It looks as though CBS' report from last Saturday, that the North Korean's had finished their launch prep and that a missile launch could be imminent, was wrong. Had the reporting been correct, the launch would probably have occurred by now. Though it appears that a launch will not occur, the blathering of American politicians continues unabated.
First there are the former policy makers from prior Democrat administrations. William Perry and Ashton Carter, respectively secretary and assistant secretary in the Clinton Defense Department, argued for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea's missile base. This argument was quickly parroted by former Vice President Walter Mondale. Their suggestions were rebutted by a former Bush administration envoy to North Korea and were rejected in toto by the White House.
I suspect the White House rejection of the pre-emptive strike suggestion was both anticipated and desired by those who made it. If that sounds harsh, understand the party to which Perry, et al. belong has not recently distinguished itself in my mind as trustworthy or deserving of goodwill: see, for instance, Murtha, Congressman John. It will be a while before I have generous feelings for even the elder statesmen of the Democratic party.
I believe that rejection was anticipated because I believe that Perry and Carter could not have really thought the Bush administration would pursue their policy after seeing it in a Washington Post editorial; they could not have believed that Bush would willingly appear to be so easily swayed. Since they are outside the halls of power, they can safely suggest aggression, knowing that they will not have to brave the consequences, which could be military, diplomatic, and legal, of a direct attack on sovereign territory. They also do not have to consider the true viability of their plan, which consists of sending cruise missiles against the launch pad. The White House, unlike Perry and Carter, is obliged to make sure an attack is successful, even if it means sending special forces or other troops to effectuate the launch site's destruction.
Instead, I suspect the point of Perry and Carter's suggestion was to establish strong defense credentials for the Democratic party. I can see no other logical reason for them to offer their advice. The administration believes that a much less aggressive and risky action, activating the missile shield, will be sufficient to protect the U.S. from a North Korean missile, but because it has rejected Perry and Carter's more belligerent proposal the White House can be made to look soft and the Democrats made to look tough.
More recently, a group of U.S. senators, all of them members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have taken it upon themselves to demand the White House agree to direct talks with North Korea. In other words, in the stare-down between the U.S. and North Korea, these senators have taken it upon themselves to blink on our behalf.
"It would be advisable to bring about a much greater intensification of diplomacy, and this may involve direct talks between the United States and the North Koreans," Sen. Richard Lugar, the committee chairman and one of President George W. Bush's fellow Republicans, said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
If the North is truly using the missile threat to gain diplomatic concessions, and it is possible this is not their primary motive, then thanks to these senators they have succeeded and can ready their next demand. The North will have its direct negotiations and the six-party talks can be officially declared dead.
The crucial error the senators make is in thinking that the interests of China and South Korea can be ignored. The interest of the Chinese and South Koreans, selfish though it may be, is to avoid a complete collapse of the decrepit North. Without multiparty talks, neither of these states can be trusted to support U.S. strategy in bilateral talks: China and South Korea will work against us behind the scenes if they believe our position threatens the stability of the North, rendering bilateral talks pointless.
It was bad enough that the Senate undermined the White House by making the appointment of a special envoy to the North a requirement of a defense authorization bill. They have only made the diplomatic situation worse by demanding that Bush make so egregious a concession to a totalitarian state.
UPDATE: President Bush made a statement today that I believe is a rejection of calls for bilateral talks between North Korea and the U.S.:
"I have made clear to our partners on this issue _ that would be Japan and South Korea and China and Russia _ that we need to send a focused message to the North Koreans and that this launch, you know, is provocative," Bush said, talking with reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
"And I was pleased to hear that the Chinese have delivered that message to the North Koreans," Bush said. "And we would hope that the leader in North Korea listen to the Chinese.
The specific mention of the other parties involved in six-party talks suggests that Bush will not accede to North Korean demands for bilateral negotiations.
UPDATE: The American Enterprise Online has an article by Alan Dowd about former Secretary Perry and the history of his views on North Korea: A Schizophrenic Secretary? From the piece:
Perry and his co-author deserve credit for underscoring the seriousness of the North Korean threat and for offering a bold—even audacious—answer to it. But as Perry himself warned in 2002, the cure should never be worse than the disease itself. Bombing that missile site would, quite simply, trigger another Korean War. This one would not end in stalemate--in fact, it would end the North Korean regime--but it would be anything but bloodless. Given what we know about the 1950-53 war (which is technically only paused), about the capabilities of North Korea’s military and about the disposition of South Korea’s population centers, the loss of life in a second (and final) Korean War would make us long for something as "easy" as Iraq.