Their unforgivable irresponsibility is underscored when one considers their non-response to the horrific threats now emanating from the Bizarro-World regime of North Korea. Faced with starvation, backed up against the wall by a combination of its own insane policies and those of its enemies in Washington, Pyongyang is embarked on a road that can only end in conflagration a war that could go down in history as the worst, the bloodiest ever. And yet George W. Bush’s spokesman, the other day, dismissed the gathering Eastasian storm as "a regional problem."
Yes, "a regional problem" if the nuclear obliteration of an entire region can be so characterized.
Not that Washington is unaware of, or indifferent to, the escalating crisis: the other day, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld conceded what non-interventionists have been saying since the end of the cold war that U.S. troops should withdraw from the Korean peninsula. Was this because he has suddenly been converted to a less aggressive, more rational foreign policy? Unfortunately not, and the response of our South Korean allies is a clue as to why. The New York Times reports:
"Officials here said today that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had ignored them in suggesting realignment of American forces in Korea and demanded that they stay where they are at least until resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue."
So what’s up with that? Haven’t the South Koreans and their newly-elected President, Roh Moo Hyun, been complaining about the presence of U.S. troops, who act more like an army of occupation than a force that is supposed to be protecting the peninsula from a North Korean invasion? Didn’t the Democratic Millenium Party come to power on the strength of a nationalist resentment against the all-pervasive presence of the Americans, who blocked the "sunshine policy" of Roh’s predecessor and rattled the North by including them in the "axis of evil"? Shouldn’t they be dancing in the streets? In a word: no, and here’s why:
"’We agree it’s a critical issue,’ said Song Young Gil, a National Assembly member from Mr. Roh’s Millennium Democratic Party. ‘After the nuclear crisis is solved, at that time we will consult on this problem.’ Mr. Song shared a view, increasingly heard here, that any American proposal to move troops from near the line with North Korea may mean that the United States intends to attack North Korean nuclear facilities against the wishes of the South Korean government. The logic behind this thinking is that the United States would want its troops out of harm’s way in case North Korean ground forces retaliated by striking across the demilitarized zone.
"’American troops are something like hostages to attack by North Korea,’ said Mr. Song. ‘Maybe this kind of action means some kind of signal for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea.’"
Last week, George W. Bush wouldn’t rule out force as an option in dealing with North Korea. A few days later, his Secretary of Defense suggests its time to get U.S. troops out of the line of fire on the peninsula, and, perhaps, out of Korea entirely.
In the context of the developing game of nuclear chicken that is taking place on the Korean peninsula, U.S. withdrawal does not mean a policy of non-intervention: the North Koreans rightly read it as a prelude to a period of heightened hostilities, and quite possibly a preemptive strike. From the perspective of the North Korean military, which has been in a state of high alert since the beginning of the crisis, it looks like the U.S. is clearing the decks for an all-out attack.
For Rumsfeld to make such a statement goes way beyond his ordinary blustering style: it dramatizes why our war-maddened "leaders" cannot be entrusted with power. That he said it without even bothering to inform the South Koreans who would be instantly vaporized in a military confrontation between Washington and Pyongyang shows that it was meant as a provocation, pure and simple, and a highly dangerous one at that.
Yes, U.S. troops should leave Korea they should have done that many years ago. But this administration has now ratcheted up the crisis atmosphere on the peninsula to such a fever pitch that any precipitous American action must be preceded by direct talks with Pyongyang – and a mutual pledge of nonaggression. The Bush administration has stubbornly refused to take this obvious tack, because it misreads Pyongyang, misunderstands what is happening in Korea, North and South, and is misleading the American public when it comes to the origins of the present crisis.
What kind of "conservative" administration is it that throws prudence to the winds and refuses to learn from history? This kind: one wearing ideological blinders so skewed that they cannot see what is happening right in front of their eyes.
Just as Marxian socialism imploded in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, so the same process delayed but not to be denied is taking place in North Korea. As the free market economist Ludwig von Mises pointed out in the 1930s, socialism is doomed to fail due to its inherent defects and the epistemological impossibility of central planning. The North Koreans, like the Soviets, the East Germans, and the Chinese, are faced with "the impossibility of economic calculation under socialism," as Mises put it in Human Action:
"The paradox of ‘planning’ is that it cannot plan, because of the absence of economic calculation. What is called a planned economy is no economy at all. It is just a system of groping about in the dark. There is no question of a rational choice of means for the best possible attainment of the ultimate ends sought. What is called conscious planning is precisely the elimination of conscious purposive action."
The post-Soviet socialist regimes have had to make a choice: economic rapprochement with the West, or complete economic and social isolation. It wasn’t Western missiles that liberated the peoples of the former Soviet bloc, but the long arm of American culture the culture of prosperity – that reached out and won the hearts and minds of a rising generation. In the end, the Red Potemkin village dissolved like a mirage, and the Berlin Wall fell not to NATO tanks, but to the siren song of modernity. Gorbachev saw what was happening, and moved to co-opt it, but too late. The Chinese, however, saw it coming early on, when Deng Xiaoping took his country down what Maoist hard-liners called "the capitalist road." Even Vietnam has followed this path, albeit reluctantly and haltingly, but North Korea’s response to the terminal crisis of state socialism has been complete isolation as befits a land known as the Hermit Kingdom.
This isolationist policy has ended with the North Korean people literally eating the bark off the trees. The crisis of state socialism in North Korea has led, finally, to the complete breakdown of the economy. Mass starvation can only lead to mass insurrection, and Pyongyang has no choice but to break out of its self-imposed exile or else face the possibility of winding up like East Germany. This newfound realism led to increasing links with South Korea, the revival of North-South negotiations, and, on June 12, 2000, the inauguration of South Korea’s "Sunshine Policy" symbolized by the meeting between Kim Dae-jung and North Korean "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il.
As I pointed out in a previous column, this process ground to a halt the moment the Bushites took the White House. The South Koreans were disabused of the notion that the U.S. would ever allow reunification of the peninsula, or that Washington would ever permit Pyongyang a soft landing. The North Koreans, however, pushed ahead with their break-out strategy, only this time more aggressively. Instead of trying to get the South’s attention with words of reconciliation, they turned to the power behind Seoul, the U.S., and demanded direct negotiations. Washington unwisely turned its back on Kim Jong-il, who then went ahead with his plan to get Uncle Sam’s attention by any means necessary.
When the Bushites came to power, we were told that now "the adults are in charge." But this administration is more reckless than some street-corner juvenile delinquent out to prove to the world that he’s cool, and not just when it comes to North Korea. The news the U.S. had submitted forged "evidence" to the UN that Iraq had been trying to obtain fissionable material in Africa is shocking. Not that the U.S. government couldn’t conceive of such a plan, but because they must have thought they were going to get away with it. Or, maybe not: news accounts relate that this was a very crude forgery, with obvious errors throughout, and easily checkable.
This is reminiscent of something the Soviets might have done to justify the invasion of, say, Finland, or Poland, in the final days before the outbreak of World War II. That the U.S. is now resorting to such clumsy, lying propaganda is a disgrace. Was it incompetence – or a deliberate act of contempt directed not only at the UN, but at the idea that truth matters?
In either case, it is clear that the adults are not in charge. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. Behavior that, in the past, would have gotten people ridden out of town on a rail, or at least thrust to the margins, is now all the rage, and the reckless policies of our political leaders are reflected in the slash-and-burn tactics of their supporters.
A smear campaign of unprecedented proportions has been directed at the anti-war movement, and, given the players, that was not unexpected: after all, what else could David Horowitz do for a living? But it was a bit of a surprise to see that not even the Roman Catholic Church is immune from this sort of thing. Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit fame, is now telling his readers that the Pope is really David Duke in a cassock:
"The Vatican has consistently taken the side of Palestinians, and Arab Muslims generally, against Israel and Jews, to the point where I can’t really believe any excuses that it’s not about anti-semitism. (I think that there have been a few minor condemnations of the increasing anti-semitism in Europe, though I looked and couldn’t find any.) Then there’s this damning picture. (Yeah, he’s French, but he’s also a Cardinal.) Sorry – readers can defend this sort of thing if they like. But to me it’s just another sign that the Vatican – whose retreat from anti-semitism was at any rate recent and shallow – has no moral ground to stand on."
A serious charge, prompted by what? The meeting of Cardinal Roger Etchegaray with Yassir Arafat in an attempt to resolve the Israeli siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Oddly, for an alleged "anti-semite," the Cardinal also met with Israeli President Moshe Katsav. But Reynolds is too smart to fall for that strategem: those of his readers who choose to "defend" the Pope’s inability to take orders directly from Ariel Sharon are probably neo-Nazis. Or French.
Jesse Walker took down Reynolds in the online edition of Reason so effectively that I don’t have to bother doing it here. Thanks, Jesse: you’re a pal. But I just want to note that Knoxville, Tennessee, where Professor Reynolds holds forth, has long been a center of militant anti-Catholicism. When the Pope visited America in 1999, pastor "Dr." Bob Bevington, of Knoxville Baptist Tabernacle demanded to know, in a full-page ad in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, "What Is The Pope Doing In America?" Answer: he "represents enormous wealth and power," and came here to subjugate the country to the dictates of Rome. Another edition of the same basic hate message was promoted all over the South by the same folks in 2001. In the 1920s, Tennessee was a bastion of the Ku Klux Klan – the group was founded in Pulaski – and anti-Catholic sentiment played a key role in the state’s municipal elections. Sad to say, it isn’t just in the rantings of Professor Reynolds that this legacy lingers on. Ankerberg Theological Institute in Nashville, Tennessee, produces reams of anti-Catholic screeds. In one, "The Spiritual Battle for Truth" – which can be downloaded for $2 one Michael Grendon rants:
"Satan has been profoundly successful in deceiving multitudes in the name of Christ because his servants appear as ministers of righteousness. They wear high priestly garments and religious collars and carry boastful titles such as ‘most reverend,’ ‘right reverend,’ ‘his excellency’ and ‘Holy Father.’"
In 1990, when a meeting of Catholics was scheduled to convene in Indianapolis, Indiana, a faction of Seventh-day Adventists based in Tennessee did a mass mailing of anti-Catholic propaganda to homes in that city, enclosing pamphlets describing the Pope as a "beast" and denouncing the Church as a "pagan" institution.
Reynolds is just carrying on what is a long tradition in his part of the country. That the University of Tennessee plays host to this latter-day Know Nothing is hardly surprising. Old habits die hard. What would be astonishing, however, is that anyone, from this day forward, takes anything Professor Reynolds has to say seriously.
I am very pleased to draw your attention to our new columnist, Matthew Barganier, who debuts today [Monday] on Antiwar.com. The first time I read a piece by him I was determined that he would write for us on a weekly basis, and I’m glad to report that my mission was a success. The first edition of "Collateral Damage" is everything I hoped it would be: witty, informed, loaded with links – and lots of fun. So what’re you waiting for? Click on the link and check him out….