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Catfish and Cod
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
Insistence on multilateralism.
(Link path: The Agonist, ABC Radio Australia)

Despite the evidence that North Korea has a second, secret, operational nuke plant churning out processed plutonium 24/7, the Bush administration continues to up the pressure and insist on multilateral talks.

Why don't they just negotiate a deal? Because the Administration has zero belief in North Korea's honor, and with good reason: the NK's end-ran the Agreed Framework and started generating high-grade uranium. The North Koreans have (they believe) a reason to doubt the Administration's good faith as well: America dragged its feet installing the new light-water nuclear reactors promised under the Agreed Framework.

Only by having third parties oversee the implementation of a new deal will any deal be possible. This logic explains why the Administration has insisted that China play an active part in the negotiations: China is to enforce North Korean policy. Given that North Korea would not exist today but for Chinese intervention, this plan seems logical. For the sake of good Western relations, China will play along.

The real issue to be determined is whether the Administration intends to try and buy more time by signing a new deal with the Kim dynasty, or to talk China into forcing the issue by denying economic aid to North Korea. The first policy is safer in the short term, more dangerous in the long term; the second policy is vice versa. Which will the Administration (Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell, and Rumsfeld) choose?

The insistence on multilateralism is logical in this case, just as insistence on unilateralism was logical in the invasion of Iraq. The failings of the Administration center not on Grand Strategy (where the Democrats currently assail him), but on diplomatic finesse. The Administration has done a terrible job of selling the new American strategy to our friends and allies. The failure is partly Bush's and Rumsfeld's, for having big mouths; partly the neocons, for overambition; partly the diplomatic corps, for exhibiting a mind of its own and acting in a slightly different matter from the Administration's dictates. But Colin Powell must take partial blame as well. Despite his high liberal and international cred, the General is a General and not a trained diplomat. And it shows.

I'm not saying Colin needs to be fired; he's more competent than many a Secretary of State. But in this time of crisis, America deserves better diplomacy than its servants have exhibited lately.