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Candide’s Latest: Monday, October 9, 2006

Korea's smiley face

This is how the Saturday, September 24, 1949 lead story in the New York Times read: “President Truman announced this morning that an atomic explosion had occurred in Russia within recent weeks. This statement implied that the absolute dominance of the United States in atomic weapons had virtually ended. ‘We have evidence that within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the U.S.S.R.,’ President Truman said. These words stood out in red-letter vividness in a brief undramatic statement in which the Chief Executive said that the United States always had taken into account the probability that other nations would develop ‘this new force.’” This is The Times this morning: “North Korea said Sunday night that it had set off its first nuclear test, becoming the eighth country in history, and arguably the most unstable and most dangerous, to proclaim that it has joined the club of nuclear weapons states.” The Koreans had to expect a backlash of condemnation, which followed. But it’s not as if they care: they have nothing to lose, no alliances, no deals with the Dish Network or Katie Couric doing Pyongyang anytime soon. North Korea did what North Korea, left unhindered, was expected to do, the way the Soviets did what they were expected to do in 1949, albeit three years early. A catastrophe? Of failed negotiations, certainly, bred of an unimaginative administration (here) unwilling to engage beyond the minimum, a pattern that applies everywhere: with Israel and the Palestinians, with Syria, in Iraq, with Latin America (which it has ignored more than any president since World War II, although that’s not entirely unwelcome news for Latin Americans: American attention in the last century has usually equated with American intervention). But don’t blame Bush: He was honest enough about it when he told Condi Rice while governor of Texas, “I don’t have any idea about foreign affairs. This isn’t what I do.” And then there was this exchange between Bush and Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador, the weekend of June 10, 2000, when the Bushes had retreated to Kennebunkport to celebrate Barbara Bush’s 75 th birthday: “Bandar, I guess you’re the best asshole who knows about the world. Explain to me one thing,” Bush said, taking Bandar aside. [This is cribbed from Woodward’s “State of Denial,” p. 12] “Governor, what is it?” “Why should I care about North Korea?” … “I’ll tell you what, Governor,” Bandar said. “One reason shoulkd make you care about North Korea.” “All right, smart aleck,” Bush said. “Tell me.” “The 38,000 American troops right on the border. If nothing else counts, this counts. One shot across the border and you lose half these people immediately. You lose 15,000 Americans in a chemical or biological mor even regular attack. The United States is at war instantly.” Note the absence of any mention of nuclear capabilities. That was then. “Hmmm,” Bush said. “I wish those assholes would put things just point-blank to me. I get half a book telling me about the history of North Korea.” Who’s the asshole now?


Baker's Dozen

Here’s something else from “State of Denial ”: in 2000, “W. had rejected the key figure in his father’s rise in politics to the presidency, James Baker III, his father’s chief political operative and secretary of state. In W.’s opinion, Baker had not done enough in the 1992 reelection campaign, had left his father alone. Barbara Bush thought Baker was out for himself.” Really? Baker was probably the single best influence on the first Bush, keeping him out of invading Iraq and getting caught up in the nightmare his son did—a service the first Bush recognized fully. Maybe it’s only a case of the second Bush not liking to hear anyone tell him things he doesn’t want to hear. The best thing he could have done was take on Baker. The one person who would tell him a few necessary truths. As it is, here’s Baker anyway: “James A. Baker III, the Republican co-chairman of a bipartisan panel reassessing Iraq strategy for President Bush, said Sunday that he expected the panel would depart from Mr. Bush’s repeated calls to ‘stay the course,’ and he strongly suggested that the White House enter direct talks with countries it had so far kept at arm’s length, including Iran and Syria,” the Time reports. ““I believe in talking to your enemies,” he said in an interview on the ABC News program “This Week,” noting that he made 15 trips to Damascus, the Syrian capital, while serving Mr. Bush’s father as secretary of state. “It’s got to be hard-nosed, it’s got to be determined,” Mr. Baker said. “You don’t give away anything, but in my view, it’s not appeasement to talk to your enemies.” Mr. Bush refused to deal with Iran until this spring, when he said the United States would join negotiations with Tehran if it suspended enriching nuclear fuel. Iran has so far refused. Contacts with both Syria and North Korea have also been sharply limited.” And what has that gotten us? 3,085 dead American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, a nuclear Korea, a nuclear-slouching Iran, and a president who goes around calling everyone “asshole.”


Suits for the Lawless: “President Bush has yet to sign into law Congress's new terror-detainee legislation, but defense lawyers are already asking federal judges to strike down key parts of the measure as unconstitutional,” the Christian Science Monitor reports. “Two suits were filed this week in US District Court here. At issue: Whether the new antiterror legislation retroactively strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear detainee cases, and if so, would that amount to an unconstitutional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.”

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