Two Opposing Views


Iraq Versus North Korea

First and foremost is the idea that we're going to kill a lot innocent people, that's what we're going to do.
That's what we did before and it's what we're going to do again.
And, the truth is, we're going to go in an negotiate with North Korea because they have a bomb, because we don't want to get involved in a fight that could result in a
real problem.

- George Clooney

Because the opposing viewpoint has both an article and an email in its support, I have presented Fisk's side first.  I am not at this point endorsing either position.  Since so many unanswered questions remain, I feel each person must decide for himself/herself, though I'm not entirely sure this decision is a "free" one - culture and genes play an overwhelming part.  (See How Cultural Are Personal Values?, particularly the second article, "American Values".)

The Double Standards, Dubious Morality and Duplicity of This Fight against Terror

by Robert Fisk

I think I'm getting the picture.  North Korea breaks all its nuclear agreements with the United States, throws out UN inspectors and sets off to make a bomb a year, and President Bush says it's "a diplomatic issue".  Iraq handed over a 12,000-page account of its weapons production and allowed UN inspectors to roam all over the country, and – after they found not a jam-jar of dangerous chemicals in 230 raids – President Bush announced that Iraq was a threat to America, had not disarmed and had to be invaded.  So that's it, then.

How, readers keep asking me in the most eloquent of letters, does he get away with it?  Indeed, how does Tony Blair get away with it?  Not long ago in the House of Commons, our dear Prime Minister announced in his usual schoolmasterly tones – the ones used on particularly inattentive or dim boys in class – that Saddam's factories of mass destruction were "up [pause] and running [pause] now."  But the Dear Leader in Pyongyang has factories that are "up [pause] and running [pause] now".  And Tony Blair is silent.

Why do we tolerate this?  Why do Americans?  Over the past few days, there has been just the smallest of hints that the American media – the biggest and most culpable backer of the White House's campaign of mendacity – has been, ever so timidly, asking a few questions.  Months after The Independent first began to draw its readers' attention to Donald Rumsfeld's chummy personal visits to Saddam in Baghdad at the height of Iraq's use of poison gas against Iran in 1983, The Washington Post has at last decided to tell its own readers a bit of what was going on.  The reporter Michael Dobbs included the usual weasel clauses ("opinions differ among Middle East experts... whether Washington could have done more to stop the flow to Baghdad of technology for building weapons of mass destruction"), but the thrust is there: we created the monster and Mr Rumsfeld played his part in doing so.

But no American – or British – newspaper dared to investigate another, almost equally dangerous, relationship that the present US administration is forging behind our backs: with the military-supported regime in Algeria.  For 10 years now, one of the world's dirtiest wars has been fought out in this country, supposedly between "Islamists" and "security forces", in which almost 200,000 people – mostly civilians – have been killed.  But over the past five years there has been growing evidence that elements of those same security forces were involved in some of the bloodiest massacres, including the throat-cutting of babies.  The Independent has published the most detailed reports of Algerian police torture and of the extrajudicial executions of women as well as men.  Yet the US, as part of its obscene "war on terror", has cosied up to the Algerian regime.  It is helping to re-arm Algeria's army and promised more assistance.  William Burns, the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East, announced that Washington "has much to learn from Algeria on ways to fight terrorism".

And of course, he's right.  The Algerian security forces can instruct the Americans on how to make a male or female prisoner believe that they are going to suffocate.  The method – US personnel can find the experts in this particular torture technique working in the basement of the Château Neuf police station in central Algiers – is to cover the trussed-up victim's mouth with a rag and then soak it with cleaning fluid.  The prisoner slowly suffocates.  There's also, of course, the usual nail-pulling and the usual wires attached to penises and vaginas and – I'll always remember the eye-witness description – the rape of an old woman in a police station, from which she emerged, covered in blood, urging other prisoners to resist.

Some of the witnesses to these abominations were Algerian police officers who had sought sanctuary in London.  But rest assured, Mr Burns is right, America has much to learn from the Algerians.  Already, for example – don't ask why this never reached the newspapers – the Algerian army chief of staff has been warmly welcomed at Nato's southern command headquarters at Naples.

And the Americans are learning.  A national security official attached to the CIA divulged last month that when it came to prisoners, "our guys may kick them around a little in the adrenaline of the immediate aftermath [sic]."  Another US "national security" official announced that "pain control in wounded patients is a very subjective thing".  But let's be fair.  The Americans may have learnt this wickedness from the Algerians.  They could just as well have learned it from the Taliban.

Meanwhile, inside the US, the profiling of Muslims goes on apace.  Thousands of Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans, Afghans, Bahrainis, Eritreans, Lebanese, Moroccans, Omanis, Qataris, Somalis, Tunisians, Yemenis and Emiratis turned up at federal offices to be finger-printed.  The New York Times – the most chicken of all the American papers in covering the post-9/11 story – revealed (only in paragraph five of its report, of course) that "over the past week, agency officials... have handcuffed and detained hundreds of men who showed up to be finger-printed.  In some cases the men had expired student or work visas; in other cases, the men could not provide adequate documentation of their immigration status."  In Los Angeles, the cops ran out of plastic handcuffs as they herded men off to the lockup.  Of the 1,000 men arrested without trial or charges after 11 September, many were native-born Americans.

Indeed, many Americans don't even know what the chilling acronym of the "US PATRIOT Act" even stands for. "PATRIOT" is not a reference to patriotism.  The name stands for the "United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act".  America's $200m (£125m) "Total Awareness Programme" will permit the US government to monitor citizens' e-mail and internet activity and collect data on the movement of all Americans.  And although we have not been told about this by our journalists, the US administration is now pestering European governments for the contents of their own citizens' data files.  The most recent – and most preposterous – of these claims came in a US demand for access to the computer records of the French national airline, Air France, so that it could "profile" thousands of its passengers.  All this is beyond the wildest dreams of Saddam and the Dear Leader Kim.

The new rules even worm their way into academia.  Take the friendly little university of Purdue in Indiana, where I lectured a few weeks ago.  With federal funds, it's now setting up an "Institute for Homeland Security", whose 18 "experts" will include executives from Boeing and Hewlett-Packard and US Defence and State Department officials, to organise "research programmes" around "critical mission areas".  What, I wonder, are these areas to be?  Surely nothing to do with injustice in the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict or the presence of thousands of US troops on Arab lands.  After all, it was Richard Perle, the most sinister of George Bush's pro-Israeli advisers, who stated last year that "terrorism must be decontextualised".

Meanwhile, we are – on that very basis – ploughed on to war in Iraq, which has oil, but we are avoiding war in Korea, which does not have oil.  And our leaders are getting away with it.  In doing so, we are threatening the innocent, torturing our prisoners and "learning" from men who should be in the dock for war crimes.  This, then, is our true memorial to the men and women so cruelly murdered in the crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001.

Source: The Independent 4 January 2003 (updated)

All the President's Fault?

When George Bush came to power, North Korea and Iraq looked like modest success stories for the doctrine of containment.  They were rogue states kept more or less in their cages by a combination of international compact, sanctions and targeted bribes for better behaviour.  The bars were bent a bit in places, to be sure.  But as Colin Powell suggested at the time, negotiations could probably straighten things up and keep the mad dogs in check a while longer — or even, with luck, tempt them into becoming more tractable, biddable beasts.

Now went to war with Iraq and faces a diplomatic showdown with a nuclear-armed North Korea.  How on earth did containment turn into a crisis involving the world's two maddest regimes (some would say, three maddest regimes) in just a couple of years?

For many in Europe, the answer is obvious.

bulletMr Bush's reckless penchant for throwing America's weight around is to blame.  Mr Bush first absurdly lumped together poverty-stricken, nuclear North Korea with richer, not-yet-nuclear Iraq in the "axis of evil", a diplomatically inept slogan that poisoned relations with the North Koreans (as well as with Iran).
bulletIn Iraq, Mr Bush started calling for regime change and massed troops to overthrow Saddam Hussein without providing any evidence for America's assertion that Iraq is building more weapons of mass destruction.  This also distracted America from the more urgent problem of hunting al-Qaeda.
bulletIn North Korea, Mr Bush stands accused of betraying the spirit of a 1994 "agreed framework" by refusing to talk to the Koreans and then cutting off fuel shipments that America was obliged to send under the deal — thus tearing up the treaty under which North Korea had agreed to stop its nuclear-weapons programme in exchange for economic assistance.
bulletAnd, to top it all off, Mr Bush's scary new doctrine of pre-emptive strikes has come back to haunt him.  The North Koreans now justify their resumption of a nuclear-weapons programme on the grounds that they need every defence they can muster against possible American pre-emption.  What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

This account of events comes in different grades.  This is the industrial-strength version, widely sold in Europe.  It argues that everything was America's fault from the start.  But even the milder, domestic-strength version, for American consumption, is damning enough.  It says that America failed to understand the subtleties of dealing with rogue regimes and fumbled the requirement to work with neighbours and allies.  So what can be said in America's defence?

First, North Korea and Iraq are examples of the limits of treaties, not of misused American power.  During the 1990s, the world sought to cope with both countries through international deals — in North Korea, through the "agreed framework".  Kim Jong Il ignored that treaty, secretly resuming the nuclear-weapons programme he had promised to forgo.  It was this, not America's suspension of fuel supplies, that killed the agreement.

In Iraq, the international deal was struck through the United Nations Security Council.  The weapons inspectors who operated under the council's resolutions did a lot. But when Saddam disbarred them in 1998, the Security Council failed to react.  In the past four years of unconstraint, Iraq's dictator may or may not have gone far towards his old goal of building a nuke.  But he certainly acquired new weapons, including possibly unmanned drone aircraft.

International co-operation was broken with impunity in both places.  It is an obvious point, but one worth making: signing a treaty is not the end of a matter.  It still has to be enforced.

Second, despite this unhappy history, the Bush administration is not dealing with either North Korea or Iraq like a bull in a china shop.  The administration kept quiet about North Korea's secret and illegal nuclear programme for weeks after it found out about it — hardly evidence of recklessness.  Now, Mr Bush has sought help from North Korea's neighbours and moderated his get-tough instincts in response to their misgivings.

Indeed, it is striking how little Mr Bush has applied what Europeans say is a "one-size-fits-all" policy in the two cases.  He has ruled out military force in Korea, but used it in Iraq.  This reflects an underlying fact, of course: North Korea has nuclear weapons, while Iraq was, perhaps, only seeking them.  But this, if anything, justifies — or at least explains — the force against Iraq.  North Korea suggests that if America had waited until Saddam got a nuke, it would be too late.

The other dual threat

Third, the European criticism underestimates the sheer uncertainty of global threats after the World Trade Centre attacks.  If the threat came from al-Qaeda alone, that would at least be conceptually simple, however hard to deal with in practice.  But the real problem is the intersection of global terrorism with weapons of mass destruction.  That dual threat means America cannot simply — as its critics demand — concentrate on al-Qaeda now and deal with proliferators like Iraq and North Korea later.

The real history of the past two years does not show America recklessly throwing its weight around.  Rather, it shows a country stumbling towards a policy that deals with both halves of the post-September 11th threat at once.

Criticism of the administration is warranted not for what it is trying to do, but for the way it has sometimes gone about it: refusing to talk to the North Koreans, for example, then talking, then cutting off negotiations and now (maybe) talking again.  But that is as much a product of uncertainties in the real world as it is of arrogance, or incompetence, in the White House.

Source: The Economist 2 January 2003 (updated)


The Economist article was excellent.

The Fisk article was much as I expected - the argument that we must treat Iraq and North Korea the same is common in some circles.  <shrug>  Well of course it is.  A flat desert country with few population centres nearby, a weak army, no nuclear weapons, a penchant for using whatever weapons of mass destruction it has, that has been flaunting binding UN resolutions for many years...  Or a large country, in one of the more densely populated areas of the world, with one of the world's largest standing armies, that quite likely has nuclear weapons, but doesn't seem inclined to use them, and has until recently followed international "law" (or at least claimed to)?  Not only is it deeply unclear why we should treat them the same, I'd say it's clear why we can't...  Of course, somehow, I've got a sneaking suspicion that if the US wasn't pursuing diplomatic options, he would be deeply upset about THAT.

Be that as it may, he had a point about Algeria.  The Economist has been running articles about them for many years.  It's at least as bad as he outlines, although it's been winding down recently like so many of the conflicts in that area.  His description is nicely graphic... although do bear in mind that they're hardly the worst in the region.  Fun thought, yes?

You might be interested in this article about a recent up-tick in violence, that also has a nice summary:

The Horrors of War Aren't over Yet

And this one about France's involvement back in the 60's (just in case you were wondering who set the tone for the more recent conflicts).  Torture, summary executions... good fun.  Note that they stripped one of the officers in charge of his légion d'honneur, not because he DID it, but because he wrote a book about it.  At least he's honest...

An Awkward Case

So in summary...  I'm not sure what point it is your trying to convey from the Fisk article, but I wonder if whatever it is, there might not be slightly more credible sources.  Perhaps from someone not so famous across a wide part of the web for inaccuracy that their name has become a verb.  "To Fisk" someone means to present a line by line fact checking of an article (it arose from people doing just that to Fisk's articles on weblogs).

Best regards,

My son's opinion is largely shaped by weblogs (that's the cultural part).  Since both my husband and I often disagree with him, that would tend to disprove that there's a significant genetic component - except that either myself or my husband WOULD have agreed at earlier periods in our lives.  I think genetic influences change over time as late-maturity-based parts of the genome (such as baldness or muscle-mass loss) kick in.  (In other words, there may be some compensations to getting older...)  In any case, the issue on which he and I MOST disagree is degree of confidence - I question whether you can KNOW anything politically anymore.  He feels that though OF COURSE you can't know anything for sure, still, it's important to make assumptions and act or else you by default agree with the prevailing side though you did nothing.

Why We Won’t Invade North Korea

by Orson Scott Card

We’ve been hearing it from a lot of anti-Bush commentators – including some who should know better: “Why are we preparing to invade Iraq, which has no nukes yet, when we’re using diplomacy with North Korea, which actually has them?”  Of course, you can take that as a self-answering question.  Let’s see – which is safer to invade, the country that almost has nukes, or the country that already has them?  But the real answer is much more complicated.

First, let’s keep in mind what we’re actually trying to accomplish in Iraq.  We aren’t preparing to invade because Saddam Hussein’s been a bad boy, or because we want to have an America colony in Mesopotamia.  It’s not a punishment, it’s not retribution.  It’s prevention.  You can’t fight a war to prevent something that’s already happened.  Preventive war to keep North Korea from getting nukes is impossible.  At the same time, it is absolutely imperative that North Korea’s nukes be neutralised.  But how is that to be done?  For some Americans, the first thought is, "Send in the Marines!"

But military action should never be the first resort.  Every time you use military force, you teach your enemies how to defeat you the next time.  The best use of military force is to create the impression of invincibility – and then avoid testing it.  Conventional military action is not quite the last resort, however.  I would put "nuking them back to the Stone Age" even farther down the list.  Even lower than "sending Bill Clinton to negotiate another great treaty."

Most people don’t understand what President Bush means when he says that we will pursue a "diplomatic solution."  He doesn’t mean that we’ll negotiate with North Korea.  What would be the point of that?  They don’t keep their treaties anyway.  The diplomacy that will solve the problem is happening right now – between us and China.

That’s right, China.  Because this is China’s problem as much as it is ours.  The only reason North Korea exists as a separate political entity is because in the early ’50s, when UN forces had virtually overrun all of North Korea, China sent a huge army that flung us back south.  Only when each army held roughly the territory that had been North or South Korea before the war did the Chinese agree to an armistice.  This was a huge victory for China, and it remains one of the proudest moments in their history.  Never mind that it has meant 50 years of desperate poverty and utter lack of freedom, while being forced to virtually worship a couple of megalomaniacal dictators.  China beat the US-led allies and kept North Korea safe for communism.

Do you think there’s even the slightest chance that China would let the US conduct any kind of military action against North Korea without massive retaliation?  At the very least, there would be a prompt invasion of Taiwan.  At the worst, it might mean some level of nuclear war – certainly against South Korea, and quite possibly against Japan and even the US.

Foreign policy is conducted in the real world. In the real world, madmen like Saddam Hussein respond only to credible military force – and sometimes not even then.  For the safety of our friends and allies in the region (notably Israel, Turkey, Jordan and Kuwait), and to protect the First World’s vital oil supplies from domination by a ruthless enemy, it is reasonable to strike that enemy before he wreaks devastation again.  In that same real world, however, there are opponents whom it is simply too dangerous to fight, unless you are forced into it.  If China or Russia attacked us, of course we would defend ourselves.  But we would have to be insane to provoke either of them into war.  That’s why we left Russia to deal with Chechnya without our interference while using military force to protect Bosnia and Kosovo from the Serbs.

Does this mean that we’re like bullies, picking on the little guys while leaving really dangerous enemies alone?  Not at all.  It means that while we have a moral responsibility to prevent truly dangerous or evil actions wherever it is within our power to do so, we can’t do it where it is not within our power without unleashing worse evils on the world.  Militarily challenging Russia over Chechnya would almost certainly have plunged the world into a massive war, to no good end.  Likewise, taking military action in North Korea would lead to immediate war with China.  And sane people don’t want that.

So what do our negotiations with China consist of?  Cutting through all the diplomatic niceness, here’s what we undoubtedly said to them: "You’re the ones who kept us from getting rid of the Kim dictatorship 50 years ago.  So now it’s your responsibility either to take away their nukes, or get rid of the Kim government and replace it with a sane one."  To which the Chinese almost certainly replied, "Perhaps we can work something out.  You can take the first step by withdrawing all military support from Taiwan.  After all, why should we be responsible for North Korea, which isn’t part of China, while you won’t let us take responsibility for Taiwan, which is an integral part of China?”  Our reply: "We will not discuss Taiwan."  Their reply: "Then we will not discuss North Korea."

All this was absolutely predictable and led nowhere.  Here’s how we raised the ante: "All right.  Since you have allowed North Korea to develop and build nuclear weapons, while we have prevented the much-more-technologically-advanced South Koreans from doing so, we have no choice but to level the playing field so that North Korea will not be able to threaten our allies."  Those options would include:

  1. Stationing tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea ... with the option of placing them under the control of the South Koreans.
  2. An embargo – or even a blockade – of North Korea’s ports, so that China becomes the sole supplier of all goods to North Korea.
  3. Holding China economically responsible by cutting back – or cutting off – trade between the US and China.

None of these options would be tolerable to the Chinese.  Putting nukes in South Korea would humiliate the Chinese leadership.  Putting them under South Korean command would terrify them.  Economic sanctions against North Korea would force China, whose economy is not all that robust, to assume the huge burden of keeping North Korea afloat the way the USSR did with Cuba for so many years.  As for sanctions against China itself – its economy has become significantly tied to trade with the US.  America could trigger a major recession or perhaps even a depression in China, even if we couldn’t persuade other economic powers to join with us.

Now, the Chinese know that none of these options would be painless for us.  Stationing nukes in South Korea would provoke massive anti-American demonstrations in that country and in Japan as well.  An embargo against North Korea would be slow and sievelike, while a blockade would be casus belli and lead to confrontations between us and friendly powers.  And a cutback in US-China trade would hurt our economy, too, and there are those who think our own highly-evolved economy is less resilient than China’s more primitive one.  (I think, however, that they are wrong.)

But even though the Chinese know that we are reluctant to use any of these options, they also know that President Bush means what he says, and, because he is his father’s son, they believe he will act on his threats even if it means political risks.  And there is another factor that the Chinese leadership always has to keep in mind: the possibility that any of these events might trigger domestic disturbances, a coup or even a revolution within China.  Dictators live in constant terror of a mob of civilians swarming through their palaces or office buildings, dragging the dictators out into the streets, and killing them.  The Chinese have very clear memories of what happened when communism fell in Romania.  That’s why they ordered soldiers to fire on their own people in Tiananmen Square.

But they’d rather avoid any possibility of this.  So at some point, if they believe that we are sufficiently earnest about the urgency of neutralising North Korea’s nuclear threat, they will decide that it is in their best interests to do something about North Korea.  And here’s what they’ll do.  They’ll talk to Kim and let him know that he has two choices.

bulletKim lets the Chinese come in and take away his nukes and run his nuclear reactors and make sure he never gets nukes again.  In exchange, the Chinese will make loud public guarantees that North Korea is now under their nuclear umbrella, so that there is no need for North Korea to have its own nuclear program.
bulletThe Chinese cut him off from all economic and military aid from any source, and let it be known that they very much want a new, anti-nuke government in Pyongyang. Kim knows he wouldn’t last a week before one of his enterprising generals – perhaps one of those already in the pay of Beijing – decided that a change of government was in order.

One way or another, North Korea would be de-nuked.  And it would all be done through diplomacy.  The reason none of this could work with Iraq is that there is no power in the Middle East comparable to China’s situation vis-à-vis North Korea.  We are the only nation that can put a stop to Saddam’s ambitions.

But the key, of course, is that none of these conversations would take place in public.  China can only bend to US pressure when they are not seen to be bending to US pressure.  In other words, if President Bush openly threatened China, then China could not cooperate with us without losing face – with the risk of a coup.  That is why President Bush cannot answer his critics.  There is no answer he could give that would not wreck the diplomatic process.  When an American pundit or politician criticises President Bush for being a hypocrite or a bully because he’s using diplomacy with North Korea and the threat of war with Iraq, it tells us one of two things.  Either the critic is hopelessly ignorant about geopolitical and diplomatic realities - or the critic knows that President Bush cannot respond to his criticism, and therefore the critic can make political profit at the expense of American foreign policy.  In other words, those who make this particular accusation against the president are either squirrels or snakes: either chattering stupidly or poisonously biting the president while he’s trying to protect us and our friends from a serious danger.

I prefer to think that these critics simply haven’t thought things through.  And I’m happy to point out that few of those who have made this particular accusation are responsible officeholders.  You don’t throw rocks at the guy who’s trying to tame the tiger.

And what about me?  Haven’t I just made all those private negotiations public?  Of course not.  The Chinese don’t care what I say.  I don’t speak for the government.  I don’t have any contacts in the White House or the State Department.  I’m just a guy who knows how to read a map.

Orson Scott Card, author of more than 50 books of fiction, has lived in Greensboro since 1983.

Source:  Thursday 9 January 2003

Scott Card comes across as a bit arrogant.  His pro-Bush/anti-Democrat bias shines through clearly.  Does this affect his judgment?  Undoubtedly, though I don't pretend to know how much.  His analysis of why NOT invade the Democratic People's Republic of Korea may be spot on, for all I know.  However, I don't feel his justification for invading Iraq is quite as well laid out.  And no justification whatsoever for the US defence of Taiwan is offered.

For articles on bioterrorism, patriotism enforcers, airport security, children in war, McCarthyism, humanitarian killing, Voice of America, pipelines, truth, lessons, anthrax, hatred and pain click the "Up" button below to take you to the Index page for this War on Terrorism section.

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