President Bush has convinced Congress that we should invade Iraq because it's governed by a brutal dictator who has access to weapons of mass destruction, and who's willing to use them.
But now we learn that North Korea, governed by a brutal Communist dictator, has a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of an agreement signed with the United States in 1994. Which raises the question: Should we add North Korea to the list of countries to be invaded?
This is a semi-serious question because I fail to see the distinction the Bush administration is attempting to make between Iraq and North Korea, both of which are full-fledged members of the president's menacing "Axis of Evil" (Remember that one?). The third member of the Axis is Iran, which is ruled by fundamentalist Muslim clerics and supports international terrorism. Should we add Iran to the invasion list?
These questions constitute a serious dilemma for the Bush administration. I listened to NBC's "Meet the Press" with interest last Sunday as Secretary of State Colin Powell attempted to distinguish between the national security threats represented by Iraq and North Korea. Powell said that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il is "a threat in his own right" but less so than Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and he called on Asian countries "to put maximum pressure on North Korea to make the point to them that this (nuclear program) is totally inconsistent with trying to improve the lives of your people."
"We're not going to have a cookie-cutter foreign policy where we try to apply the same formula to every case," said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on another Sunday talk show. "It would be foolhardy to do that."
She asserted that "North Korea ... is deterred by 37,000 American troops and a strong alliance with the Republic of (South) Korea that has kept the peace for 50 years." By contrast, she added, "We've tried everything" in Iraq since the Gulf War. "Both situations are dangerous but they're not comparable. We believe that we have different methods that will work in North Korea that clearly have not and will not work in Iraq."
So there you have it. We're going to invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein represents a clear and present danger to U.S. national security, but we're not going to invade North Korea because Kim Jong Il is deterred by American forces and his neighbors.
Oh yes, just one more pertinent point -- Iraq has massive oil reserves while North Korea boasts a million-man army. Could those facts have anything to do with the Bush administration's decisions about which members of the "Axis of Evil" should be invaded?
I tend to agree with the conservative Weekly Standard, which noted that "both regimes are ruled by homicidal tyrants, engage in terrorism, and are addicted to developing weapons of mass destruction. It's a mistake to argue ... that 'these regimes may share some characteristics, but Iraq is in a class by itself.' This only undermines the president's own words ... and ultimately his own credibility about the 'Axis of Evil.'"
After all, North Korea has nuclear weapons and a military poised to destroy much of South Korea, America's ally. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd went even further, accusing the Bush administration of focusing on Iraq because it's an "easy kill."
Of course the Weekly Standard blamed ex-President Clinton for North Korea's nuclear weapons program. "Fearing a showdown with North Korea, the Clinton administration attempted to bribe the North into ending its nuclear weapons program by promising to build two new ... nuclear reactors, to provide huge amounts of fuel oil ... and to normalize economic and political relations," the Standard asserted in an editorial. "Not surprisingly, Pyongyang decided this was a pretty good scam," the editorial concluded.
And so it was until North Korea admitted earlier this month that it had been flouting the 1994 anti-nuclear accord with Washington. Secretary of State Powell promptly pronounced the agreement "effectively dead."
For its part, North Korean officials blamed us for their own duplicity and said they considered the agreement nullified while agreeing to negotiations provided that Washington ceases its "hostile policy" toward the North. Meanwhile, South Korea's unification minister endorsed negotiations and declared that "the (nuclear) issue should not be allowed to create another security crisis on the Korean peninsula."
North Korea's continued deceit and deception have taught an important foreign policy lesson to the Bush administration: International agreements with Communist dictatorships aren't worth the paper they're written on. The Clinton administration's naive "engagement" policy failed because, as the Weekly Standard argued, "This soft-headed policy ... produces a world no one wants to live in .... If anything, it (the policy) has actually increased the incentives for North Korea -- and like-minded states -- to develop as many dangerous 'bargaining chips' as they can."
But I don't necessarily share the Standard's proposed solution: "Either we act aggressively to shape the world and change regimes where necessary, or we accept living in a world in which our very existence is contingent on the whims of unstable tyrants." That sounds like a call to invade both Iraq and North Korea, which I oppose at this time.
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.