“The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most dangerous weapons.” This excerpt from his “Axis-of-Evil” State of the Union of 2002 is the heart of the Bush Doctrine.
Under it, we invaded Iraq. To our eternal embarrassment, we found Iraq had none of “the world’s most dangerous weapons.” But our invasion did concentrate the minds of Tehran’s mullahs and Kim Jong Il, the surviving twins of the axis-of-evil triplets.
Kim reacted by withdrawing from the Nonproliferation Treaty, kicking out UN inspectors, pulling the plutonium rods out of his Yongbyon reactor, and cobbling together an atom bomb. Iran appears to have ratcheted up its program for enriching uranium.
Neither was deterred by Bush. Both may have accelerated their nuclear programs because of the Bush bellicosity, the Bush Doctrine, and the Bush war. Historians will debate whether his axis-of-evil speech and Iraq war were a great leap forward in statecraft or a great power blunder to rival the “blank check” the Kaiser gave Austria in the Balkan crisis of 1914.
But what do we do now?
North Korea probably has a nuclear device and the benefit of a deterrent. America is not going to attack or invade. But if Kim continues his missile tests or detonates a bomb, he will trigger a reaction in Tokyo and Seoul. Both are more technologically advanced and will be under pressure to develop their own nukes.
How would this make Kim Jong Il more secure?
For the North to sell a nuclear bomb to terrorists would entail extraordinary risk. Should terrorists use such a weapon on the U.S. homeland or a U.S. base, Pyongyang would risk massive retaliation. Though Iraq had no role in Sept. 11, Iraq was attacked because of Sept. 11. For Pyongyang to risk our wrath by transferring a nuclear bomb to terrorists makes no sense.
Which is not to say it cannot happen.
Iran almost surely does not now possess a nuclear weapon and must consider the consequences of going nuclear. An Iranian bomb would deter a U.S. invasion but also alarm Israel into putting its nuclear forces on a hair-trigger alert and impel Bush to target missiles on Iran’s strategic facilities.
Any nuclear war between Iran and Israel, or America, would mean the mullahs’ end. And if Iran detonates a bomb, the Turks and Saudis would have to consider acquiring their own nuclear weapons.
How does any of this make Iran more secure?
But it is America’s course that concerns us here.
With Kim Jong Il calling Bush a “philistine,” with whom a man of his culture cannot do business, the six-power talks appear to be dead. If they fail, we cannot rely on Russia, China, Japan, or South Korea to denuclearize the North. China and Russia are ex-allies of Kim’s father, and Tokyo and Seoul want no confrontation. The best we can hope for is support for U.S. searches of vessels leaving North Korea and possibly carrying nuclear contraband.
As we receive such tepid support for our nonproliferation efforts, the questions we must ask ourselves are these: Why is it always our problem? If Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan will not take action against North Korea, why should we risk a nuclear confrontation? We live 8,000 miles away. Should Tokyo and Seoul go nuclear, it is not we who will be adversely affected, it is China.
An announced withdrawal of all U.S. forces from South Korea, coupled with an admission of failure of the six-power talks, would send a message to Asia that Kim Jong Il is in the last analysis their demented dictator to deal with, not ours.
The British, French, and Germans are negotiating with Iran to effect an end to its uranium enrichment program. But if they fail, we have no assurance that Europe, China, or Russia will support U.S. sanctions. If Uncle Sam does not denuclearize Iran, no one will. But, again, why always us? China and Europe are far more dependent on Gulf oil than we.
Bush has done his best to keep Iran and North Korea nuclear-free. If he has failed, he has failed. And if others will not support joint action, so be it. Let us start looking out for ourselves.
Let us move all U.S. air, sea, and ground forces out of Korea, where we are increasingly unwelcome and they are hostage to the North’s nuclear weapons. Let Seoul and Tokyo deal with the paranoid in Pyongyang. And let us cease propping up unpopular regimes in the Middle East and remove our huge military presence. If we are no longer over there, they have no reason to come over here.
With a threat of retaliation, we deterred a nuclear-armed Stalin and Mao Zedong. And neither Kim Jong Il nor the Iranian mullahs has ever attacked us. Though both detest us, they fear us. If nonproliferation fails us, not to worry, deterrence still works.