Saturday, October 07, 2006

Shifting Gears

Well, it's been another long and tiring week. My Spanish courses were quite frustrating this week - we're just moving too fast at this point and I feel like I'm falling behind. And my English class schedule was fairly brutal (6am class, 8pm class). But, it's the weekend and we're off to a country farm for the night (owned by my wife's uncle who is going with us) and we'll be relaxing properly.

At any rate, with all the crazy insanity of the GOP covering up a sexual predator in their ranks, and now hustling to blame anyone but themselves for not acting, I'm feeling that a variety of stories are being ignored. It's election season, so that's no surprise, but shockingly, there's more going on in the world than just Mark Foley's emails and the GOP cover up. So, a popouri will have to do.

Transatlantic Terror Update

This is something I've been wondering about for a little while now. We heard all the hub-hub when the arrests were made by the Brits that the would be terrorists were in the late stages of planning. I expressed pessimism about that point given the pretty radical failures of police in the US and UK to not just make arrests, but actually get convictions for terror plotters (I believe we're 0-infinity right now). In fact, the whole exercise of arresting would be terrorists seemed more like a "I saw a Muslim with a beard and he gave me a dirty look, he must be a terrorist" kind of operation than actually substantive police work.

At any rate, the difference in the UK appears to be that these guys really were planning terrorist action, at least as much as I'm planning on getting a job. That is, a couple guys sitting around bitching about the West and how it treats Islam eventually come around to the topic of terrorism, hatch a plot, and then start making some plans. That doesn't mean that they were anywhere near to actually launching a terrorist operation as we had been lead to believe.

The latest, via the Washington Monthly blog:

"The US warned Britain that it was prepared to seize the key suspect in the UK's biggest ever anti-terrorism operation and fly him to a secret detention centre for interrogation by American agents, even if this meant riding roughshod over its closest ally...

...The Americans' demand for Rauf's quick arrest dismayed the British intelligence services, which were worried that it could prompt terrorist cells in the UK working on separate plots to bring forward their plans or go underground....

...The intelligence source said the alleged plot had not been at the advanced planning stage."

Yep, you read that right. The US told Britain, our closest ally, that if they didn't make arrests, then we would - even if it was illegal. We're the kind of buddy that threatens to beat you up if you don't give us your lunch money.

But the way we treat our allies isn't really a surprise in the era of the Cowboy Presidency. In fact, none of this is a surpise.

So, to sum up, the Brits had an ongoing surveillance operation, they wanted to continue generating evidence, there was no imminent threat of action, the US threatened their closest ally, forcing an arrest, the arrest sent other potential terror cells operating in the UK further underground, and everyone was lied to about an imminent danger of "mass murder".


The hand that feeds Speaker Hastert

Just in case you haven't had enough, I found this story to be totally shocking. It's incredible to see just how corruption can prosper legally in your home country.

The basics, House Speaker Denny Hastert buys land for $5,600 per acre. Then he pools land with GOP buddies. Then, in the 2007 Transportation bill, he earkmarks $207 million for building a highway that goes past that land - a highway that the people and state government of Illinois don't want or need. Then land developer comes in and buys land for $36,152 per acre. Hastert nets $3,118,000. It's good to be the House Speaker, huh?

The Washington Monthly has the full scoop.

The Korean Proliferation Debacle

For the last 6 years, the Bush administration has turned a blind eye to the growing problem in North Korea. By all rights the ongoing nuclear crisis has been a collaboration between the North Korean government and the US. First a brief primer.

Short History

After the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994, North Korea inadvertently became a test case for “constructive engagement,” the policy of cooperating with a “rogue” nation (offering carrots) while also making clear the costs of non-compliance (sticks). This strategy encompassed two policy actions: the US led 1994 Agreed Framework (AF) and South Korea’s so-called “Sunshine Policy” initiated in 1998. The US brokered AF sought to freeze the DPRK’s nuclear program and replace it with civilian nuclear power, while president of South Korea Kim Dae Jung (1998-2003) argued strongly in favor of engaging the North through his controversial sunshine policy.

The essense of the Agreed Framework was that North Korea would shut down its nuclear reactors and allow IAEA monitors in for inspection in exchange for US funded construction of Light Water Reactors and fuel oil during the construction period. Essentially, the US agreed to build civilian nuclear power plants that couldn't be used to create nuclear material, if the North agreed to abandon its nuclear program. Fuel oil was critical to the deal because the North had to have power in the interim between the shutdown of its graphite reactors and the completion of the Light Water Reactors.

Fast forward about 4 years, a medley of shannigans on both sides, and we come to the straw that broke the camel's back and has the North positioned where it is today. In 1998, the GOP led US Congress slashed funding for fuel oil, essentially rendering the Agreed Framework moot. There were a lot of things that went into that decision (more or less US dissatisfaction about North Korean missile jibjabbery), but the point is, the situation we have today is largely because, since that moment, US policy on North Korea has been essentially non-existant.

The current situation

The Bush administration, as reader's of this space are fully aware, isn't exactly into "carrots." This is the most hawkish presidency in recent memory and their negotiating strategy is always pretty much, "do what we want or we'll bomb your cities into the stone age." With Korea, Bush has pretty much not had a clue from the get go. See the 2004 Presidential debates for the vacant stare on the Cowboy President's face when asked about the North Korea problem.

Today, we find ourselves in a precarious situation. The North has declared that it is ready and willing to test nuclear weapons. This is a warning shot off our bow. Prior to the Indian test in 1998, they continually urged the US to fullfill its Article 6 Commitments to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (work to reduce Nukes to zero) with the threat of a test for non-compliance. Well, the US didn't care much for the NPT, didn't make significant strides to reduce it's nuclear arsenal, and India tested. Pakistan followed suit shortly after.

What's the lesson from this? Nations that give warnings of nuclear testing generally don't want to test. They see it as a last resort. The warning is designed to call attention to a specific problem. In other words, it's the "stick" to the "carrot" of negotiation, peace talks, what have you. The North issued a public warning about it's nuclear ambitions not because it's gloating, but because it wants something. The question is what.

After thinking about it, and reading this post from the Washington Note and this excellent post from Arms Control Wonk, I have settled on four issues that are bothering the North.

1. The Secretary General of the UN problem - As everyone should be aware by now, the UN is set to select a new Secretary General in the coming months. The favorite is former South Korean Minister of Defense Ban Ki Moon. By all accounts, it seems inevitable that Moon will be in charge of the UN come January 1, 2007.

This is a potentially dangerous move. Selecting a South Korean to head the UN creates several problems for North Korea. On the one hand, it represents a threat to its legitimacy with its people. North Koreans (there is no distinction between North and South other than political) will be immensely proud of a Korean in charge of the United Nations. It will be impossible for the repressive North to contain the information or control opinion through propaganda. Whether Moon does a good job or not is irrelevant. He'll be one of the most important men in the world and Koreans everywhere will love him. It goes without saying that having the repressed people of the North idolizing or fawning over an important leader from the South represents a legitimacy crisis for the North.

2. The next Secretary General won't be seen as unbiased in peace negotiations with the North. This is a potentially more grave problem. Regardless of Moon's job performance or involvement with the 6-Party talks or any future negotiations with North Korea, it's clear that he will not be viewed as an independent negotiator. His appointment risks relegating the UN to the sidelines on one of the most important security issues of this century simply because the North won't trust him or any of his "minions". Not good.

3. The North is getting squeezed by new US financial sanctions. It goes without saying that when you are an outcast nation, you don't have too many options for revenue generation. The North, after suffering years of strong sanctions, have used three things to generate cash - missiles, drugs, and conterfeit US dollars.

(And this is why the mid-90's consternation about the North's missile sales to Pakistan was a clear case of seeing the trees but missing the forest. Sanctions left them with no choice.)

Cleverly, the Bush administration identified foriegn (Asian) banks that aided North Korea's counterfeiting operations and cracked down. US companies are not permitted to trade or have any dealings with those banks. It appears that the new round of sanctions has worked. The situation in the North appears more desperate and, as history shows, when the North gets desperate, they don't cave, they up the ante.

4. The North wants to resume talks, but the US doesn't. This is the crux of the problem, as I see it. At no time, do I think, has the North actually wanted to be a rogue nation with nuclear weapons, continually at risk of military action by the United States. Rogue leaders generally want to keep power. It's good for them. They get lavish palaces, absolute power over their people, and pretty much anything else they want. But, they have to walk a fine line between being a rogue and a dangerous rogue.

Saddam Hussein is a great example. He made a grave miscalculation before the US invasion, thinking that he had more time to stall and obfuscate. He just never realized that he was dealing with the Cowboy Presidency.

But North Korea is different. They have continually desired reintegration with the South that would lead to eventual reunification. They've never desired to be a rogue. But when the crunch starts affecting a dictator's own personal benefits, well, they get a bit more desperate.

Hurt my people, that's ok, I'll just blame you and see my popularity rise. Hurt me, and I'll have to find a way to hurt you back.

Now, we're dealing with a situation where the North sees a variety of concerning details rising on different fronts. By all estimations, they're not committed to a nuclear test because that's a point of no return. Instead, it appears that they're using the same negotiating tactic of the last 15 years - threaten when you want something. And this time, they want negotiations, they want to go back to the table.

Sadly, nobody in Washington is listening.


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