiously disconnected from reality that the most isolated regime in the world might somehow develop ties with fanatical Muslims in southwest Asia. But stranger things have happened. In an odd bit of symmetry, eight years ago the previous administration was focused on North Korea and missile defense at the exact same moment that it should have been focused on terrorism.

Maybe Mr. Kissinger is just trying to rectify that past miscalculation. Or maybe he’s continuing Dick Cheney’s legacy of advocating extralegal wars fought in the shadows. Either way, it’s a good reminder when the man most associated with the secret bombing of Cambodia so much as suggests sinister clandestine operations why we are overwhelmingly mistrustful of unchecked government authority. And in that sense it’s fitting, really, that Henry Kissinger will always stand as a powerful argument against his own advice.

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