26 December 2007

Ask a silly question

Unless Christopher Hitchens has not recently written a book about North Korea, it is unclear why he bothered with this. Given that his handwringing leftist days are behind him and his faith in Kick Ass America remains, it was an odd piece of writing. The sentiment is there but the absence of thought and refusal to allow for any sort of geopolitical context is disappointing for being unlike Hitchens' usual fare.

The answer to the question in the subtitle is: because there's no incentive for Bush to do anything, and if he realises anything then he surely must know there's nothing he can do but wait for the Kim regime to collapse. The ill-founded and directionless adventure in Iraq has prompted dictators the world over to taunt the Americans, from Tehran to Caracas to wherever else, and Kim Jong-il is just getting in for his chop.
There were a good number of sneers and jeers when President George W. Bush first employed the term "axis of evil," but I don't remember reading very many criticisms of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, by which Congress, among other things, established the post of special envoy for human rights in North Korea and directed him or her to submit an annual report.

Oh no, not an annual report! In the absence of any Australian press gallery journalists, it must have been hard to criticise something that seemed so pointless and which turned out to be so. How many of the horror stories you cite came from the annual report(s) of Mr Lefkowitz?
On June 13, Bush had received in the White House North Korean defector Kang Chol-Hwan, author of the chillingly brilliant memoir The Aquariums of Pyongyang, which describes the gulag system that operates in that unprecedentedly wretched country.


The Kim Jong-il slaveholder regime also made the same connection, denouncing Kang Chol-Hwan as "human scum" and announcing that, by agreeing to meet with him, President Bush had thrown "a wet blanket" on the negotiations about nuclear weapons. Since that time, the regime has tested a small nuclear weapon and (less successfully but no less suggestively) test-fired the sort of long-range missile that one day might be able to deliver it.

And where was Bush's response that he meets with whomever he damn well pleases? Instead, he writes a polite letter, a turn-the-other-cheek response to which even Jimmy Carter would have the guts not to stoop.
When runaway slaves are caught, fleeing across frozen rivers to the grim and inhospitable border provinces of China, they have been known to be led back in coffles, with wire threaded through their noses or collarbones, before being handed over to the punishment system.

Just as the Swiss are morally culpable for returning escaping Jews and escaped Allied POWs to Nazi-occupied Europe, so too the Chinese are culpable for returning these poor wretches to the North Koreans.
Indeed, it seems as though we are back to the same horse-trading style that marked the Clinton years, where North Korea pretends to comply on plutonium and reactor inspections and we pretend that the subsequent food aid and diplomatic contact does not have the effect of prolonging the life and credit of the Kim Jong-il regime.

And the alternative is ...? Since the early 1950s it has been clear that the People's Republic of China is the real power in that region, and that for the US to do anything but the above only puts Beijing on the defensive, which leads them to reinforce the Kim regime.

The best way to make the Kim regime suffer is to alienate it from Beijing. Rather than have Mr Lefkowitz hobnobbing in Washington and writing reports nobody will read, he (or someone doing his role properly) should be working with the Chinese to minimise - or even cauterise - the poisonous Kim regime. Even for a fully cashed-up and focused USA, this would be the best they could do. For the Bush Administration, bogged down in Iraq (the protestation that it could withdraw at any time and declare victory is like an addict's claim of being able to kick their drug of choice but to freely choosing not to) and otherwise a laughing stock, they're lucky to have achieved parity with the Clinton administration. Assuming, of course, that's what has happened.

This is not to diminish the grave plight of the North Korean people. To have faith in humanity and its future is to hope that this suffering will not long continue and will be roundly condemned. The Clinton administration will be able to claim that it did what it could to alleviate this suffering, and so too Bush can honestly claim that he and his could not have done more than what little they have, given the choices they made.

Yet, one can still hope that Bush had made - and that the next US President and other leaders will make - different and better decisions that might help the North Korean people at the expense of their current "government". To do this it is necessary to face honestly the decisions that have been made that allow the silly and inadequate Kim Jong Il to continue the rapine of his country. That was Hitches' job and he failed it, falling back on jerking anecdotes: tear-jerkers about slavery and circle-jerks at Washington parties. It isn't good enough Hitchens, and you don't even have the excuse of spending too much time in an Australian press gallery.

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