Wednesday, January 08, 2003

While I respect Kevin Drum enormously, I gotta take issue with this December post about Iraq and North Korea.

To the lefties: the fact that we are not attacking North Korea has no particular bearing on whether we should attack Iraq.

To the righties: there are no options for dealing with North Korea other than negotiation. Military action is not possible, unless you're thinking we should just unilaterally lob a nuke at Pyongyang.
I disagree with this for a very simple reason: Iraq and North Korea are actually alike in a lot of ways. Dislike in others, of course, but alike enough in their "morally dubious" leadership, rather large armies (at least in the past), poor treatment of their own people and past record of attacking other countries that they consider part of their own territory (S. Korea for one, Kuwait for the other), and both have bad records when it comes to honestly following disarmament agreements (although the Iraq situation is somewhat more complex than that) that they're closer than you'd think.

There's two questions here, though. First, are they close enough that a diplomatic solution for North Korea would work in Iraq? Aside from all the silly and self-serving spin coming from war backers about broken U.N. resolutions (since when have Republicans cared about the U.N.?), Iraq is about as trustworthy as North Korea is, so a diplomatic solution that would work in Pyongyang would, at least theoretically, work in Baghdad. So, I'd say yes.

The second question is a little rougher, and relates to that second bit that Kevin said, about "there are no options for dealing with North Korea other than negotiation". It raises the question: "if we can't invade North Korea, but can invade Iraq, then why use a diplomatic solution in Iraq when force is available?"

It's a legitimate question. Force is, of course, an option in Iraq: the United States can invade, kill Saddam, and install a new regime. It can be done. It likely will be done. It will have consequences, however, not all of which can be predicted; war's funny that way, and that's the chief reason why Clausewiczian attempts to reduce warfare to just another vehicle for policy are somewhat flawed. I've often said that if I had a magic wand to wave to remove Saddam, I would, but force is not that wand. It has unintentional consequences, and predictable side effects, both of which can be absolutely horrible. Force is (as Kosh would say) a triple edged sword, and just because it's available doesn't mean it should be used. The historical record would seem to imply that it is, in fact, something to be best avoided unless and until there is no other choice. The side effects are simply too great. Kevin said this himself: "Military action is always a last resort, partly for moral reasons and partly for practical ones."

This is where North Korea fits in, if North Korea and Iraq are indeed roughly similar. If a diplomatic solution is found in North Korea, then the choice in Iraq is between using a proven diplomatic solution to the problem of a dictatorial state pursuing nuclear weapons, or enacting an invasion whose side effects will be undoubtedly nasty and whose unintentional repercussions could be enormous. That choice is not one that should be made lightly, and not one that should be biased towards force. Diplomacy is not and should not be a choice made only when force is not available. War is not something to be desired for it's own sake, even if the entirety of the Bush administration's policy towards Iraq suggests otherwise. So my answer to that question is "it's not whether or not force is possible, but whether diplomacy is possible": if a diplomatic solution is possible, then it should be exercised, as warfare is a chaotic and unpredictable tool of last resort.

Of course, I could be wrong in my answers. Iraq might not be much like South Korea when it counts, and a diplomatic solution might not be possible for the one where it is for the other. The question of the U.N. resolutions is immaterial for this, as Saddam is in a different position than he was before, and in regards to the current and most relevant U.N. resolution on Iraq the Iraqis have been pretty complicit. The diplomatic solution in question might be simply unsuitable for the other as well, although I can't easily see why. To say that North Korea doesn't matter for the question of whether or not to invade Iraq, however, is entirely foolish, and I'm surprised that Kevin would think so. If an invasion can be avoided diplomatically, then it should be, and if the opportunity exists, it should be explored. North Korea is that opportunity, and no invasion of Iraq should take place unless and until it's proven that the diplomatic solution for the one is inapplicable to the other.

(This link came, BTW, from Paul Bruno, within the context of a discussion of the similarities and differences between Iraq and North Korea.)

No comments:

Post a Comment