Booze, Baseball, and another "B"

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

George K. Chickenhawk...

Catching up on my LA Times editorials, this one from Max Boot particularly interested me.

Reading this article, I couldn't help but think of the now beloved "chickenhawk" terminology used by many anti-war campaigners.

Mr. Boot thinks that the deal made by with North Korea in the Six Party talks isn't good enough. I agree with his assertion that if Mr. Bush was not President, he'd probably be criticizing the agreement. That being said, Mr. Bush is President, and his views have changed while he's been in office (take "nation building" for example). Mr. Boot believes that economic sanctions are what is needed to bring Kim Jong-Il and his regime to their knees. What's funny about this assertion is that it's being made by a man who has a Master's Degree in history from Yale, and is on the Council on Foreign Relations. With those qualifications, Mr. Boot should realize that economic starvation hasn't worked against North Korean dictators for 50 years, and it didn't work in Iraq against Saddam Hussein and his regime. Why would it work now?!

Mr. Boot asserts that the US must cut off the DPRK, to bring to a stop the lavish life enjoyed by Kim Jong-Il. From the article:
The real risk inherent in the agreement is that it will extend an economic lifeline to the world's most despicable regime, a regime that, since the early 1990s, has presided over the deaths of at least 2 million of its own citizens in an unnecessary famine. A large percentage of the population remains malnourished. And more than 150,000 political prisoners -— including entire families -— suffer in slave labor camps. Meanwhile, the man responsible for all this misery, Kim, lives the life of Nero. Even as his people are reduced to eating tree bark, this pompadoured popinjay guzzles oceans of vintage cognac and wine, gorges himself on multi-course banquets of sushi and caviar and enjoys the services of multiple concubines.
Mr. Boot is missing the point on more than one item here.

First of all, the DPRK has been under nasty sanctions for quite some time, and that has not spurred a regime change. On top of that, the people in North Korea are horribly malnourished, and rely on foreign aid to get most of their food. More sanctions would hurt the people, not the government, just like in Iraq. In addition, it is not entirely clear that the people of North Korea think they need to oust Kim Jong-Il. The North Korean government has built up a strong cult of personality around him, in effect brainwashing many of the people in the country. While we all love Team America, the notion of the ouster of Kim Jong-Il is far fetched, and even if he is booted out, intelligence suggests that one of his children would be the likely successor.

Mr. Boot should know that politicians are inherently driven to stay in power; that is, leaders do not make choices that they believe will get them ousted. On top of that, looking at this situation using Prospect Theory, Mr. Boot should be aware that putting North Korea further into a domain of loss will make them even more risk acceptant, potentially to the point where they decide they need to use some of their nuclear arsenal in an offensive capacity. Nobody really knows how many nukes the DPRK does or does not have, but we have to operate under the notion that they have at least some. Putting Kim Jong-Il in a position where he feels the use of nukes is warranted would most certainly NOT be in anyone's best interest.

Furthermore, Mr. Boot takes issue with South Korea's "Sunshine" policy of engaging the North. Not too long ago, Kim Dae-Jung won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on that policy with the North. Who better knows how to deal with the North Koreans, Mr. Boot and other Chickenhawks, who cannot even get accurate intelligence and translations of what is said by the DPRK, or South Korea, their neighbors and brothers? I have long argued that engagement is the right path for the issue of a nuclear Korean Peninsula. Why is that notable? Because up until about a year and a half ago, I was very much a hardline hawk on North Korea. But when I spent an abundance of time examining the issue, I came to the only logical conclusion, that engagement is necessary when dealing with North Korea.

Taking all of this into account, why should the international community not open the DPRK to the international economy? To engage North Korea would potentially enable the economy there to move away from its primary endeavors, that is: military tech (such as missiles), drugs, and counterfeit money, and give the country and the people a chance to prosper. Of course when doing this there would have to be excessive oversight, to ensure no more "Oil for Food" program-type screw ups. But it is something that could be done, and would certainly be more palpable to the international community than continuing to squeeze a country that has already been squeezed enough.

While nobody likes political prisoners, executions, and labor camps, we have to get to a point where we realize that our current course of action is not working and that something else must be tried. Take Cuba for instance, word is Castro is still the leader there. To bind Kim Jong-Il's livelihood to the international economy, you make it so he can't go on the offensive. To fight others would hurt him, since he would be relying on other countries to buy his country's goods. This would essentially put a "leash" on Kim Jong-Il, and would act to stabilize the Southeast Asia region.

For Mr. Boot, his concern with North Korea is regime change, which he uses the human suffering in North Korea to justify. The real problem here is the human suffering. There is no realistic chance of the people in North Korea pursuing regime change if they can barely eat. Looking at Iraq, post Gulf War, history has shown that trying to squeeze a country to get the people to rise up against their leader does not work, it only hurts the people of the country. To enable regime change, first the human suffering in North Korea must be addressed.

Mr. Boot is a Senior Fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations. I don't know exactly how he got his spot, since his background does not relate to Foreign Relations. He's a well educated man, and I am sure that his new book, War Made New: Four Great Revolutions That Changed The Face of Battle, is going to be excellent. That being said, Mr. Boot is falling into a classic trap, one that someone so steeped in history should be able to avoid; those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.


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