Monday, August 07, 2006


[Apologies for being a couple of days behind. I've been moving offices and haven't had as much spare time or internet access as usual.]

Ah, projection. It ain’t just in movie theaters. There’s plenty of it coming from the right in general, and Mark Hyman in particular.

Hyman recently joined a cavalcade of right wing voices (from Newsmaxers to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow) who are rewriting recent history to suggest that the
growing danger of North Korea is somehow the fault of Bill Clinton.

In fact, Hyman claims Clinton may have “cooked” the intelligence on North Korea’s missile threat to make the case for funding a “Star Wars” missile defense system weaker, particularly in regard to a 1995 National Intelligence Estimate that said the U.S. would not likely face a serious threat from ICBMs from any other country for at least 15 years.

First, if you’ll look at your calendar, you’ll see that we are only three and a half years from that 15 year projection, and, despite North Korea’s bellicose Taipodong-rattling, there still isn’t any country that can reach the U.S. with a nuclear missile. That 1995 report is looking pretty good. Moreover, a CIA report in 1996, while disagreeing with the NIE report in some respects, also concluded that the NIE hadn’t been politicized.

Would that were true of the sudden rush to play up the threat of ICBMs. When the CIA report didn’t come down harshly enough on the 1995 NIE, Republicans continued to hold hearings until they got one they liked. This one just happened to be chaired by one Donald Rumsfeld.

Did this commission suddenly say that ICBMs were going to fall from the sky? Sure. Was the logic behind the conclusions fuzzy and suspect? Possibly. Did Rumsfeld finally give congressional Republicans what they wanted? You bet.

(For a summary of the politics behind this turnaround, see the
Washington Post article on it.)

So there’s your first case of projection: claiming objective study of the ballistic missile threat revealed the truth behind the politicized whitewash that said ICBMs were not a threat in the near future. The reverse is actually true: the drive to hype the missile threat was the political maneuver.

The larger projection going on, however, is the claim that the devolution of the North Korea situation is the fault of Clinton, not George W. Bush.

As Fred Kaplan has documented in his articles for both and Washington Monthly, Clinton not only took North Korea seriously as a possible nuclear threat, but did quite a bit to prevent that from happening, including nearly going to war, then later hammering out a treaty.

In other words, Clinton used the threat of force, political pressure, and diplomacy to contain North Korea. The Bush administration, keen to do the reverse of whatever Clinton did, promptly screwed things up. By refusing to continue negotiations with North Korea (or being able to threaten North Korea militarily or with diplomatic action) the Bush administration threw away the progress that had been made, and managed to humiliate both Colin Powell (who had publicly stated that the Bush administration would continue the Clinton policies) and the South Korean president, who had been working to increase dialog with the North.

With talks cut off indefinitely (due to the Bush administration’s infantile foreign policy stance that if we don’t like you, we won’t talk to you), North Korea’s egomaniacal and Lilliputian dictator, acting like a child himself, sought attention the only way he could: by acting out. But while a bratty child acts out by throwing his mashed potatoes at the wall, Kim Jong Il decided to break out his nuclear materials. Why not? After all, the diplomacy that had led to them being under lock and key had evaporated under the “leadership” of the Bush administration.

As Kaplan writes, “Bush's failure to make a deal, while the fuel rods were still locked up, constitutes one of the great diplomatic blunders of our time.”

So perhaps Hyman is right in a broken clock sort of way. Yes, few in the 1990s foresaw that North Korea would be pushing as hard as it is for nuclear weapons as it is today. But that’s precisely because most assumed that even if a hopelessly clueless president were elected in 2000, no one could possibly be stupid enough to disengage with North Korea after so much progress had been made.

On that point, at least, they *were* wrong.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.17


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