by Claudia Rosett
While everyone’s watching the markets and the election, the State Department – by now the Fannie Mae of foreign policy — is setting us up for the next crisis. That one is going to involve things possibly even worse than mortgage defaults, such as missiles and nuclear bombs.
At the core of that crisis, when things really start to crater, will be Iran. But in times to come, when analysts (working by candlelight in their underground shafts) get around to asking the ritual questions (you know them well: Who let this happen? Why didn’t we see it coming?) they will also point to the leading edge of the wreck. That would be the Bush administration policy of the past few years on North Korea. It is Kim Jong Il (dead or alive) who has been setting the pace for racketeering rogue regimes and wannabe nuclear extortionists everywhere. If — over the objections of the U.S., Europe, Japan and anyone else who wants to play — he can counterfeit U.S. currency, wheel and deal in missiles and nuclear technology, make and test nuclear bombs, offer a piece of the action to Syria and Iran, and get paid by America for his pains, well then, who can’t?
Here’s how Nuclear Extortion 101 works. North Korea tests some missiles, revs up its Yongbyon reactor, and America & friends pay Kim to stop. He pockets the bribe, reneges on the deal, and repeats the threat. We pay, he pockets… and here we go again:
Word is leaking out of Washington that Condoleezza Rice is on the verge of removing North Korea from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, with an announcement imminent.
Why? It’s not because North Korea has gone out the terror business. If anything, Pyongyang –with considerable success — appears to be quite busy at the moment terrorizing the U.S. State Department. North Korea has learned that Rice and her special envoy, Chris Hill, baseball cap in hand, will do just about anything (pay, wait, fudge, dissemble, cover up, roll over, beg) to keep alive the pretense of a nuclear disarmament deal which from the start was about as solid as today’s mortgage derivatives market.
North Korea wants off the terror list. The State Department, having showered Kim with gifts since mid-2007, finally balked, for the very good reason that North Korea refuses to agree to any system that might let inspectors actually verify what’s going on with its nuclear ventures (let alone take away the bombs). So North Korea is now threatening to re-start its Yongbyon reactor, and letting out rumbles about preparations to test another nuclear weapon. This is a way of telling the United States to jump. And if Rice responds to this blackmail by taking North Korea off the terror list, what she and Hill and President Bush (is he still there?) will really be saying to Pyongyang is: How high?
Fox News is reporting that in preparing to caper to North Korea’s tune, State has cut its own verification bureau out of the loop. Looks like U.S. policy has morphed from “trust, but verify” to “trust, and pay the blackmail.”
The same otherwise worthy Fox report includes an interesting sentence, culled from the conventional wisdom of the diplomatic circuit: “Removing North Korea from the terror list would be a major step in mending relations between the reclusive communist nation and the United States, though it would also come amid concerns about North Korea’s weapons program.”
Aha… so it’s the terror list that’s caused all that friction between North Korea and the U.S.? Hey, if all we have to do to be safe from North Korea is take them off the terror list, a whole industry awaits. Make the whole world safe. Take everyone off the terror list. But why stop there? Just scrap the entire idea of a terror list.
I do have a suggestion for what we might create in its place. To play its part in the growing global market in nuclear extortion that the Condi-and-Chris legacy is even now engendering, America is going to have to do a lot of groveling, and appropriate a lot of tax money – for free food, free fuel (nuclear or otherwise) and other doo-dads — to pay off rogue regimes that are already lining up to cash in on this bonanza.
So how about State creating a public list of terror-loving governments to which America sends pay-offs in hope of stopping their nuclear weapons programs. Call it the Nuclear Extortion Racket List. That way, instead of Chris Hill cutting secret deals while back-slapping North Koreans in Berlin and touring Yongbyon, there could at least be some better planning, and accountability. There could be clear budgets assigned to how much in pay-offs — whether in cash, kind or diplomatic concessions — should go to North Korea, to Iran, to Syria…or, well, imagine the possibilities.
Heck, the way U.S. policy is going, this has all the makings of a broad and deep emerging market. A sort of Subprime for Rogue States.
Of course, the startup costs for a nuclear weapons program are considerable. So maybe the World Bank and the UN Development Program could be recruited to figure out how to issue shares in the proposed nuclear extortion rackets of developing economies. We could have Cuba’s initial public offering, Khartoum extortion bonds. And there’s no reason for terrorist groups to be excluded from the action just because they happen to be part of the private sector. There is scope here for Al-Qaeda-Hezbollah extortion-racket swaps. And no reason that the American taxpayer should be cut out of this, if he wants to speculate on the chance of getting back some of his own money.
Welcome to the 21st century, State Department style. Congratulations, Chris and Condi. How long before we can sit at our computers and trade Nuclear Extortion Racket derivatives? .. at least until the lights go out.