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Friday, July 25, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 12/28/2002

Tangling with North Korea

Anyone old enough to remember the Korean War half a century ago knows this administration is living dangerously if it wants armed conflict with North Korea.

Korea's apparent intention to return to weapons-grade plutonium production is a provocation and a chilling concern, to be sure.

But a war on the Korean peninsula, despite the hundreds of thousands of mines in the no-man's-land between North and South, and despite the 37,000 American troops there since the early 1950s, will not be an electronic-game-room kind of encounter. It won't be the fast takeover of Grenada or the in-and-out battle of Desert Storm.

If U.S. troops go in on the ground, fighting North Korea would make for a horrible war - long, drawn-out in mountainous terrain, and bloody. It would involve hand-to-hand fighting. And it would mean young lives lost.

Most upsetting about Washington's saber-rattling toward North Korea, a country which diplomacy was slowly bringing around, is that it was President Bush's inclusion of that country in his “axis of evil” that brought us to this pass.

Great ends can be achieved through diplomacy, without fanfare, chest-beating, and creating ill will. But President Bush can be a Texas bull in the china shop of international affairs.

It's certainly true that North Korea's word is often not worth much. It had reached agreements on production of nuclear materials with the West, including the United States. It would stop in return for help in generating electricity. It had agreed to electronic surveillance of its plutonium production facilities rather than risk bombing by the Clinton administration.

South Korea, our ally in the region, has the most to lose in any fight. But it was getting through to North Korean leader Kim Jung Il with policies of reconciliation. Its cherished hope is reuniting the disparate pieces of a land that was one from the first century B.C. until 1945.

Now, South Korea is awash in anti-American sentiment resulting from a military tribunal's exoneration of an American soldier involved in a traffic accident that killed two Korean girls. And younger people there don't appreciate American threats around the world, especially those that have undermined South Korea's diplomacy with the North. For them it's a matter of family.

In addition, North Korea, still a communist country, is a creation of the former Soviet Union.

Both Russia and China, at least now, would likely be interested in solving the current problem diplomatically. They could hardly approve the Bush Administration's overbearing tactics that threaten the trade and friendship that the United States needs to be respected, not feared.

North Korea may be a rogue state, and Kim Jung Il a rogue leader, but effecting a regime change in that country will be a lot more difficult than ousting Saddam Hussein in Iraq.



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