Most commentary on North Korea, by hawks and doves alike, posits a false dilemma: either “get tough” with Kim Jong-Il (thus far, this has meant talk tough, because there’s no military solution that doesn’t end with Seoul in ashes), or send him money. This naturally plays into the hawks’ hands, as no one wants to coddle an elfin Jerry Bruckheimer wannabe. Sheldon Richman gets it right:
Some want to see the Bush administration engage Kim in one-on-one negotiations. But negotiations mean that each side offers something. What would the United States offer? In the past it has provided aid, but this is objectionable on two counts. First, previous aid didnâ€™t keep Kim from pursuing his nuclear program. More important, American taxpayers should not be forced to assist Kimâ€™s evil, decrepit regime. For one thing, while assistance would help him, it would do little for the long-suffering North Korean people. Moreover, the North Korean government is almost universally condemned because it flouts the rights of â€œitsâ€ people. Where is the logic in the Bush administrationâ€™s flouting the rights of Americans in dealing with Kimâ€™s government?
There is something the administration could offer, but itâ€™s not likely to want to do so. It could agree to remove the 37,500 American troops from South Korea, to end the alliance with Seoul, and to pledge never to start a war, including an economic war, with North Korea. Thatâ€™s something an American president should have done a long time ago. The North Korean government has had grounds for distrusting the United States since the war in the early 1950s, which began when North Korea invaded South Korea. U.S. participation in that war â€” President Harry Trumanâ€™s undeclared â€œpolice actionâ€ â€” was unjustified from the standpoint of limited government and the safety of the American people. But it told the world that the United States was assuming the role of world policeman. That couldnâ€™t help but create fear of â€” and enemies for â€” America. It also gave North Koreaâ€™s communist dictator a powerful propaganda tool with which to keep the North Koreans scared and loyal.
It should come as no surprise that successive American administrations have taken the least sensible approach (short of war), alternating bribery with bullying. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in Iraq, the Bushies won’t let mere failure stand in the way of total ruin, so expect U.S. Korean policy to get much worse.