Andrew Sullivan really does have breathtaking cheek. In the Sunday Times , he has the brass neck to accuse the Bush administration of “incoherence” because they don’t fancy taking on Kim, when they did take on Saddam (disastrously).
Sullivan’s piece is strongly suggestive of a lust for Korean blood. Kim is a “genocidal, certifiably loopy dictator.” North Korea “has launched missiles aimed at the American homeland , has the potential to murder millions in a country allied with the West, has constructed concentration camps for dissidents, has starved thousands to death and is far further along in the nuclear bomb-making process.” It “has the potential to hand such WMDs to terrorists and wreak havoc on the West.”
It is obvious from Sullivan’s piece that his position is that North Korea should be further confronted, whether militarily or (initially) through sanctions, as soon as possible. Although he stops short in the piece of openly advocating a U.S. military assault (and even says he would “be largely persuaded” by arguments that a “multilateral” approach to attacking the North Koreans might work best), he stops at nothing in his fear-mongering about the supposed dangers of leaving the North Korean regime unconfronted. Sullivan knows he is in the right, and attempts by China and Russia to “block meaningful action” concern him not a jot, except to reinforce his certainty that something must be done by the U.S. Russia and China, of course, are merely motivated by evil, pragmatic self-interest, in contrast to the morally elevated humanitarian compassion of Sullivan and Western regimes (when they are agreeably aggressive toward those he wants attacked, anyway).
Sullivan, of course, thought it was a great idea to invade Iraq. He subsequently appeared to have been somewhat chastened by the bloodbath that has resulted from that particular policy, but in fact his regret was merely the tactical apology of the true ideologue. Like Western communist apologists for the murderous crimes of Soviet Russia and Maoist China, his unshakable ideology (Western liberal democracy) leaves no room in his mind for any other conclusion than that it just wasn’t done right last time, whereas next time it will be.
Communism would have worked, you see, if it had been done properly. If only it hadn’t been corrupted by those pesky human factors greedy kulaks, corrupt Party members, Western sabotage, etc. Liberation and democratization would have worked in Iraq if only the Bush administration had done it right, and of course (in Sullivan’s fervent imagination) it will be done right next time, whether it is in Iran or North Korea. It only remains to be determined tactically whether “liberation and democratization” should be imposed upon Iran and North Korea by direct military invasion now, or following a period of ever tighter confrontation (sanctions and other murderous bullying) to prepare the ground.
The Western communists were wrong, though. It wasn’t just particular implementations that failed in the case of communism. The pesky human factors that made it fail weren’t just particular bad circumstances for the particular attempts to create communist societies. They were problems inherent in the ideology, and something like them will bring down every attempt to establish a communist utopia. Similarly, the attempt to bring about liberation and democracy at the point of Western guns will almost invariably require massive violence by virtue of its very nature, not merely as an unfortunate consequence of particular errors in its implementation.
Like all ideologues, though, Sullivan regards mass death as “a price worth paying” for progress toward his particular promised land.
But Sullivan’s lack of entitlement to criticize the Bush regime for incoherence does not stem merely from his ideological blinders. The foolishness of his piece lies most obviously in the inherent absurdity of his claim that there is a threat from North Korea that requires action. In reality, North Korea, although highly militarized, is a small, impoverished, Third World dictatorship that is comprehensively outclassed, in technological and numerical terms, by the U.S. and its allies. The U.S., on the other hand, currently spends almost as much on military force as the rest of the world put together, and has enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world many times over.
There are no conceivable circumstances whatsoever in which North Korea could substantively attack the U.S., or any ally the U.S. chooses to shield, without facing its own certain, immediate, and total destruction. There is no plausible future scenario in which this situation could change.
Sullivan would have us believe, presumably, that for some reason Kim will commit suicide merely to get in a blow against the U.S. or its allies. Needless to say, he prefers not to discuss the precise chain of events by which this will occur (in the absence of continuing U.S. aggression  toward North Korea, that is). Rather, he makes dark hints by describing Kim as “certifiably loopy,” implying that he’ll probably do it just because he’s crazy. This is a great way to avoid the need for explanation. Except, of course, that Kim isn’t “certifiably loopy” in the sense of being likely to bring about his own immediate destruction by rank irrationality. The only sense in which he is probably mentally unbalanced is the one that applies to all those who seek power at any price, to the extent required to achieve national leadership which certainly applies to Blair and Bush. (Ironically, since Kim inherited his position, that may apply less to him than to most world leaders). A “certifiably loopy” national leader with so little regard for his own and his nation’s well-being that he might frivolously launch an attack against the world’s only superpower would, of course, soon be removed from power by those around him, who certainly will not be similarly insane.
The only situation in which North Korea (or Iran, or Saddam’s Iraq) might attack the U.S. in the face of their own certain national destruction would be in the case of utter desperation, having been driven to the wall by U.S. economic and political pressure, or following an act of military aggression doubtless mendaciously dressed up as a defensive “preemptive” attack . It is up to the U.S. to make sure this doesn’t happen (though in practice it is highly unlikely the Chinese would allow it to, in the case of North Korea). In the meantime, however, confrontation merely confirms to the North Korean people that their government’s claims of an external threat are true.
Sadly, the term “warmonger” has become rather difficult to use effectively, having been largely discredited by the preceding set of universalist ideologues too certain of their own moral rectitude to feel the need for honesty. It’s particularly sad because “warmonger” is the perfect term for Sullivan and his ilk. For a useful antidote to the hysterical warmongering over perfectly legitimate missile tests, note the responses of ordinary South Koreans recorded in the L.A. Times .
Among the usual responses to pointing out the absence of threat from such bogeyman nations as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea is to ask for an alternative course of action to aggression (whether military or nonmilitary). Here, then, is the simple policy solution to the “problem” of North Korea for the U.S. president: do nothing. It’s also known as masterly inactivity. In due course, the nature of the North Korean regime will change, whether that change is peaceful or violent. It will probably change a lot more quickly if North Korea’s economy has more wealth and wider links with the outside world, rather than being further isolated by demonization and sanctions on top of the constraints imposed by its own government. It will also help if Kim’s attempts to seek nationalist legitimacy by claiming an external threat aren’t regularly demonstrated true by Washington. In the meantime, North Korea isn’t going to attack anybody so long as Kim knows that the result would be his own destruction.
1. “Stop Dithering, This Dictator’s Really Got WMDs,” Sunday Times, July 9, 2006.
2. A straightforward lie by Sullivan, this, which he repeats later in the piece: “a nuclear-armed dictator fired failed missiles at Hawaii.” Much like the apparatchiks of the Blair regime, Sullivan evidently considers himself fortified against ordinary ethical requirements by his (self-assessed) moral superiority to the target of his enmity.
3. Reality check for Sullivan and his ilk: test-firing missiles into the sea is not aggression. Seeking to acquire nuclear weapons is not aggression. Calling for international sanctions to try to prevent a country from exercising its sovereign right to develop weapons for self-defense is aggression (albeit nonmilitary). Whipping up paranoia against a much weaker nation is aggression (again, nonmilitary).
The U.S. and its apologists think that rules just don’t apply to Washington. The U.S. testing missiles and developing weapons is defensive, whereas other nations doing the same is aggressive. The U.S. can make hostile statements about other countries and it is mere diplomatic or political rhetoric, whereas other countries doing the same is clear evidence of rogue-nation status. The U.S. can spend vast amounts to destabilize other nations’ governments and seek to economically strangle those it dislikes, and that’s just promoting liberation and democracy. All this is just simple hypocrisy.
4. The arguable exception to the above is the case of Afghanistan under the Taliban, and its supposed conspiracy with al-Qaeda over the 9/11 attacks. This, in any case, is entirely sui generis. There is no plausible reason to suppose the Afghan precedent has any relevance to North Korea or Iran.
5. “S. Koreans Take North’s Missiles in Relative Stride,” L.A. Times, July 9, 2006:
“‘You’d be surprised, but nobody is really talking about North Korea and the missiles,’ Bae said. ‘They don’t care. They’re more worried about Japan than North Korea.’ In fact, the big concern in recent days has been a war of words with Japan over a South Korean ship that conducted an oceanic survey of a disputed cluster of rocks known here as Dokdo, off the east coast. And the big summer blockbuster film here is expected to be Hanbando (‘Korean Peninsula’), opening next weekend. Its futuristic plot pits the two Koreas against Japanese forces who are trying to stop their reunification. At Bae’s restaurant, customer Kwon Jeong-eon said that North Korea’s missile tests would help the two Koreas defend themselves. ‘I’d like to see the North Koreans become stronger, especially for when we are united,’ said Kwon, a homemaker in her 40s who had just polished off a bowl of the slippery buckwheat noodles known as nengmyeon. In the event of a war between North Korea and the United States or Japan, she said, ‘we would of course be on the same side as the North Koreans.’ Among student groups, the views were more extreme. ‘North Korea’s missiles are the last fortress of peace to deter a U.S. invasion. We should celebrate,’ a group called the Citizens Movement for the Withdrawal of U.S. Forces in Korea proclaimed on its Web site.
“‘What is scary to us is that the Bush administration will start something and then the North Koreans, figuring they have nothing to lose, will attack us,’ said Park Kyong-ah, a 36-year-old social worker who describes herself as a conservative.“
Also note the South Korean government’s response to Japan’s saber-rattling (“Japan May Postpone North Korea Resolution,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 10, 2006:
“South Korea, not a council member, has not publicly taken a position on the resolution, but on Sunday Seoul rebuked Japan for its outspoken criticism of the tests.
“‘There is no reason to fuss over this from the break of dawn like Japan, but every reason to do the opposite,’ a statement from President Roh Moo-hyun’s office said, suggesting that Tokyo was contributing to tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”