… and they come from across the political spectrum. From conservative hard-liners such as John Bolton to Bush critic and Presidential wanna-be Joe Biden, the White House has come under heavy criticism for different aspects of the deal:
The deal that could lead North Korea to shut its main nuclear reactor came under criticism from both ends of the political spectrum immediately after it was announced on Tuesday.
From the right, hardliners argued that the United States should have held out until North Korea agreed to fully declare and dismantle its entire nuclear program. From the left, Democrats argued that the deal was no better than one they said the United States could have gotten four years ago, before North Korea tested a nuclear bomb.
If the agreement holds — pacts with North Korea have a history of falling through — it could put the United States and Japan on a path toward normalizing relations with the isolated nation, which President Bush identified as part of an “axis of evil” in 2002, and which tested a nuclear device just four months ago.
Under the pact, North Korea agreed to freeze its production of plutonium at its five-megawatt nuclear facility in Yongbyon, and to allow international inspectors to monitor and verify its compliance. In return, the United States, China, South Korea and Russia agreed to provide North Korea with food and fuel aid.
The pact kicks down the road three much tougher issues: complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; a complete declaration from North Korea of all its nuclear activities; and the future of North Korea’s existing plutonium program.
It’s not the perfect solution, as I wrote on Monday when details started to leak about the agreement. The pact leaves North Korea with enough fuel to build a half-dozen nukes, if they have not built them already. It also leaves complete denuclearization for a later conference, while giving Kim Jong-Il badly-needed fuel aid and possibly an end to some economic sanctions.
Democrats complain that the Bush administration could have had this deal four years ago, before Kim tested his nuclear device. That complaint misses a couple of points. It was in 2002 when Kim announced he had nuclear weapons, so closing the barn door at that point pretty much would have left us where we are now. We are no less safe than we were when Kim revealed that he had nuclear weapons — or before he revealed them/
Secondly, the time between has allowed Bush to forge a regional alliance to force Kim to end his nuclear program, an alliance that makes it much more difficult for Kim to renege on the agreement. The value of a bilateral agreement was demonstrated when Kim defied the 1994 Agreed Framework and used the eight years afterward to build his nukes.
One could also argue that the nuclear test may have accelerated the agreement. North Korea’s test was widely considered a flop, and it followed two embarrassing failures of Pyongyang’s missile programs. Kim may have concluded — belatedly — that he couldn’t overcome the technical gaps in his program, and that he needed to cut a deal while he still had the rest of the world nervous. That would explain why North Korea suddenly seemed eager to reach an agreement in the multilateral forum it detested.
Under the circumstances, we have few good options. We could have pressed for everything we wanted, but only if we wanted the talks to fail. Compromises mean that everyone gets only a part of what they wanted. We could have gone to war, but we would have lost China at that point, and possibly started a wider war than just on the peninsula. Continuing the sanctions would have been an option, which could have resulted in a coup d’etat — or, as it did with Saddam Hussein, merely entrench Kim’s power.
The new agreement has the endorsement of one person that will make conservatives nervous: Gary Samore. Samore, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, served with the negotiating team that constructed the 1994 Agreed Framework, which Kim used to hide his nuclear program until 2002. Samore believes the Bush administration decided on a pragmatic approach, which has limited benefits but much more manageable risks.
It seems like the best deal we could have expected, given the time, our partners, and the leverage we could exert. Anything more would have required a war similar to the Iraq war to topple Kim Jong-Il, and I don’t think we would have had the stomach to engage in more nation-building.