Contemporary Thoughts on Korea and the Middle East

 One of the saddest realities of contemporary Washington can be traced to the Vietnam conflict.

 One of the saddest realities of contemporary Washington can be traced to the Vietnam conflict.  From Vietnam forward, many politicians have forgotten the historic, long-standing rule of American politics to the effect that domestic politics stops at the water's edge.  Today, while we are in the midst of a crucial conflict, Democratic presidential candidates are spouting relentless criticism of our President's policies on the war against terrorism and especially the conflict in Iraq.  The practical consequences of this thoughtless behavior can only add to the illusion by the Ba'athi Party followers of Saddam and their fundamentalist colleagues and neighbors that their future rests with the assassination of young American's in uniform and even their own countrymen who may be attempting to create a peaceful Iraq guided by a democratic process and the rule of law.

Now let me briefly discuss how our contemporary policies with respect to North Korea should be conducted and follow that up with some observations on terrorism, fundamentalism and their relationship with the conflict in Iraq.  I would like to add my strong affirmation of the Bush Administration's efforts to "multilateralize" the issue of Pyongyang's development of nuclear weapons.  It is my belief that our current problems with Pyongyang began with efforts to negotiate bilaterally with the North.  The consequences of this policy, which has so obviously failed, brings to mind the essential element of the so-called Nixon Doctrine espoused in the first year of Richard Nixon's presidency.  At that time, President Nixon maintained that we must avoid conducting our policy in such a way that we convince our Asian allies that their security is of more importance to us than it is to them. One could make the case that by ignoring Seoul and dealing directly with the North, we did precisely that and have now found ourselves in a position where many South Koreans are more sympathetic to Pyongyang than they are to Washington.  We have also failed, through bilateral showboating, to remind our Japanese, Russian and Chinese friends that they, along with the Republic of Korea and the U.S., bear a major responsibility for North Korean conduct.  It is also important for the Bush Administration to remember that our own, unmatched nuclear capabilities, at home and forward deployed, deterred conflict and kept the peace on the peninsula for a half century. 

Now let's turn to terrorism and a few observations about the critical nature of the struggle we are in. The point I am trying to make in this brief essay is the critical geopolitical relationship between the struggle with global terrorism, the ongoing efforts to succeed in Iraq and in the Middle East peace process itself.

It is my view that all of these critical struggles are intimately inter-related and each one casts a shadow on the other two.  Today's politically motivated commentaries on all three challenge these critical linkages and convince me that many of today's outbursts are having the practical consequence of endangering the lives of our young servicemen and women, as well as America's vital interests.  The reasons are multiple, complex and require an historical perspective.  I will just touch upon a few.

1.                  Churchill's admonition to "read history" as a basis for opening the secrets of statecraft has been forgotten.  Knowledge of history is no longer emphasized in America's education, nor is it an important qualifier for public service in positions involving international affairs.

2.                  The explosion in information science, with all the good it has brought, has also resulted in contemporary politicians being captured by "finger to the wind populism," while our printed news has largely become a snapshot in time lacking historic perspective.

As a result, we are increasingly being driven by events rather than shaping them.  Nowhere has this been more prevalent than in the Middle East.

Allow me to highlight just a few important failures over the last 30 years:

1.               In the mid 1970s, the United States ignored the British Labor Government's decision to withdraw from east of the Suez Canal, leaving the less experienced United States to become the major proponent of western values and interests in the region.

2.              In 1979, U.S. policies resulted in the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, paving the way for today's fundamentalist theocracy.

3.              In 1982, we accepted without meaningful response the slaughter of 241 Marines and another 60 State Department employees in Lebanon, and then suddenly withdrew.

4.              Our failure in 1991 to remove Saddam Hussein from power at a time when our influence in the UN was substantial.

5.              Our failure to take decisive action in the face of repeated outrages in the 1990s, up until the current administration and the events of 9/11.

All of this has led to a situation in which many Middle Eastern nations and others as well have concluded that Americans lack the character to accept pain.  Many in the region, and globally, are convinced that our people will no longer fight for our interests if there are major sacrifices involved.  Anti-American and anti-western Middle Eastern leaders like Saddam and bin Ladin have become symbols of fundamentalist and nationalist causes.  In this context, all three problems -- Iraq, terrorism, including the outcome in Afghanistan, and the Middle East Peace Process -- are intimately interrelated.  All three efforts must succeed and success in Iraq will greatly influence the outcome in the other two.