Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Gingrich on North Korea

Newt Gingrich is one of my favorite conservatives. I have always thought of him as a progressive worm in a retrograde apple because of his cleverly-worded but well informed comments about a number of issues. He has a vision for the future that is larger than most. Here he shamelessly invokes the name of Ronald Reagan to advance what I would call a divide and conquer approach to North Korea that would pit its people against its leadership. This essentially non-violent approach would push the diplomatic envelope without sacrificing America's public image in the international community.

Our goal in North Korea should be peaceful regime change. Our model for leadership should be Ronald Reagan.

President Reagan entered office in 1981 with a clear vision of allying with Prime Minister Thatcher of Great Britain and Pope John Paul II to defeat the Soviet Empire. Without firing a shot they worked to strengthen the Solidarity trade union in Poland, to increase the resources available to the Polish people, and to undermine the effectiveness of the Communist dictatorship. Within eleven years of Reagan’s inauguration the Soviet Union disappeared. The Cold War was over. We had won.

North Korea is a vicious dictatorship in the middle of a famine. Its policies have shrunk the height of the average North Korean by over three inches over the last generation through malnutrition. There are over 200,000 North Koreans imprisoned in concentration camps. It is an evil regime grinding down the lives of its people.

A Reaganite strategy would funnel every penny of help and every bit of food aid through a system of private activity consciously designed to undermine the dictatorship. A Reaganite strategy would isolate the government while helping the people. It would seek every angle to get humanitarian help to the people. Food might be parachuted into the country, delivered from submarines and small boats by clandestine services, shipped in from China and Russia through anti-regime middlemen and delivered in every way possible to divert energy and authority away from the government and toward an alternative organizing system of individuals dedicated to a better more prosperous life. Just as in Eastern Europe, we would rapidly discover a lot of people willing to subvert the regime for better lives for their families and we would find the regime beginning to splinter and fragment in the face of opportunities for food, goods, and prosperity.

And a Reaganite strategy toward North Korea would mean what it says, and say what it means.Last July, the entire civilized world said it would be “unacceptable” for North Korea to fire missiles. In response North Korea chose our Independence Day to fire seven missiles. They tested the “unacceptable”. It turned out to be acceptable. Is it any wonder that North Korea has now tested a nuclear weapon?

Reagan would have found a variety of steps to make it extremely expensive for the North Koreans to display contempt for the entire civilized world.

For President Reagan “unacceptable” would have meant “unacceptable.”

This is not sabre-rattling. This is rattling loose pocket change. The price would be a bargain compared with military alternatives. And compared with the loss of American lives in other places, the cost in human lives could be virtually nothing. And the rewards would be vast in public relations terms.

The years leading up to the invasion of Iraq were marked by one of modern history's harshest "sanctions" applications against Iraq. Sanctions are predecated on the really dumb notion that if the population of a country gets starved enough, deprived of material and economic resources enough, they will rise up with some kind of internal volition and throw off an oppressive regime. This may seem reasonable to well-fed Americans who have lived all their lives in comfort and spoon-fed the lofty ideals of the revolutionary fervor of the Eighteenth Century.

The now-famous "oil for food" program was nothing more than an official vehicle leading to corruption. Plenty of wealth was exchanged, certainly. But precious little in the way of food or medicine reached the people who needed it. Any programs aimed at helping oppressed people must be subversive, not official, to the regime doing the oppression.

The political realities of the modern era are plain. If oppressed peoples were willing and able to stage revolutions, then dictatorships would long ago have been replaced by benign and generous representative governments all over the world. The idea is absurd. No plainer example is necessary that that of North Korea, with its twin evils of a closed society and a despotic personality cult which controls every national resource.

When we furnish food to starving people there is no downside. None.

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