The State Dept. announced on Saturday that North Korea, once a member of the “axis of evil,” has now been taken off the terror list in an attempt to push the state closer to nuclear non-proliferation. The deal was not a step forward for everybody within the Bush administration and the State Dept. as members like Dick Cheney and former United Nations Ambassador John R. Bolton criticized it. Although some would like to tally the move as a major foreign policy achievement, the deal has many undertones that highlight continuing rifts in the Republican Party over how to deal with rogue states.
In the Bush administration’s early years, officials were highly cynical of diplomacy, going so far to say that talking to adversaries was much the same as appeasement. This was likely the reason the 1994 accord with North Korea under Bill Clinton was criticized. But now President Bush has made a deal with much of the same language concerning the removal of nuclear material and exactly where inspectors will be allowed to go. The new deal leaves open a vague possibility of inspections outside Yongbyon (where we know there is a plutonium-based weapons plant,) but it is not definite how the Bush administration will determine the status of the uranium enrichment process, especially if they are not allowed to go beyond “declared” nuclear sites. The North Koreans could viably have other enrichment plants at “un-declared,” or secret nuclear sites.
The de facto 180 on this line of diplomacy by the Bush administration is attributed to a growing feeling by officials that they must accomplish something. Bush is largely seen as a lame duck president, especially in light of the current financial crisis that has devastated the economy. As his polls plummet, the President is more willing to drop earlier ideological arguments about certain countries being “evil” and not worthy to talk to America, and reverse course. In fact, the North Korea deal may mark Bush’s only foreign policy achievement, as things in Afghanistan are falling apart, the mission in Iraq is opposed by most Americans, the war on terror hasn’t been won (and considering it’s a tactic I find it will be impossible to win), and nothing has been accomplished with Iran or other “evil” states like Cuba or Venezuela.
Not only will this deal have an impact on Bush Doctrine, but it will likely have an effect on the upcoming election. Diplomacy versus military use has been a staple argument between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain. Obama, along with the past five secretary of state officials, excluding Donald Rumsfeld, agree that talking to adversaries is not a sign of weakness, and rather a necessity to ultimately achieve the national interest. John McCain, on the other hand, is for the former Bush Doctrine of not talking to adversaries and advocates military use instead. For example, he argued for the obliteration of North Korea, wanted to invade Iraq long before President Bush, and once at a town hall meeting when asked what he would do about Iran, made a parody of the Beach Boys song, singing “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.”
The reversal of the president to send high-level envoys to North Korea like Christopher Hill, who is in large part responsible for this breakthrough, puts Mr. McCain in an awkward position. While the deal is hailed as a success, the modus operandi is being negated by McCain, who has to straddle the awkward position of pandering to both administration critics and supporters within the Republican Party.
Sen. McCain has had no problem reversing former positions to gain Republican support, like his reversal on Bush’s tax policy, his reversal on banning torture, his reversal on supporting Roe v. Wade, his reversal on not supporting “dirty politics” (he actually hired the same guy who smeared him in the 2000 campaign to smear Obama), but will he now flip flop on his position that a state cannot talk to their evil enemies? Surely that couldn’t tarnish his maverick status.