One of the meta-reasons America won the Cold War is that Russians play chess, while Americans play poker. Chess demands great skill and intelligence, particularly at developing complex long-range strategies and anticipating your opponent's moves. But it bears little resemblance to life in the real world. It is completely static and open. Nothing is hidden. Poker is very different. You have to guess what your opponent has and the extent to which he is bluffing.
In business, in politics, in life in general, the folks who know how to play poker will almost always fare better than those who know how to play chess.
Ronald Reagan never played chess with Mikhail Gorbachev. He played political poker. At the 1986 Reykjavik summit, Reagan bluntly told Gorbachev he was going to build and deploy a space-based missile defense (SDI). Then came the clincher. "Mikhail," he said, looking the Soviet leader in the eye, "we both know that America can afford to do this, and the Soviet Union cannot. There is no way you can compete with us in military spending. So you are going to lose." Gorbachev did not know if the US could actually create a workable missile defense in space. But he did know it could afford to do so, while he could not. So he didn't call for Reagan's cards. He, and thus the Soviet Union, folded their own.
In the real world, good poker beats good chess every time. One of the great geopolitical puzzles of our day is why America has been outplayed at poker by a collection of primitive Stalinists in North Korea. The guys in Pyongyang are the best experts in the world at military bluffing and nuclear blackmail. They easily took Clinton to the cleaners. Now they have decided to raise the ante against his successor.
This may prove to be a fatal miscalculation. No one plays better poker than a Texan, especially one so smart and ruthless as GW. A good poker player always looks for "tells" in his opponents, unintended clues and tipoffs in their demeanor. GW has undoubtedly noticed that Pyongyang has created a huge nuclear crisis at the precise time when it should have done the opposite: just when South Korea is experiencing such a spasm of anti-American resentment that it elected a new president pledged to appease North Korea. Such a blatant "tell" informs GW that Pyongyang is holding a weak hand and is playing it badly out of hand-shaking desperation. Given such a "tell," a good poker player knows it's time to go for the jugular. In examining his options, GW may decide the best way to go for Pyongyang's jugular is with a spear.
North Korea's claim that its Yongbyon five megawatt nuclear reactor's purpose is to produce electricity is laughable. Five megawatts can light up little more than a good size trailer park. The only possible purpose for such a graphite-type reactor is to convert uranium into weapons-grade Plutonium 239. Reactivating the Yongbyon reactor can only mean North Korea intends to produce nuclear bombs. And this leaves GW with only one choice: the reactor must be physically destroyed.
Blowing it up like the Israelis blew up Saddam Hussein's Osirak reactor in 1981 (with bombs dropped by F-16s) is obviously not the best way - far too public, releasing a media firestorm. Far better to destroy it quietly, safely, stealthily, and mysteriously. With a spear. A steel rod forty feet long and four inches in diameter, fin-stabilized, with a needle-sharp tungsten-carbide tip, equipped with a small JDAM guidance package including a GPS.
It is non-explosive; there is no warhead.
You've heard of smart bombs. This is a smart spear.
You take a half-dozen of these Smart Spears up in a high-altitude bomber, like a B2 or B52. and drop them over Yongbyon at 50 or 60,000 feet. The Smart Spears have such a big sectional density that it will be like a vacuum drop - with no wind resistance, they will be going faster than the speed of sound when they hit their target. Going so fast and with almost no radar signature, the GPS-guided Smart Spears will punch through the Yongbyon reactor and keep right on going, burying themselves in the earth several hundred feet deep. The North Koreans won't know what happened, and all there will be is some holes in the ground - plus a melted-down reactor.
The time to do this is just after the fuel rods have been inserted into the reactivated reactor and have started to burn. It will take up to three months for the uranium in the rods to be converted to plutonium-239. The fuel rods lie inside water-cooled pipes placed in graphite blocks. If holes are punched through the reactor core rupturing the pipes, the uranium fuel rods - no longer being cooled with the water drained out - will catch on fire and the entire reactor will melt down. While much of the radioactive contents and fission fragments will drain down the holes in the reactor floor made by the Smart Spears, some radiation will be released in the atmosphere through the holes punched in the roof. The longer the rods have been burning in the reactor, the more radiation will be released. The earlier the Smart Spears are dropped, the less radiation release.
It would also be psychologically more effective if Yonbyon is taken out within days of its going critical. There would be no dramatic World War II-type bombing raid by carrier-launched fighter jets. There would be no large radiation leaks. There would be no announcement by the US Government before or after, admitting it had done anything. The North Koreans would be unable to produce any evidence of US culpability (unless they want to dig down several hundred feet underneath the Yongbyon complex, which would take them a while anyway). It would just look like there was an unfortunate "accident" about which GW would be silent.
Our Turn To Up The Ante
Now it would be GW's turn to up the ante. He could inform Pyongyang that unless it begins a full disarmament process, he is prepared to initiate the following:
Instruct US Trade Representative Bob Zoellick and Secretary of State Colin Powell to inform every country that does business with North Korea - including Russia, France, Japan, and especially China - that they must choose between doing business with it or America. For any country continuing to trade with North Korea - and again, especially China, which has recently sold 20 tons of tributyl phosphate (TBP - a chemical used for extracting plutonium from uranium fuel rods) to North Korea - every port in America will be closed to the importation of every product from that country. (It is worth noting that such a total trade embargo would soon cause the collapse of China's economy.)
Instruct the Pentagon to have one B2 bomber carrying 16 2,000lb smart bombs with conventional high-explosive warheads blow up the Yongbyon Cooling Pond. This contains some 8,000 spent fuel rods, created before Yongbyon was mothballed in 1994, from which enough plutonium-239 can now be extracted for several nuclear bombs using the Chinese TBP. The destruction of the cooling pond would cause a radiation release in the atmosphere of less than one tenth of one percent of Chernobyl's. Further instruct the Pentagon to be prepared to incapacitate the entire firing line of rocket launchers and artillery cannons, of which there are several thousand, and annihilate the entire force of close to a million North Korean soldiers clustered along the DMZ (demilitarized zone) border with enhanced radiation weapons, either produced by us or borrowed from the Israelis who already have hundreds. ERWs - enhanced radiation weapons - or "neutron bombs" are extremely localized. They produce minimal heat and blast, but emit a form of nuclear radiation that is intensely powerful over a very short range that is also very short-lived. The ERW's massive wave of neutron and gamma radiation will penetrate armor, hardened bunkers, and several feet of earth within a radius of a thousand yards.
Within this radius, every living thing will be quickly killed. The danger rapidly decreases beyond a thousand yards, dropping to virtually zero after 2,000 yards. The radiation dissipates within 24-48 hours. One single B2 with 16 JDAM-guided ERWs will sterilize 24 kilometers of the North Korean front line, and less than a dozen will wipe out the entire line of North Korean forces and batteries along the DMZ -with no collateral damage to South Korean population centers such as nearby Seoul threatened by these forces and batteries just a few miles away. Kim Jong Il and his gang should know full well that George Bush can't be bluffed, bullied, and blackmailed like Bill Clinton. Once GW raises the ante to this level, they will realize they are in a poker game they are going to lose.
Saving Korean Face
Yet it is very unwise to give a dangerous and deranged enemy no hope of escape. Once Yongbyon melts down in a mysterious accident, and GW conveys to Kim Jong Il in a fully confidential manner with no media leaks what he is next prepared to order, he can then offer Pyongyang a way to save face. Cloaked in diplomatic euphemisms, GW could say to Kim: "Look, my opinion is that you are human garbage and that the people of North Korea would be infinitely better off if you were dead. However, my job is not to get rid of you. My job is to protect my country, and the lives of the 37,000 American soldiers in South Korea. Thus my job, as far as you are concerned, is to prevent you and your government from (1) being a threat to South Korea, and (2) selling weapons and technology to countries and groups that could be or are a threat to us. "So here's the deal. You will dismantle your entire offensive military capacities, nuclear, biochemical, conventional. You keep only what you need - and we'll be the judge of that - for defense. You will submit to a rigorous WMD inspection program. You will sign a peace treaty with South Korea. You will engage in no military transfers or sales with any foreign company or country.
In short, you will stop being a threat to us or anyone else. In exchange, you get to stay in power. "We both know that's all you really care about - staying in power. You would rather have millions of your fellow countrymen starve to death than relinquish your power. Frankly, if they would rather starve than rebel against you, that's their business (just like it's the business of the people of say, Zimbabwe regarding Robert Mugabe). "I am making this offer to you because I think you are less of a danger than Saddam Hussein. There is no doubt whatever that if Saddam remains in power, he will build and disseminate weapons of mass destruction throughout the world. We cannot simply disarm him; we have to remove him. I think simply disarming you will be sufficient. But if it is not, believe me, Kim, I will take you out in a New York second. "Has it ever occurred to you how impossibly vulnerable you have made yourself, placing the majority of your pathologically large army in one narrow line along the DMZ? Do you think I care any more about annihilating your million soldiers along the DMZ than Truman did about the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? I will fry every last one of them if that's what it takes to eliminate your threat to the world. So - do we have a deal?"
That said, there remains another Korea to play poker with. With the folks in the south, the ante is straightforward. GW simply explains to incoming president Roh Moo-hyun that he no longer wants 37,000 American soldiers to be held as Korean hostages. So Mr. Roh is to cooperate with his program of disarming the North, and then all those American soldiers who annoy him and so many other South Koreans can come back home. For far too long, Koreans in both Seoul and Pyongyang have been playing with America as if they held the high cards. They do not. The aces are in our hands. It is time for GW to use them and play to win.