Bush goes from appeasement foe to appeaser-in-chief

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A few short weeks ago, President George W. Bush stood before the Israeli Knesset and denounced the idea of talking to one's enemies.

"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," Bush said.

Well, I guess Bush thought up some really ingenious argument for the North Koreans, since last week he announced that he was dropping sanctions and taking them off the terrorist watch list. Why? Because we talked to them.

Yes, we negotiated with radical North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-il, to stop making nuclear weapons. They even blew up part of the facility they were using to make plutonium.

You know how Bush keeps referring to "some" in his speeches? Well now we know that "some" is him. And now it seems "some" have found it pays to negotiate peace with one's enemies.

The deal Bush struck with North Korea is strikingly the same as the one brokered by the Clinton administration that he walked away from after taking office. In the past, Bush and his allies have painted that old agreement as bribery, for it included shipping oil to help fuel the underdeveloped country.

Yet this new agreement looks a lot like the old, in that it also includes the U.S. shipping oil to the former member of the Axis of Evil club.

There is one striking difference between the Bush and Clinton agreements with the North Koreans: They now have nuclear weapons.

In other words, all the Bush bluster about not negotiating ended up making the situation worse. Kim has shut down his bomb-making facilities. But he still has the bombs, and will be expecting a whole lot more concessions before he gives them up.

The U.S. really had little leverage against North Korea on this issue.

Military strikes are off the table, as that country's concentrated military might poses a fatal threat to South Korea and the contingent of 28,500 American troops stationed there.

But what does this deal with North Korea portend in relation to that other Axis of Evil member, Iran?

The problem there is we don't have much more leverage over the Iranians than we do the North Koreans, but Bush seems to think if he keeps talking tough, it will make the situation look better than it is.

Sure, we could attack Iranian nuclear facilities, or the Israelis could do it for us. The Israeli Air Force just performed a very public training demonstration to show that they are up to the task.

But whether it's Israeli or American forces attacking Iran, there are some very grave costs that would be involved. It's not 1981, when Israel was able to take out Iraq's nuclear program with one raid. Iran's nuclear facilities are spread out and buried deep underground. It's not certain that our military intelligence officials know where all of these facilities are located.

And the trouble that Iran could cause in Iraq and the entire region is considerable. America has been lucky so far that we have fought mostly with the minority Sunnis in Iraq. If all the Iranian-backed Shiite militias suddenly turned on the U.S., then we could be looking at a repeat of Saigon 1975.

Or, the Shiite-led Iraqi government that has close ties to Iran might just ask U.S. forces to leave, choosing to embrace the ally on their border with the common religion and heritage, rather than the alliance of convenience with the U.S.

Now that President Bush has proven that you can talk with your enemies and make progress, perhaps he can try to do something worthwhile with the little time he has left in office and work to diffuse tensions with Iran. It might be his last, best chance for a legacy that isn't looking so bright right now.

-Kirk Caraway writes for Swift Communications, Inc. He can be reached through his blog at http://kirkcaraway.com.


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