The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Stirling Newberry - At 0135 GMT A Seismic Event Consistent with an Atomic Test Was Registered

At 0135 GMT A Seismic Event Consistent with an Atomic Test Was Registered

While political fallout from scandals at home has hammered Bush at home, the real failure registered on seismic instruments at 0135 GMT with a 4.9 magnitude event which has the signature, not of natuaral techtonic activity, but of an explosion. North Korea claims that they conducted an atomic weapons test. Initial reports had the event lower than expected for such a test, however, the USGS is reporting a figure in line with expectations. While it is possible until the wave has been analyzed that the regime in Pyongyang is bluffing, for the time being, the world is taking the statements at face value.

Beijing issued a sharply worded denunciation, using the word "brazen", traditionally reserved for criminal acts, to describe the test. There is a round of Washington led diplomacy for further sanctions. However, the North Korean nuclear train left the station years ago, even as the United States was boarding the Baghdad Express.

For those of us who grew up in the shadow of nuclear war, the the return of the ticking of the atomic clock represents a proof that the post-Cold War moment has been wasted in the wastelands.

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George Bush and his bully boys talk the talk of being tough, but they do not walk the walk. Instead of dealing with the emerging atomic states - Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, the decision was made to wage a war of aggression in Iraq. We did not invade Iraq because Saddam had WMD, but because he did not. We did not invade Iraq because Saddam was a threat, but because he was not. It was seen as a cheap way of creating the impression of an America willing to used armed force. It seemed that the oil would pay for the war. It seemed a way of gaining partisan political advantage. It seemed a series of blank checks for military pork.

It certainly delivered the on the political advantages, allowing Bush to appoint Alito and Roberts - the Iraq justices - and to spend or borrow trillions of dollars. But the biblical wisdom that he who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind has particular force. Bush sowed the whirlwind of an unstable non-polar world, where the United States would act solely in the narrow interests of its ruling party. Such behavior is the paradigm of banana republic. Even mere regional and global powers are expected to look after larger interests than the reƫlection campaigns of their incumbents.

The long road to North Korea's atomic test is one that trails through several decades. However, the problem became particularly acute during the period where the Republican Congress of the late 1990's focused all of the country's attention on a sex scandal witch hunt. There is a fearful symmetry in a party that decided that partisan advantage permitted the use of trumped up sex charges to paralyze the country, finding, in turn, that their own sexual predators are dragging their chances at election into the swamp.

North Korea pursued a two track strategy towards achieving atomic weapons, a plutonium program, and an enriched Uranium program. It admitted to the first, and began negotiations to end the program in return for light water reactors, fuel deliveries and cash. By 1998, the Clinton administration was aware of the second track, and negotiated a framework to end the plutonium program, believing, correctly, that the uranium program was years away from success, and would be less dangerous in the long run. Simple containment would have been sufficient to end the the Uranium program on similar terms. In the words of America's chief negotiator: "We can lease, but not buy, the North Korean atomic program."

When Bush took the executive powers, one of the first actions was to deep six the agreed framework, freeeing the North Koreans, in their own minds, to return with full speed to their weapons work. Confident that China would not allow the regime to collapse into a failed state black hole, particularly because of the economic and political consequences, the decided that whatever the international community could do would be ineffectual. With the invasion of Iraq, North Korea moved to a stance of testing as an objective.

During this same period, North Korea began doing more than advancing its own program - it began proliferating. It traded technology with Pakistan, allowing Pakistan to weaponize its atomic program more quickly. It sold centrifuges to Iran and Libya. Libya would later make an handsome profit selling these out in return for a reƫntry into the international community.

By 2002 the US intelligence community was estimating that North Korea would be atomic capable. This was pushed aside in favor of forgeries accusing Saddam of acquiring Uranium in quantity, and being years closer to an atomic weapon than he was. The obsession with Iraq allowed a far more dangerous, and difficult to deal with, regime to flower into a proliferator and deterent state.

- - -

However, this is so much heavy water under the bridge. the present question is what is going to be done. The answer is:


The United States is paralyzed by an idiot king, and a corrupt Congress. It has no military capability which frightens Pyongyang, simply because Pyongyang has both a protected research capability, and disproportional retaliation within its reach. This combination means that whatever sanctions are on tap, they will simply result in North Korea passing the pain on to China's border region, and selling more atomic technology to more willing bidders. North Korea does not even need to knowingly aid proliferation, merely sell technology which is "dual use" on terms which are easier than could be obtained from other nations.

I will leave others to speculate what fig leaf tough talk that the UN will approve on the prodding of the United States. There is no relevant sanction within reach. Pyongyang is willing to starve its population, and its most important export is one which is illegal already. Instead I would like to point people at what is important to think about - how to replace the present regime with a better one at the earliest possible opportunity, and what to do when that occurs. Speculating on what the United States should do now is a complete waste of time, the regime in Washington will do whatever it needs to do present this in the light of fear and hysteria to gain momentary electoral advantage.

Therefore, we are going to have to accept that before any positive actions will be taken, that further deterioration will occur. Once there is a regime change in the United States, the actual solving of problems will begin. This is going to mean making difficult choices - the United States has the military and diplomatic capacity to deal with 1.5 international crisis points. North Korea, plus Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan - makes 4.5.

This sorry situation is a direct result of the "fight-lose-fight" strategy of invading Iraq before Afghanistan was stabilized, and hence losing both Iraq and Afghanistan. This allowed North Korea to metastasize, it required that we accept Pakistan as a military dictatorship with an Islamic fundamentalist undercurrent that has atomic weapons and the means to deliver them. It created the economic conditions which made an Iranian bomb affordable. In short, the strategy chosen, and approved by a cowering Congress, could almost not have been calculated to allow more minor states to become dangers. More over, by making the United States more economically dependent on both China and Russia than before - it reduced the pull that the US had in the Security Council. Multiplying problems while reducing freedom of action is a sure course to long term disadvantage.

However, while the American position is cramped, it is not yet indefensible. The important point to realize is that almost all of the problems flow from a single nexus of decision making - a single complex of policies which include massive revenue reductions, inflationary monetary policy, stagnationary economic policy and invasion of Iraq in pursuit of an imaginary World War III.

Let us not get in the wonkavator to nowhere and talk about counter-factuals of what Bush could do to deal with North Korea. He isn't going to do any more than engage in window dressing designed to feed right wing hacks on the radio and editorial pages with talking points. His sole objective will be his domestic base of support, on the belief that nothing all that bad is going to happen in the next two years if he does nothing. Instead, the day after the elections, if the Republicans are in control of either house of Congress, then the 2008 election has begun, and Bush will do anything, regardless of its effect on the national interest, to leave the White House to a Republican and a Republican Congress. If this is accusing him of treason, then so be it.

If North Korea is a immediate crisis, then the sole alternative involves defacto regime change in the United States. Let me repeat that, if something needs to be done about North Korea before January 21, 2009, then the only alternative is a constitutional crisis which is designed to hobble Bush and force a government of national unity. This is only possible with a Democratic sweep of Congress this year. A politically courageous people, with some degree of what Machiavelli called virtu would do it. However, the United States has become weak and corrupt, and will have to, with great difficulty, return to a position where it can actually act in its own best interests, rather than out of short term fear and gratification.

The reality is that while matters will be much worse in 2009, they will not be yet untenable. The fact is that ultimately the resources for engaging in nuclear proliferation are supplied by the United States, and the excessive focus on domestic consumption of the last 6 years. If you want to find out where North Korea, Iran and Pakistan get their ability to flout the international community - look the the river of dollars coming out of the Federal Reserve and the Republican Congress.

At that time the United States will have to accept that periodic recession is the price for restraining the global economy enough to prevent spandrels such as North Korea from siphoning off enough money to fund destabilizing proliferation. The means to righting the US economy is a tigher monetary policy, a less profligate defense budget, and a foreign policy which is centered on being a superpower, rather than a piggy bank for the corrupt. These actions are not difficult, though politically unpalatable.

Strong international condemnation might as well be a form letter offering a high credit card rate - easily printed and rapidly shredded. What the world should do now is declare a complete blockade on North Korea, no traffic by air land or sea, no commerce, freeze all tranfers of funds, confiscate all of its foreign assets of any kind. This isn't going to happen. Since effective action is not going to be taken, talking about "what we should do now" has a certain partisan utility, to prove "our" side is better than "their" side of the domestic political wars, doing so is violating the cardinal rule of diplomacy, namely, to deal with the facts on the ground.

Both Bush and Kim Il Jong are facts on the ground, and neither of them are going any place for a while. However, if America is capable of learning from mistakes, it should be clear that the current course is recklessly endangering the future, and creating an environment friendly for the creation of rogue regimes and failed states. This does not end well. Because as instability grows, the danger is that states such as China or Russia will travel down the unilateralist road at some point in the future, and unlike Iraq, Iran, Pakistan or North Korea, these states are capable of lasting and continual threats to the outside world.


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