A Doctrine Of Failure: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb


Now is the winter of our discontent...


As expected, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea tested its first nuclear weapon on Sunday after giving warning earlier in the week. By detonating a nuclear device, North Korea dramatically hammered the last nail into the coffin of the Bush Doctrine. The Bush Doctrine, or the Doctrine of Preemption, was arrogantly unveiled on June 1, 2002 by a President with little knowledge or curiosity about the world outside the United States. October 9, 2006 will be marked in history as the date on which George W Bush’s doctrine died a violent death.

Today the world became a very dangerous place.

In the days before Bush’s Iraq fiasco, he confused ideology with policy and wielded the might of the United States against all challengers and expected all to prostrate themselves. Bush declared in front of the graduating class at West Point in 2002:

The gravest danger to freedom lies at the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology. When the spread of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology — when that occurs, even weak states and small groups could attain a catastrophic power to strike great nations. Our enemies have declared this very intention, and have been caught seeking these terrible weapons. They want the capability to blackmail us, or to harm us, or to harm our friends — and we will oppose them with all our power. (Applause.)

For much of the last century, America’s defense relied on the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment. In some cases, those strategies still apply. But new threats also require new thinking. Deterrence — the promise of massive retaliation against nations — means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.

We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. (Applause.)

Homeland defense and missile defense are part of stronger security, and they’re essential priorities for America. Yet the war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge. (Applause.) In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act. (Applause.)

Our security will require the best intelligence, to reveal threats hidden in caves and growing in laboratories. Our security will require modernizing domestic agencies such as the FBI, so they’re prepared to act, and act quickly, against danger. Our security will require transforming the military you will lead — a military that must be ready to strike at a moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world. And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives. (Applause.) [Emphasis added by me.]

To Mr. Bush, however, preemption was an on-off switch. Either he went to war, or he sat around and ignored threats.

Earlier in 2002, Mr. Bush had already threatened a few countries with preemptive attack. One of those countries was North Korea. In his State of the Union address, Mr. Bush swaggered:

Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction.  Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September the 11th.  But we know their true nature.  North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.

Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom.

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror.  The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade.  This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens — leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children.  This is a regime that agreed to international inspections — then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.  By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger.  They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred.  They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States.  In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

We will work closely with our coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology, and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction.  We will develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect America and our allies from sudden attack.  (Applause.) And all nations should know:  America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation’s security.

We’ll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side.  I will not wait on events, while dangers gather.  I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer.  The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.  (Applause.)

It all seemed so easy in 2002 with Saddam Hussein well within Mr. Bush’s sights.

After Saddam Hussein was unceremoniously deposed, Tehran and Pyongyang undoubtebly took notice. It must have been obvious to anyone that the only way to defend against a preemptive strike from the United States would be to acquire a nuclear deterrent. Unsurprisingly both Iran and North Korea accelerated their quest for a nuclear weapon after the fall of Baghdad. And so we find ourselves here today, with one of the surviving members of the "axis of evil" having just detonated a nuclear weapon and the other working hard to develop a weapon.

However, Mr. Bush’s dangerous rhetoric and North Korea’s perceived need for a nuclear deterrent are only half the story. Mr. Bush and his neo-conservative coterie decided early on to break off all negotiations with North Korea and undermine any effort at calming the hostility between the two nations. Soon after taking office Mr. Bush undermined his own Secretary of State and South Korea’s Sunshine Policy by discontinuing Clinton Administration negotiations with North Korea:

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday the United States has "a lot to offer" North Korea if it curbs its missile development and missile export programs.

Powell said future U.S. contacts with Pyongyang would become clearer after South Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s visit.

"We do plan to engage with North Korea to pick up where President Clinton and his administration left off," Powell told a State Department news conference.

"Some promising elements were left on the table and we will be examining those elements," he added.

However, another senior administration official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, struck a much more negative and cautionary note. The official said President George W. Bush had not yet decided whether to restart the missile discussions.

The administration also doubts whether a landmark 1994 nuclear deal with North Korea can be implemented, the official said.

Toward the end of his term, Clinton made what officials said was significant progress toward an agreement under which North Korea would have abandoned its long-range missile programs in return for foreign help with launching North Korean satellites. But he ran out of time to clinch a deal.

Mr. Bush was the new sheriff in town. He was going to get tough. And toughness to Bush apparently meant that he would not talk to anyone he did not like:

The Bush administration’s tough talk on North Korea’s communist regime has raised concerns in Asia about regional security.

One Japanese editorial warned that "treating Pyongyang like an enemy will ensure that it becomes one."

However, Li Xiguang, director of international communications at Beijing’s elite Qinghua University, urged Bush to continue the policies of his predecessor.

"It would be counterproductive to change the policy of engaging North Korea," Li said. "If that changes, the North could react with hostility and become more confrontational and defensive."

The general sentiment seems to be that Bush should try to capitalize on the Clinton administration’s progress toward curbing the North’s long-range missile threat.

Bush told Kim that the United States will not immediately resume Clinton-era talks with North Korea, which achieved a moratorium on its missile testing in September 1999 in exchange for the partial lifting of sanctions. 

Instead of negotiations, Mr. Bush ratcheted up the rhetoric. The situation deteriorated significantly when, citing provocation from the United States, North Korea withdrew from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) in January 2003. The Bush Administration promptly criticized North Korea for having "thumbed its nose" at the world by unilaterally withdrawing from the NPT. There apparently was no sense in Washington that its criticisms were somewhat hypocritical since the Bush Administration unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty a couple of years ago.

The farce of the six-party talks followed with the United States working actively to sabotage any hint of progress. The failure of diplomacy has brought us to today.

It is not certain that the United States could have prevented a nuclear North Korea if Mr. Bush had chosen a more nuanced approach to foreign policy. However, the course Mr. Bush did follow was almost certain to have created a nuclear armed North Korea. Unfortunately, Mr. Bush in his arrogance has ensured that we are no longer dealing with a possibility of nuclear weapons in the Korean peninsula, we are dealing with a reality.

Now that we are here, make no mistake that we are on the brink of war. We are dealing with the reality of the world’s most isolated regime with nuclear weapons on the one hand and the world’s most powerful nation operating under a foreign policy doctrine that makes war almost inevitable on the other. A paranoid regime in North Korea has now acquired a nuclear deterrent. Washington will be tempted to try to destroy that deterrent. Any miscalculation by either party will likely lead to an overwhelming North Korean conventional attack on South Korean cities as well as American forces stationed on the DMZ. Of course the possibility also exists that a nuclear strike may also occur on the Korean peninsula either by the United States or by North Korea if it is able to find a means of delivery and if it feels that the survival of the regime is under threat.

There is also now no good diplomatic option. Where diplomacy would have been useful before today’s event, the Bush Administration ensured that only belligerence prevailed. The Bush Administration, if it stays true to its nature, will further squeeze the North Korean regime. Kim Jong Il is likely to react predictably by escalating further. In the game of escalation, the Dear Leader will find that he has a like minded foe in Washington.

I am afraid that the best case scenario might be a nuclear arms race in the Korean peninsula and Japan. With Washington on a hair trigger and television reports of the Japanese military already on the move, war however seems the most likely outcome.

Today Kim Jong Il preempted George W Bush. No doubt that the cowboy in Washington will want to swagger in response. We are living in a very dangerous world.

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10 Responses to A Doctrine Of Failure: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb

  1. Ingrid says:

    EXCELLENT POST! When I heard about the test late last night, I thought, oh great! Just what we need before the election. Now we have two deranged administrations/leader at the helm and they both live of the perceived need to be perceived strong and decisefull, and in charge. Giddy up cowboys, it’s time for a shoot out.. NOT! dangerous times indeed Mash..btw..I’m still volunteering for Moveon to get members to call up those to vote progressives and get them out to vote period! Apparently, we only need about 10,000 votes to get the edge.. let’s cross our fingers that somehow in some way, we can diminish these worrisome developments (keep ‘m away from the button!!)

  2. Fool me once... says:

    Gosh Mash, lighten up. Just think about how cool war would be and how much more content would be available for Dr. Strangelove to operate with! Particularly, a nuclear “event”.

    Envision, if you will, millions of Internet users coming to docstrangelove.com for the latest updates on the ongoing nuclear “event” between the Koreas. Maybe the U.S. and China get involved? Just think, the media possibilities are infinite!

    A new-media star would explode onto the global stage! “Introducing…Doc Strangelove…”

  3. Zebster says:

    Mash, as always very well thought and laid out. I would like to add that by choosing Iraq as the greater evil of the 3 when it was in fact the lesser, gave us no real option to use strength against North Korea before it got this far.
    If you’re going to threaten the likes of Kim, then follow it up. Put up or shut up long before now.

  4. Robbie says:

    What’s really sad is that North Korea is the country we should have liberated in 2003. We wasted our resources on a perceived threat and ignored a real one. Yesterday’s test marks the low point of the Bush administration’s failed foreign policies.:(|)

  5. Mash says:

    Ingrid, its the last push into the elections. I am glad you are putting words into action! 🙂

    Fool me once, you are right. I must have been having a bad hair day. It would be kind of cool to watch a “nucular” war live on CNN! Maybe we can get one of the CNN folks to get embedded onto an ICBM – now that would be breaking news! >-)

    Zeb, I agree with you. The legacy of Iraq for the US will be (is already!) a loss of American influence in the world. Bush today was backpedaling big time. Now apparently its ok for North Korea to have nukes, as long as they dont give it to terrorist – then they will be a “grave threat”! I guess the “we will not allow North Korea” to become a “nucular” power machismo is not looking so good now.

    Robbie, you know, Bush has kind of taken Kennedy’s famous passage from his moon speech and turned it on its head (we do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard”). Bush invaded Iraq because he thought it would be easy, not hard. Remember how he used to tell us that Presidenting is “hard work”. Well now it all makes sense. :(|)

  6. Group Captain Mandrake says:

    Great post Mash…the DPRK was developing nuclear weapons and, instead of continuing the fruitful diplomacy of the Clinton years (where at least SOMETHING had a chance of being accomplished), Bush says “Bring ’em on.” Well George, consider them “brought on.” Another coup for Mr. Diplomacy.

  7. Alfredo says:

    Alas! Bush et al are finally vindicated. The WMDs finally surfaced, exactly as and where Rumsfeld predicted, “in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat…”

  8. Mash says:

    Mandrake, Kim sure did bring it on. 8-}

    The Decider has big decisions to make in the coming days and weeks. He will learn the lesson that diplomacy is much like medicine: if you treat a disease early, you have a much better chance at a cure; treat to late, and no matter how much medicine you apply there is very little hope – you may have to amputate. ~X(

    Alfredo, that is funny. =))
    In the Woodward book, there is a passage where Scooter Libby calls up the weapons inspectors in Iraq and gives them coordinates where he insists that the WMD are buried. When the inspectors pull out a map, it turns out the coordinates are in Lebanon. So, I guess they were a little off on their coordinates! :-c

    By the way, I just reread my earler North Korea post from when Kim launch his missiles on July 4th. Robbie had a comment about the scorecard – I guess it now needs to be updated to Dear Leader 2, Decider 0.

  9. Robbie says:

    I almost forgot about that scoreboard comment I made a few months back. Thanks for bringing it up. :d

  10. Rivkeleh says:

    Dang — Internet ate my post. The photo looks exceptionally good on your page, Mash.

    I just hope that when we analyze the next administration, we remember that they will be responsible for their own regularly scheduled activities, PLUS refilling the coffers, cleaning up the mess, restoring our relationships with the rest of the world, AND trying to convince the world that not all Americans believe that its best to beg forgiveness after, rather than seeking permission first.

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