North Korea is not evil mainly because it has developed nuclear weapons, or because it is the world’s foremost arms peddler to dangerous regimes. It is evil because it does these things to finance and protect the most brutal gulag on the globe today.
There is a report on the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea’s website). Read it, if you dare to puncture the ignorance of evil that keeps us from despair. Issued last week, the report contains 120 pages of satellite photos and eyewitness testimony coolly documenting the enslavement of a nation on a scale that may be unprecedented.
On page 60, for example, a former inmate describes a small corner of this gulag, a camp where 100 people who tried to escape North Korea and were sent back by China were held. They worked from 4:30 in the morning until 8 at night, with three half-hour breaks. Inmates were allowed to eat grass where they worked, to supplement meals of dried corn. The inmates, mostly women, included 10 who were pregnant. According to Choi, the eyewitness, the women were induced to give birth and then their babies were smothered to death in front of them with the explanation, “no half-Han [Chinese] babies will be tolerated.”
In Iran, it took the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to an Iranian human-rights activist, Shirin Ebadi, to shine a spotlight on what that regime is doing to those who would dissent. Iran may be paradise compared to North Korea, but it is only through the arrests and beatings of thousands that mass demonstrations against the regime are being quelled. And as in North Korea, the government is racing to protect its tyranny with a nuclear umbrella.
Yet when it comes to both nations, the remaining members of the “axis of evil,” President George W. Bush seems to at most talk about what makes them threatening, but not about what makes them evil. In Asia last month, Bush spoke of the “clear message” that the U.S. and surrounding nations were sending to North Korea. But the message was that they must cough up their nukes. What if they do? Does the U.S. have no beef with a non-nuclear North Korea? How much will the U.S. pay for a North Korea that sheds its nukes and keeps its gulag?
In Asia, Bush ruled out the non-aggression pact that Pyongyang wants, but also ruled out taking military action, which amounts to the same thing. Perhaps it is wise not to take military action, but why rule it out?
The picture is not much better with respect to Iran. The U.S., far from progressively isolating the regime, seems to have taken an if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em attitude.
Testifying before the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that the U.S. is “prepared to engage in limited discussions with the government of Iran about areas of mutual interest, as appropriate. We have not, however, entered into any broad dialogue with the aim of normalizing relations.” What is this, the axis of mildly annoying?
To cap it off, when a senator asked whether the U.S. sought regime change in Iran, Armitage shot back with an unqualified “No, sir,” adding only that “our policy is to try to eliminate the ability of Iran to carry forward with disruptive policies.”
For those who think this is only the squishy State Department speaking, there is this embarrassing answer by Bush himself during his latest press conference. Asked why, given his own statement that foreign terrorists were involved in the string of bombings in Iraq, “why aren’t Syria and Iran being held accountable?” Bush responded hesitantly, “Yes. Well, we’re working closely with those countries to let them know that we expect them to enforce borders….” Perhaps it was a faux pas to speak of “working closely” with Syria and Iran, as if they were Canada and Mexico, but you get the drift.
This is not just the axis of evil unraveling, but the Bush Doctrine itself. No one is suggesting that the U.S. must continue militarily removing regimes at the rate of one a year, but the Bush Doctrine without the stick of regime change means a reversion to the West’s pre-9/11 modus operandi.
In her introduction to the report on the North Korean gulag, Anne Applebaum points out the original Stalinists went to great lengths to hide the Soviet gulag from foreign eyes, because “if the truth were known…it would undermine the regime’s legitimacy at home.”
The U.S. must not be muzzled by the nuclear ambitions of rogue regimes. On the contrary, the nuclear precipice on which Iran and North Korea sit requires that the West strike where those nations are most vulnerable: on human rights. Bring Iranian and North Korean activists and defectors to the White House. Link trade and aid to human rights. Bush, don’t lose your voice.
–Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel’s Struggle & the World After 9/11. This piece was first published in the Jerusalem Post and is reprinted with permission.