Thursday, June 22, 2006

Destroy North Korea's ICBM?

William Perry and Ashton Carter make a strong argument for this course of action in today's Post.

Scattered thoughts I've had over the last couple of days:

1. This seems to me like something we may have to do. However, many of the relevant considerations are esoteric, and I think we all need to recognize that experts (like, e.g., Perry...though I don't mean to prejudice the discussion in favor of his conclusion) are going to have more reliable judgments about what to do than most of the pajama pundits in the blogosphere.

2. I think we should worry about using ABM technology for exactly the reasons Perry and Carter cite--the North Koreans will already have lots of data by the time the missile is in ABM range and, perhaps even worse, there's almost no reason to trust our ABM capability. It'll probably miss, and that'll just make things worse by neutralizing whatever deterrent value it currently has.

3. I don't want to turn this political, but it's important to note a few things. Right now is not the time to think about them, but when this is all over they demand our attention:

3a. Perry and Carter claim--as do others--that diplomacy could have avoided this. If we really have come to this point because of yet another failure of diplomacy by the Bush administration, we need to take that fact very seriously.

3b. My own way of thinking about such things goes something like this: every now and then you're going to have to do something radical that can be construed--even in some cases by reasonable people--as being aggressive or otherwise wrong. This constitutes yet another reason to make sure that your actions are unimpeachably reasonable absolutely whenever possible. You want to make sure that you have an impeccable record, so that when you have to do something that might be interpreted as being on the borderline, it will fit into that overall pattern of reasonable action. You want to make sure that as many people as possible will reason about your actions like so: well, x seems a bit fishy, but if they're doing x, it must be the right thing to do. (Note: the reasons for this--especially in international affairs--are obvious, and have nothing to do with mere worries about popularity.)

The U.S. used to be in a position approximating the one described above. We had such a cache of moral capital that, when we had to do something like this, we could do so without seeming like psychos. Our store of moral capital probably reached its height just after 9/11, but the Bush administration has acted so unreasonably and undiplomatically that this store was squandered, and is probably at its lowest point ever. So, unfortunately, even if a first strike against North Korea (note: a preventive strike, not a preemptive strike, as Perry and Carter mistakenly suggest) is the most reasonable course of action, it will cost us dearly, and might very well backfire. This administration has acted so irrationally to this point that many even reasonable people will see this as fitting into that pattern of irrational action. We twisted the facts to rationalize military action in Iraq, our diplomacy with Iraq, Iran, and North Korea has been incompetent, we were too eager to suggest military--even nuclear--strikes against Iran...and so now when we may, in fact, need to take decisive, preventive and aggressive action, we are at a disadvantage. We are like the boy who cried 'wolf'...or, rather, like the boy who cried 'wolf' and then fired blindly into the bushes. We now have a reputation for the dangerously irresponsible use of force and threats thereof, and that is a burden that will weigh us down for years--and perhaps decades--to come.

Some people--the hate America crowd at home and abroad--will always find a way to blame the U.S. no matter what we do. So there is no reason for us to take their opinions into account. The unreasonably aggressive actions of the Bush administration, however, have created a situation in which even many reasonable individuals and governments who would normally support our action will, instead, see this as yet another act of aggression and hegemony by a superpower out of control.


Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, that's how they dealt with things during the Clinton administration---if you can't paper over a problem, fire a cruise missle at it.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, that seems like a radically inaccurate characterization of anything even vaguely resembling Clinton's approach...but let's say it's accurate.

Isn't it weird that Clinton was orders of magnitude better at this than Bush is? I mean, if his strategy was really that bad, why did it work so much better than *any* of W's foreign policy strategies?

Thank God the long national nightmare of peace and prosperity under Clinton has come to an end, and that Bush has brought honor and accountability back to the White House...

7:47 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Clinton left a mess. Anybody looks good during the Saturday night party, not so much on Sunday morning.

8:28 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Er, what mess would that be exactly?

Is this another missing 'W' story?

10:11 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, WS, you know I'm a lover not a fighter, an apologist above a polemicist. These things don't come easily to mind. I'd rather apologize for Clinton than attack him. I think he did the best he could. We're all human beings.

But the reason I'm not into "investigations" is that the 9-11 commission was a joke, even though it proved that Clinton (and/or his administration) could have got bin Laden a couple of times, even after he attacked us, but were afraid of the legalities. Jamie Gorelick made sure that legal process set up a wall that made a chaos of communication between the government's intelligence bodies.

But you know nothing of this, WS, because frankly my dear TVD, you don't give a damn. You blithely go on about how wonderful Clinton was because he postponed the world's problems for another day, like the odious Carter deal with the Norks.

I don't have any interest in bagging on Clinton. I do think he did the best he could. But to put Clinton's 8 years beside Dubya's 8 months in office before 9-11 on even par is selective indignation. And Clinton did nothing about Saddam except starve his people and let our no-fly zone planes get shot at every day.

The best thing you can say about him is that he did nothing. (Except Kosovo, which was cool. Ultimately meaningless and uncourageous, but cool.)

My larger point is that "investigations" are bad theater when they're not a circus.

Nobody walks away with their mind changed, or even their conscience tickled. And BTW, my professional bailiwick is Silicon Valley. I was there in its salad days, scooping up a few bucks. It headed south early in 2000. The bacchanal that you give Clinton credit for was over well before he left office.

12:10 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I wasn't really talking about the tech boom, but the overall strong performance of the economy. But my knowledge of this subject is shallow, so I'm willing to admit ignorance.

Um, how exactly were our actions in the former Yugoslavia meaningless? I count stopping genocide as the most meaningful thing we could do. I guess you mean strategically meaningless...about that I'm not sure.

That old saw about Clinton having a chance to get OBL has been discredited many times. One unreliable source claimed he could deliver him. The CIA ultimately said that he was full of crap, and everybody involved agreed that it was a fool's game to get involved there.

Now *killing* him...that was a different matter, and Clinton tried to do so. But your guys thwarted him at ever turn. The rabid anti-Clintonism of the GOP affected the heavily-Republican military, and they came pretty damned close to insubordination. Clinton asked them to send special forces against OBL, they stormed and raged and claimed it couldn't be done. He asked them to use sub-fired Tomahawks against OBL so as not to alert the Pakis, but to spite him they refused and, as they were warned, the Pakis saw the destroyers launch the missiles and OBL was gone by the time they got there. Then when it was all over, the GOP screamed 'wagging the dog!' for months afterward.

I don't think that Clinton was a great president, but it's obvious that he was a good, solid president--clearly the best in my lifetime.

If not for rabid, unfair, irrational opposition by the GOP, he might have accomplished even more.

The thing is that a pattern of extreme partisanship has emerged. Guys on your side not only attacked every error Clinton ever made, thus just made a bunch up. Their opposition was so rabid that they actually undermined national security. They made sure there was always an investigation going on, though none of them ever found any wrong-doing. Now when a Republican is in office, however, no crime is great enough to warrant investigatoin.

I just want one, reasonable standard for everybody, D and R. I understand people who think that Bush didn't misuse evidence about WMDs, even if I don't agree with them.

What I don't understand is those who fail to recognize that there is obviously prima facie reason for an investigation.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Joe Wilson?

BTW, Clinton, bin Laden, and Richard Clarke. Round and round we go.

4:09 PM  

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