Democracy in action
The place where nothing is ever quite as it seems isn't the Twilight Zone. It's apparently Washington, DC. Here are three interesting stories from recent news or opinion articles describing the workings of Government 101. From Selig Harrison, Peggy Noonan and Christopher Hitchens.
Case Study A: Negotiating With North Korea and Herding Cats
To the question of how to prevent North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons, the State Department's own team was divided even while it was negotiating. Selig Harrison of Newsweek recounts how the US reached an agreement in which North Korea pledged to "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs" in exchange for a declaration that the United States and North Korea would "respect each other's sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize their relations." Four days after this, the Treasury Department imposed sweeping financial sanctions against North Korea designed to cut off the country's access to the international banking system, branding it a "criminal state" guilty of counterfeiting, money laundering and trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.
It was no secret to journalists covering the September 2005 negotiations, or to the North Koreans, that the agreement was bitterly controversial within the administration and represented a victory for State Department advocates of a conciliatory approach to North Korea over proponents of "regime change" in Pyongyang. The chief U.S. negotiator, Christopher Hill, faced strong opposition from key members of his own delegation at every step of the way.
It was particularly galling to Victor Cha, director for Asian Affairs in the National Security Council and to Richard Lawless, assistant secretary of Defense, that Hill agreed to conduct intensive bilateral negotiations with North Korea in Beijing prior to the six-party talks. In their eyes, bilateral talks amount to implicit diplomatic recognition, and the "steps to normalize relations" envisaged in the agreement would legitimize a rogue regime. When Hill hosted a dinner in Beijing for the chief North Korean negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, Cha and Lawless refused to attend. When a draft agreement was finalized, they held up final agreement for three days, unsuccessfully attempting to get the White House to insist on tougher terms.
Case Study B: Washington Spies on Itself or Batman Returns
The almost epic bureaucratic battle of Donald Rumsfeld to re-establish civilian control of the post-Clinton Joint Chiefs of Staff; the struggle of the State Department to be heard and not just handled by the president; the search on the ground for the weapons of mass destruction; the struggles, advances and removal from Iraq of Jay Garner, sent to oversee humanitarian aid; the utter disconnect between the experience on the ground after Baghdad was taken and the attitude of the White House--"borderline giddy." This is a primer on how the executive branch of the United States works, or rather doesn't work, in the early years of the 21st century.
There is previously unreported information. Former Secretary of State George Shultz was top contender for American envoy to Baghdad, but there were worries he was "not known for taking direction." Spies called "bats" were planted in American agencies by American agencies to report to rival superiors back home.
Case Study C: Withdrawing from Iraq Before Even Invading It
Not to be outdone, Christopher Hitchens focuses on Henry Kissinger's role in shaping events in Iraq. Kissinger, who was against toppling Saddam Hussein from the first, may yet get his way.
The other two members of the Kissinger Associates triumvirate, Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger, have stayed true to form and opposed regime change in Iraq more or less on principle. And Kissinger's own line was not so very different. In a long syndicated column published on Jan. 13, 2002, he did appear to argue that it was time to deal with Saddam Hussein, but only if certain conditions of "stability" were met. ... he feared both Kurdish destabilization of Turkey, via the Kurdish population of that country, and the unwelcome effect that a successful rebellion by "the Shiite minority in the south" might have on the Saudi oil fields. "The Shiite minority"? Yes, that's right. Most fascinating of all, Kissinger made a point of saying that we had to "enlist the Sunni majority, which now dominates Iraq."
Then the Bush administration took the decision to appoint Paul Bremer, a former partner of Kissinger Associates, as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Our best friends in Iraq—the Kurds—were immediately alarmed by this fantastically tactless decision. ... It might also help explain a lot. During the Bremer period of governance in Baghdad, both the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis and the calling of elections were fatally postponed (perhaps when it was hastily discovered that a combined Kurdish and Shiite list could win a vote).
Hitchens ends by resurrecting the word "Vietnam" but this time to turn it against Kissinger.
Of course, Woodward's book has handed a free gift to those who cannot engage their minds on any foreign-policy question without using the word "Vietnam." I have written all that I can on the ahistorical falsity of this analogy, but if Kissinger really does have anything to do with the conduct of Iraq policy, then what we should fear is not just another attempt at moral blackmail of those who call for withdrawal. For the analogy to hold, we should have to find that while this militant rhetoric was being deployed in public a sellout, and a scuttle was being prepared behind the scenes. We are not fighting the Viet Cong in Iraq but the Khmer Rouge. A bungled withdrawal would lead to another Cambodia, not another Vietnam. It would be too horrible for Kissinger to live to see two such triumphs.
It's been a long time since Mr. Smith went to Washington. Maybe that was just a movie.