I will work with our allies to get the six party talks with North Korea back on track - and I will talk directly with the North Koreans - to get a verifiable agreement that will eliminate their nuclear weapons program completely and irreversibly. We have to get serious about diplomacy with North Korea now. Only then will we have the support of our allies for action if diplomacy fails. -- Senator John F. Kerry, September 23, 2004
Years ago when I was a kid growing up in Louisiana, people used to joke about how Huey P. Long would promise to make ‘Every man a king.’ Old Huey would enjoy listening to John Kerry fire out promises like a stuck Gatling gun. But in America promises are empty; action counts. And there is little or no reason to assume that Kerry has any plan of action to back up his vainglorious promises.
Worse, Kerry ignores the reality of serious situations – it is difficult to imagine a more serious situation than a nuclear North Korea with a functioning warhead and delivery system – in order to attack his opponent and promote his own agenda. One can make an economic case for or against tax cuts, can argue the nuances of health care systems and can debate outsourcing of jobs. But to tread carelessly on what is potentially the most volatile international crisis of our time for political gain is irresponsible.
Let’s take a quick review of the facts, something Senator Kerry hopes we ignore because they work against him. First, the six party talks that include North Korea, Japan, Russia, South Korea, China and the US are ‘on track.’ Are they producing anything worthwhile? Not yet. The North Koreans, like the rest of the world – especially our enemies - are waiting to see what America decides on November 2. Diplomatic positions will change radically depending on who is the victor. If our enemies see four more years of a Bush presidency they will know that they must accept accommodations regardless of how unpleasant. Our allies will know that we appreciate their sacrifice and are committed to staying the course to victory.
Conversely, a Kerry presidency will put friends and enemies in the mindset that prevailed during both the Clinton and Carter administrations and to a degree the George H.W. Bush presidency. The US will take a more withdrawn, legalistic approach to international security issues and will be more willing to accept deception and appeasement as a tradeoff for ‘stability’ in the international arena. Freedom and democracy will be traded for assurances of taciturn hostility. Human rights abusers will be given a pass as long as they don’t upset the international balance.
But how long do these standoffs last? Not long usually. This is a factors that makes appeasement such a losing proposition if only from a practical standpoint. Appeasement and accommodation simply don’t work if an enemy only uses them as ways to keep the US on ice while he grows stronger. Want some historical examples? Hitler’s Germany, Kim Il Sung’s North Korea, Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. Appeasement didn’t stop the mullahs from seizing the American embassy in Teheran, nor did it keep Soviet MiG aircraft out of Grenada and Nicaragua. ‘Peace processes’ have not tempered the terrorist activity directed at Israel from Palestinian sources, nor did ‘more sensitive diplomacy’ bring down the Berlin Wall.
Diplomacy is typically a carrot. But a carrot works only if backed by a big stick. And the stick works only if the potential recipient knows that the wielder of the stick is willing to swing it. Enemies of the United States have good reasons to think that John Kerry’s tough promises are empty wind. After all, his twenty year record of anti-military, anti-intelligence voting, his firm stance for nuclear freeze and against virtually all military action by the US would give them confidence that this rhetoric is strictly campaign oriented.
On the other hand, even those who hate President Bush are learning rapidly not to ‘misunderestimate’ him. He has pledged to work within the multilateral context in dealing with North Korea because he understands that China and other regional players must be part of any long-lasting solution. He also refuses to succumb to the ploy that this is a contest between the US and North Korea only and that the others do not have a dog in the fight. His firm actions in displacing the Taliban, hunting down al Qaeda, and dragging Saddam Hussein from his hole have given the seldom used stick of American military power a whole new clout.
John Kerry clearly has little facility with international diplomacy beyond accommodating the wishes of the other side. He has indicated a moral philosophy that is willing – indeed that will seek – to transfer much of America's security and defense posture over to international bodies such as the UN or the EU. His promises have reached the point where they sound less like appeals than cries of desperation from a power-hungry but impotent would-be leader.