Friday, October 13, 2006

Two Experts On North Korea Have Sharply Conflicting Views

--Written from Boston

The New York Times ran two articles on American policy toward North Korea at the top of its Op Ed page in the last couple of days with sharply conflicting views. One portrayed the regime of Kim Jong Il as a suitable negotiating partner. The other said he is a fascist, with possibly suicidal inclinations.

No surprise, it is former President Jimmy Carter who thinks we can negotiate. Carter was the man who sent Ramsey Clark to negotiate with Khomeini and subsequently lost his presidency in the Iranian hostage crisis. He has been a far better ex-president than a president, however, and he negotiated a "settlement" that collapsed with North Korea more than a decade ago.

B.R. Myers is an associate professor of North Korean studies at Korea University. He is not so sanguine about Kim Jong Il as Mr. Carter.

"While Kim may not be suicidal himself, he shares Hirohito's penchant for encouraging this quality in his people," Myers writes. "Defense until Death, is an increasingly popular slogan. In 2003 a colorful poster was disseminated to the foreign press showing a fat missile in flight with a suicide-readiness slogan on it. "Yankee, take a good hard look." That isn't bad advice."

Myers compares North Korea today to the Japanese Empire that took the country into World War II.

At a time when the Bush Administration seems to be waffling on its response to North Korea's small nuclear test, and the United Nations is already proving it can't take tough measures, with China and Russia the key obstacles, we have a large stake in whether Mr. Carter or Mr. Myers is right. Unfortunately, I'd bet on Mr. Myers and believe that action to change the North Korean regime, rather than negotiations, offers the best prospect.

This is a hard judgment, but in light of Kim Jong Il's record -- mass counterfeiting of American money, terrorism in the air, executions at home, famine for his people, a determination to have nuclear weapons -- I believe that ultimately it is the safer and sounder one.

Carter's article may be compelling. He is always the creature of sweet reason. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work when it comes to tyrants.

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