A Few Comments on the Debate
Jude Wanniski
October 1, 2004

 

Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Uninformed Political Leaders

I asked my golfing buddy, Jim Biondi, 84, a lifelong Republican, how he thought President Bush did last night in the debate with Senator Kerry. He frowned and said Mr. Bush did not do that well. I agreed, and he asked why I thought Mr. Bush did not do well. "He is basically uninformed on important issues," I said. Biondi bristled: "The President isn't uninformed. He is the President. He has to be informed." I told my friend that ordinary Americans do not believe that their President can be the least informed, if his information comes to him from advisors who want him to do as they wish. Unless he is wise enough to see through this, he will make decisions that are not necessarily informed.

The issue I raised, which I thought the low point in the debate as far as the President was concerned, involved North Korea and nuclear weapons. Here is the exchange I had in mind:

Mr. Lehrer: New question, Mr. President. Do you believe that diplomacy and sanctions can resolve the nuclear problems with North Korea and Iran, taking them in any order you would like?

Mr. Bush: North Korea first, I do. Let me say I certainly hope so. Before I was sworn in the policy of this government was to have bilateral negotiations with North Korea. And we signed an agreement with North Korea that my administration found out that was not being honored by the North Koreans.

And so I decided that a better way to approach the issue was to get other nations involved, just besides us. And in Crawford, Tex., Jiang Zemin and I agreed that the, a nuclear-weapons-free North Korea peninsula was in his interest and our interest and the world's interest. And so we began a new dialogue with North Korea, one that included not only the United States but now China. And China's got a lot of influence over North Korea. In some ways more than we do. As well we included South Korea, Japan and Russia. So now there are five voices speaking to Kim Jong Il, not just one. And so if Kim Jong Il decides again to not honor an agreement he's not only doing injustice to America, be doing injustice to China as well. And I think this will work. It's not going to work if we open up a dialogue with Kim Jong Il. That's what he wants. He wants to unravel the six-party talks or the five-nation coalition that's sending him a clear message...

Mr. Lehrer Senator Kerry, 90 seconds.

Mr. Kerry: With respect to North Korea, the real story: We had inspectors and television cameras in the nuclear reactor in North Korea. Secretary Bill Perry negotiated that under President Clinton. And we knew where the fuel rods were. And we knew the limits on their nuclear power. Colin Powell, our secretary of state, announced one day that we were going to continue the dialogue and work with the North Koreans. The president reversed him, publicly, while the president of South Korea was here. And the president of South Korea went back to South Korea bewildered and embarrassed because it went against his policy. And for two years, this administration didn't talk at all to North Korea. While they didn't talk at all, the fuel rods came out, the inspectors were kicked out, the television cameras were kicked out and today there are four to seven nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea. That happened on this president's watch. Now that, I think, is one of the most serious sort of reversals or mixed messages that you could possibly sendů

Mr. Lehrer: Yes sir, we-but in this one minute, I want to make sure that we understand - that the people watching here understand the differences between the two of you on this. You want to continue the multinational talks. Correct?

Mr. Bush: Right.

Mr. Lehrer: And you want - you're willing to do it.

Mr. Kerry: Both. I want bilateral talks which put all of the issues from the armistice of 1952, the economic issues, the human rights issues, the artillery disposal issues, the D.M.Z. issues and the nuclear issues on the table.

Mr. Lehrer: And you're opposed to that, sir. Right?

Mr. Bush: The minute we have bilateral talks, the six-party talks will unwind. It's exactly what Kim Jong Il wants. And by the way, the breach on the agreement was not through plutonium. The breach on the agreement is highly enriched uranium. That's what we caught him doing. That's where he was breaking the agreement.

* * * * *

Bilateral? Multilateral? What Kim Jong Il wants? What's going on here. The fact is that the United States has been acting in bad faith with Pyongyang for the last decade. I mean our own Uncle Sam!! Mr. Bush himself acknowledges that before he became President, it was the policy of the United States to have bilateral talks with North Korea, but he STOPPED that policy because he learned that North Korea was violating the 1994 Accord that provided for bilateral talks.

Now I am absolutely sure the President believes what he says, but in fact the North Koreans never violated any agreement with us. They have lived up to the letter and spirit of all their agreements with us, as far as I can tell. Kim Jong Il will happily agree to return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Safeguards Agreement, which would permit the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect any site in North Korea that seemed suspiciously to be part of a nuclear weapons program. But Kim is being most reasonable when he points out that Saddam Hussein made those same commitments and did in fact allow inspectors to snoop in every noon and cranny -- and it made no difference to President Bush. The President still decided to go to war with Iraq! It wasn't enough that Saddam was ready to agree to perpetual, intrusive inspections. If I were Kim Jong Il, I wouldn't trust Mr. Bush any further than I could throw him. Why would any serious political leader of a nation state?

President Bush clearly does not understand any of this. He is basically uninformed on the true nature of the problem with Pyongyang. He seems to believe we would lose some leverage with Kim if the talks were bilateral and China was not involved, but if he would simply ask straight out if China would mind, he would find the Chinese extremely pleased with the idea. Senator Kerry must have asked his advisors straight out, because he is comfortable with the idea of bilateral talks. He is better informed.

On the other hand, Mr. Kerry is a bit misinformed. He says "four to seven nuclear weapons are in the hands of North Korea." This is most improbable, according to my sources. North Korea insists it has no nuclear weapons and that it has no program to develop nuclear weapons. If one were to ask the International Atomic Energy Agency, it will say that it has no evidence that North Korea has either one of the other. If one were to ask the CIA, it would say that it "suspects" North Korea possesses "four to seven" nukes. If President Bush were to ask the new CIA director, Porter Goss, if North Korea has WMD, he would not say it was "a slam dunk."

In fact, if he were to press Mr. Goss on the actual facts in his possession about that possibility, Mr. Goss would tell him that his agents read about the nukes in the newspapers. Remember when the former CIA director George Tenet told Mr. Bush that it would be a "slam dunk" to prove that Saddam Hussein had WMD? Where did he get that information? From an enemy of Saddam Hussein named Ahmed Chalabi, who may have read it in a newspaper.

See what I mean, what I was trying to tell my golfing friend Jim Biondi? The guys at the top, up to and including the President of the United States, are not especially well-informed. If the are prepared to believe what they really want to believe, they may even act on that information and start a war.