Tuesday, October 19, 2004


Gordon Flake argues the answer is "yes.
"Given the paucity of detailed information regarding Senator Kerry’s approach, it is perhaps more useful to instead focus upon the underlying political dynamics that will influence any such policy. If Pyongyang assumes that a willingness to engage in a dialogue presages a return to the relatively benign “engagement” policies of the Clinton era, they are likely in for a rude awakening. In fact, given the underlying politics, it is plausible, if not likely, that a Kerry approach to North Korea could turn out to be more “hard line” than that taken by the Bush Administration.

For all its rhetoric--labeling North Korea a member of the “axis of evil,” indicating loathing and distrust for Kim Jong Il, and most recently in branding Kim a “tyrant”--the Bush administration has done surprising little in response to North Korean provocations and its dash across previously drawn “red lines” related to its nuclear program. Despite such inaction, the Bush administration has been shielded by its conservative credentials and has faced little pressure from the conservatives in the U.S. Congress who were the scourge of the Clinton-era attempts to engage the North.

A political axiom in the United States holds that “Only Nixon could go to China.” In an era of strong anti-communist sentiment in the U.S., only a vocal conservative like Nixon could politically afford to engage the Chinese leadership. For a Democratic president, laboring under the stigma of being “soft” on communism, such an attempt would have been political suicide. A version of this dynamic is at play in the U.S. today. “Only Bush can ignore North Korea.” A Kerry administration would face very real political pressure to respond vigorously to North Korean provocations or intransigence.
I agree that the dynamics that will motivate and constrain a Kerry Administration are larger and more complex than the crude "Bush = hardline hawk, Kerry = internationalist dove" images indicate. I would add that there is a definite sense of "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" attitude toward dealing with North Korea in some circles inside the beltway.

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