For the second time in as many months, the leader of the free world has been out-generaled by a tinhorn dictator from some far-flung corner of the globe.
The first humiliation came when Saddam Hussein upended George W. Bush's combat applecart by offering to open his country to United Nations weapons inspectors. The timing was perfect -- Bush, who had been whooping and snorting for unilateral and pre-emptive war in Iraq since late August, was forced to crab his way before Congress and the Security Council because Hussein's offer blew his battle-minded program right off the tracks.
The second humiliation was splashed across the front pages of every newspaper today, and is far more subtle a game. North Korea, a charter member of the Axis of Evil, was revealed to have a robust nuclear weapons program. Moreover, North Korean officials have confirmed that they "have more powerful things as well," according to a report in the New York Times. This revelation blatantly defies and shatters a non-proliferation agreement created in 1994.
Was the reaction of the Bush administration to call for immediate war and invasion? After all, we have no definitive proof that Iraq possesses nuclear capabilities, or chemical weapons capabilities, or biological weapons capabilities, or missile systems capable of delivering those weapons to America, and yet Bush has spent weeks storming and stomping for war.
"We shall not live in fear," he said not long ago, even though we have no proof that there is anything to be afraid of. War was the answer, the only answer, period.
Yet comes now North Korea, confirming the existence of a nuclear weapons program, offering a level of proof utterly absent in the Iraq question. Moreover, their intimation of possessing "more powerful things" suggests that they have developed and retained some of the bleaker chemical and biological demons from within Pandora's Box.
Are we going to war with North Korea? Are we demanding UN and Congressional resolutions for war?
"The United States is calling on North Korea to comply with all of its commitments under the Nonproliferation Treaty and to eliminate its nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner," said an American official quoted in the New York Times. Richard Boucher, spokesman for the State Department, released a statement which said, "This is an opportunity for peace-loving nations in the region to deal, effectively, with this challenge." Another official was quoted in the Times as saying, "We're not sure (the highly enriched uranium has) been weaponized yet."
The dichotomy could not be more clear. The Bush administration has been calling for war against Iraq based upon the rumour of the existence of deadly weapons there. But when North Korea comes right out and flaps the same weapons right in Bush's face, the response is flaccid vacillation and hedging.
Do not for one second think that this is a coincidence. North Korea has demonstrated to the world that Bush's martial bombast, his with-us-or-against-us us rhetoric for war in Iraq, has no basis in any moral absolute.
North Korea has the bad weapons for sure, and is not threatened, while Iraq has no confirmed possession of those weapons, and faces threats of war. Bush's black-and-white has been washed gray, and two despots from Pyongyang and Baghdad have tied him in knots.
It is distressing in the extreme to realize that the sitting president of the United States is not among the top five smartest leaders on the planet, or the top 10 -- or the top 20 for that matter.
Once upon a time that is not long past, the American president was the sharpest knife in the drawer. Those days are gone, and American foreign policy is being puppeteered by petty tyrants with disconcerting ease. We were told that this administration would be chock full of adults who could handle pretty much anything. They have proven time and again that they are susceptible to diplomatic manhandling by some of the more vicious actors on the world stage. This, bluntly, does not bode well for anyone or anything.
The world, apparently, has finally come to terms with the reality that the Bush administration is a violently wayward child that needs to be restrained for the collective good.
Debate regarding Iraq at the United Nations has clearly shifted away from granting Bush's wish to have immediate attack options wedged into a new Security Council resolution, signifying yet another defeat for the White House. The Arab states in particular have rallied in unison against war. The voting members of the Council, including France, Russia and China, will speak on Thursday. France and China, in particular, do not seem likely to give Bush what he wants.
This is another humiliation. The American people have not wanted Bush's war on Iraq from the beginning, yet he has blundered forward with his plans and embarrassed us all. Now, North Korea has proven to the world that the Bush administration has no moral standard of conduct in this War on Terror. The country with The Bomb gets stroked with diplomatic language, while the country with the oil sees the barrel of a gun. Nowhere in either of these equations is al Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden remains alive and free.
Perhaps more disconcerting is the fact that the Bush administration has been in possession of this information regarding North Korea's robust weapons program for nearly two weeks. Serious questions are being raised: Did the administration keep this information a guarded secret in order to ensure passage of its Congressional resolution for war on Iraq?
Certainly such information would have changed the debate in the Senate, and not to Bush's liking.
The administration will never admit to such a blatantly political scam, especially now that verified nuclear weapons are on the table. Yet there is not a wide gulf between the dots here. Connect them, and a picture of an incredibly irresponsible, dangerously outtmaneuvered and ultimately hypocritical foreign policy becomes all too apparent.