The excellent news out of East Asia is that Ambassador Chris Hill has not only managed to strike an okay deal with the North Koreans over their nuclear program, but also triumphed over administration hawks and gotten Bush to do the sensible thing. For a while now, Bush has been tilting in a reasonable direction with regard to the DPRK (after years-worth of screw-ups that have forced us to accept a much worse deal than we could have had years ago), a direction that John McCain has denounced in favor of the only approach he knows -- coercion, escalating conflict, and the risk of war. And, indeed, since at least 1999 McCain has been calling on us to reject pragmatism in Korea in favor of war:
McCain repeated this trope throughout the speech, drawing on his personal history and adopting the rhetoric of moral seriousness about the consequences of committing American forces. But awareness of the consequences was, for McCain, no reason to avoid starting a war. Indeed, McCain almost seemed disappointed that the Clinton administration managed to peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis with the "agreed framework" of 1994. He remarked in Kansas that "a firmer response to North Korea might have triggered a war, a war we would win, but not without paying a terrible price." McCain was sophisticated enough to recognize that other policy options such as refusing aid to the North might nonetheless have resulted in conflict "as the North's last desperate measure."
This analysis, in the hands of a normal person, becomes a defense of the Clinton administration's policy -- though a bit distasteful, the agreed framework was the only way to avoid a destructive war. Not, however, to McCain. In his view, efforts at conflict prevention are fundamentally misguided. He told the Kansas State audience that notwithstanding the Clinton administration's efforts, Korea's leaders "remain quite capable of launching in their country's death throes one final, glorious war. But now, they are much, much better armed." In short -- war is inevitable, so better to get it over with as soon as possible.
But good for Bush and good for Ambassador Hill.
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