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Nuclear Puzzle


Here’s the $64,000 question, courtesy of Jim Hoagland:

Why is President Bush accepting the promises of a regime [North Korea] he has regularly excoriated–at a time when officials in his administration make a credible case that North Korea has just been caught helping Syria with nuclear technology?’

My answer is purely speculative. I’d guess that the administration’s willingness to overlook the Syrian incident is part of a broader strategy for dealing with Iran. The administration may have come to some sort of agreement with the Europeans, or at least France’s now more hawkish government, on how to deal with the entire nuclear question. Europe has tentatively agreed to ratchet up economic sanctions, and France has openly threatened war. America in turn has agreed to create a model agreement with North Korea that can be put before Iran. Protecting that model, and sustaining our emerging cooperation with the Europeans, is too important, in the administration’s eyes, to upend because of what North Korea has just done in Syria. My guess is consistent with the situation as portrayed by David Ignatius.

The problem with all this has been indicated, if somewhat obliquely, by John Bolton. North Korea, Iran, and Syria may now be acting in concert–transferring nuclear material (with the possibility of transferring it back again) in a shell-game designed to fool inspectors on the scene in any single country. So the West, in its desire to avoid a military confrontation, may be acquiescing in a game that cannot be won, and that destroys the credibility of our deterrence against a terrorist nuclear strike in the process. Of course, we might restore deterrence if we do indeed eventually strike at Iran militarily. Failing that, we may simply be greasing the skids on an out-of-control nuclear world.


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