Cheney on North Korea 1



Dick Cheney was a graduate student in political science at Wisconsin before turning his attention to politics and being picked up by Donald Rumsfeld (whose memoir was covered by Noland and—less sympathetically—by me as well). So it fell to me—the political scientist--to grit my teeth and buy his memoir, In My Time, to see what the former vice-president had to say about North Korea. Cheney does not disappoint, devoting an entire chapter to an extended and pointed critique of the engagement strategy the Bush administration pursued in 2007-8.

The first and most juicy tidbit has to do with the Syrian reactor. Cheney argued strongly that the United States should bomb it as a sign to Syria, Iran and North Korea of our seriousness with respect to non-proliferation issues. Cheney traces the evolution of the intelligence on the reactor, the concerns that it may not have been good, and the pleas from the Israelis that the US act. In meetings with the foreign policy principals, and in two meetings with the President in June 2007, Cheney made the case for bombing the reactor. As he admits no one else in the administration supported him. President Bush followed advisors arguring for a diplomatic route through the IAEA and the UN Security Council. Cheney claims to have predicted at the time that if the US did not act, the Israelis would, which they did on September 6.

Cheney’s logic is predictable, but worth quoting nonetheless:

“The most effective diplomacy happens when America negotiates from a position of strength…[If] our adversaries understand we will not compromise on fundamental principals and that we will use military force if necessary, they are much more likely to do business at the negotiating table. That is why I argued that we should have taken action ourselves to destroy the North Korean-built reactor in the Syrian desert…Such a message might have encouraged [Iran, Syria and North Korea] to take advantage of the opportunity to reach a diplomatic agreement rather than risk military action.”

Unfortunately, this logic doesn’t hold. The reactor was destroyed, and there is no evidence that the North Koreans or Iranians have desisted. To the contrary, the North Koreans appear to have learned the lesson that a deterrent is even more necessary to prevent being a target themselves. Cheney is silent on military action directed at North Korea itself, implicitly confirming the difficulty of pursuing the Cheney strategy full-bore.

Whether the bombing stopped proliferation activity is also debatable, although the sanctions and PSI do seem to be having some effect as we have noted in recent posts.

In the next installment, more details on Cheney’s view of the 6PT.

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