Politics & Policy

Standard Time

The Big Question

One question I’m often asked on this book tour is to explain the seeming “double standard” in the Bush Administration’s treatment of Iraq and North Korea. Bush is threatening force against Iraq, but wants a diplomatic solution to the North Korean standoff. How come? And behind that question, you often pick up a paranoid hint – might the difference originate in the fact that Iraq possesses oil and North Korea does not?

You probably have heard the same questions. Here’s how I usually answer:

The United States has as many different standards as it has problems. North Korea, Iraq, and Iran are not America’s children, who must all get the same treat or the same punishment. They are America’s enemies and must be handled with all the cunning Americans possess. If that means using different tactics against one enemy, so be it. Nobody said the United States had a “double standard” when it decided to defeat Germany before it applied its full strength to Japan.

One reason we treat North Korea and Iraq differently is that North Korea has already acquired nuclear weapons while Iraq can still be prevented. It’s hard to imagine a better justification for differential treatment than that.

Back in 1994, of course, there was an opportunity to prevent North Korea from getting nukes. Weapons production was concentrated in one place, easily reachable by U.S. air power. President Clinton now tells us that he came this close to ordering decisive military action against the North Korean reactor – just as also came this close to taking decisive action against Saddam Hussein and this close to doing something about Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately, what with one thing or another, he just never quite managed to get around to it.

So here we are, in 2003, being challenged by some veterans of Clinton’s administration – and some Bush critics in the media – to be “consistent” in our policy. If we credulously trusted North Korea’s lies back in 1994, we must now (as a matter of simple fairness!) credulously trust Iraq’s lies in 2003. If international inspectors failed miserably in North Korea, they must now be given their full opportunity to fail miserably in Iraq as well. Instead of learning from the mistakes of the past, Bush’s critics say, we must repeat them, as if the supreme accolade for a nation’s foreign policy were to be able say, “it is consistent” – even if that means being consistently stupid.

In Person

A number of readers have been kind enough to ask about my personal appearances and speeches in the days ahead. Here’s what is on the agenda:

Tomorrow, Thursday January 16, I am speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in Houston.

On the evening of Monday, January 20, I am speaking at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

At lunchtime on Tuesday, January 21, I am speaking at an event sponsored by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

On Monday, January 27, I am speaking at the Canadian Club in Toronto.

That evening, I am speaking at Holy Blossom Synagogue in Toronto.

Sometime during the week of the 27th, I will also speak at one of the stores of the Indigo bookstore chain in Toronto – www.indigo.ca will have the details.

Thanks for the interest: it’s very gratefully appreciated.

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