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Kim Jong-Il's Game Plan

The Journal Editorial Report

Paul Gigot: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," the North Korean nuclear crisis. Kim Jong Il's regime threatens more weapons tests and says that further U.S. pressure would be an act of war. As the White House pushes for tougher sanctions, will the world community take decisive action? Plus, the state of Ohio made the difference in 2004, and now a Senate race in the Buckeye State may determine which party holds the majority in 2007. Those topics plus our weekly "Hits and Misses." But first, these headlines.

Gigot: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report," I'm Paul Gigot. North Korea's claim that it tested a nuclear weapon this week sparked global outrage, but no decisive action from the world community. President Bush pledged to work with North Korea's neighbors to bring tough sanctions against Kim Jong Il's regime. China and South Korea have agreed to support sanctions, but the nations have yet to agree on a framework for how and when sanctions should be imposed. So where do we go from here? Joining me now is the Henry Wynn Scholar in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute, Nick Eberstadt. Welcome, Nick.

Eberstadt: Thank you, Paul.

Gigot: You have written that the main goal here, the strategic goal of Kim Jong Il is to divide the U.S.-South Korean strategic partnership. Why don't you explain that to our viewers?

Eberstadt: Sure.

Gigot: And is he succeeding?

Eberstadt: Sure. Well, we've talked about the DPRK as being a rogue regime or being a terrorist state. But I think we should really consider it a revisionist state. It's a government that is implacably dissatisfied with the international security order that it faces in its region. Its big grievances are three:

It doesn't like the capitalist world economy, because it thinks that what they call ideological and cultural infiltration will possibly undo their regime. It's got a big problem with the Pax Americana in Northeast Asia, which is to say, with the military alliance structure that its superpower enemy, the U.S., has established in the area. And it has a really big problem with the continuing existence and survival of the Republic of Korea, of the South Korean democratic state, on the Korean Peninsula, since the Kim family thinks that they should own the whole place.

Nukes and long-range missiles are the DPRK's instruments for trying to break the U.S. security architecture in Northeast Asia. Because threatening the United States homeland with nuclear weapons launched by long-range ballistic missiles is a way of undermining and challenging the credibility of the U.S.-South Korean military bonds.

Gigot: But can it really do that? You're talking about a state that is isolated. It's very, very poor. And you're talking about across the border a South Korean regime that has both legitimacy with its own people and a formidable military in its own right. I mean, isn't this more saber-rattling than anything else? How can he really break that alliance?

Eberstadt: The path certainly has been towards undermining and weakening the alliance over the last decade. There are problems in the alliance already that I don't think I need to explain to you. We see it every day on the news. The nuclear threat against the United States would be another way of putting a punch on a bruise in an already somewhat troubled alliance.

You know, it sounds preposterous to sensible, enlightened people in the modern world to think that a government like Kim Jong Il's could entertain the ambition of absorbing a bigger, richer, more powerful state like South Korea. But in a different time, in a different place, there was this funny little Austrian guy who wrote this book.


And people, who were sophisticated at the time, said could this ridiculous little Austrian possibly mean what he said? And he did.

Gigot: Well, China and South Korea--some people think that, in the United States government if you talk to them privately, say that maybe this nuclear test is an opportunity diplomatically. Because maybe, finally, it will awaken China and South Korea to say, Look, we can't live with this rogue regime. Now, we have to get tough on sanctions. Now, we have to really put enough pressure on the regime to make a change. Do you see any prospect of that happening in the wake of this test?

Eberstadt: Well, if we were out in outer space looking at the national interests of the Chinese state and the South Korean state, we'd certainly say that their interests would be served by working with the U.S. to punish and penalize the DPRK for its nuclear provocations. But governments don't always follow their own obvious interests. Governments miscalculate at times.

To get back to our ridiculous little Austrian friend in an earlier era, we saw in Europe, in an earlier period, unending conference diplomacy as more seemingly civilized states dithered and wished to talk as the revisionist state continued relentlessly to arm.

Gigot: All right. So if you are the United States right now, what do you do? What policies should you press?

Eberstadt: The United States has to penalize the DPRK for its nuclear transgressions. Economic penalties are, of course, the first sorts of penalties that come to mind. To enact economic penalties, we probably would most easily want to cooperate with South Korea and China, which are the North Korean state's lifelines. I think as a tactical matter, we'd have to have some greater cohesion with South Korea first, and then, after greater cohesion with South Korea, come to China and talk to China about penalties.

Gigot: All right, Nick Eberstadt, thanks for those thoughts. And we'll be watching. Thanks for being here. When we come back, the politics of North Korea. Both Republicans and Democrats jump at the chance to blame the other side for the nuclear crisis. Plus, we'll take a look at the heated Senate race in Ohio, where both candidates are running on national security. Our panel weighs in on those topics and our "Hits and Misses" of the week when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

Gigot: Welcome back. North Korea's reported test of a nuclear weapon set off a fierce political debate this week. Democrats accused the Bush administration of focusing on Iraq while ignoring the more serious threat of Kim Jong Il. John McCain pointed the finger at President Clinton's failure to curb North Korea's weapons development in the 1990s. Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger, as well as Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason Riley and foreign-affairs columnist Bret Stephens.

Bret, you read former President Jimmy Carter's op-ed this week in which he said that basically if the Bush administration had followed President Clinton's strategies of the 1990s of negotiating directly with North Korea, none of this would have happened. Do you buy that?

Stephens: He used to be president?

No, look, Jimmy Carter tells a story that, in 1994, he went to Pyongyang during a similar kind of crisis. He sweet-talked with Kim Il Sung, the current leader's father, said nice things about Pyongyang, made an agreement, and everything was fine all the way up until the Bush administration came to town and started speaking aggressively about North Korea being a member of the axis of evil.

What that ignores--information that we now know and that was even coming to light during the Clinton years--is that even as the ink was dry on the agreement that Carter signed, or the U.S. signed, with North Korea to halt North Korea's plutonium-based weapons program, it was already cooperating with A.Q. Kahn, the Pakistan proliferator, to develop a separate uranium-based enrichment nuclear-weapons program. So the idea that somehow diplomacy worked is flatly wrong.

Gigot: Jason?

Riley: I know it's mid-October and in an election year, but the disingenuousness of these political attacks is really remarkable. Bush is accused of provoking North Korea by including them in the axis of evil when, as everyone knows, for years North Korea has been brazenly violating international agreements.

Bush gets accused, or criticized, for pushing for multilateral talks when it comes to dealing with North Korea, but he also gets criticized for pushing bilateral talks when he comes with dealing with Saddam Hussein.

Gigot: But wait a minute. But let's think about this. North Korea has now fired off a missile, a couple of months ago, that it didn't do before, and exploded a nuclear weapon in a test now--at least it claims to have. I mean, that's a failure, it seems to me, of policy, is it not? North Korea is breaking out and threatening and dividing South Korea from the United States. Isn't it making progress?

Henninger: Well, it's making progress of a sort. It's dividing the United States from both South Korea and China. Part of--I think one of the flaws in the criticism of the Democrats is that there have been articles recently by both Jimmy Carter, this one, and Bill Perry, Clinton's former defense secretary. And they both kind of jump across the six-party talks that have been going on for several years until they were suspended.

And they seem to just blink at the idea that nothing we do with North Korea is going to succeed without the cooperation of China and without the cooperation of South Korea. The idea that the United States and that George Bush can somehow, himself, talk to the North Koreans and get them to back off on their nuclear program, it just strikes me as fatuous.

Gigot: One other interesting element, politically, in this, John McCain spoke up this week and criticized Bill Clinton. And in the wake of remarks by Hillary Clinton also criticizing the Bush administration, attacked her for her analysis of this situation. What do you think Sen. McCain was up to?

Henninger: Well, that's really interesting, because, you know, John McCain has been involved in this issue going back to 1993 and 1994 when he was explicitly criticizing the agreed framework that Clinton and Carter were forming. McCain has been involved in this subject for a long time. And I think he was putting a shot across the bow of Hillary Clinton, reminding her of that period back when--you and I, Paul, heard Hillary Clinton talk last year about North Korea. And then, she didn't know what she was talking about quite frankly.

Gigot: Bret, does Kim Jong Il, do you think, have anything to fear from the United Nations, from sanctions at the United Nations?

Stephens: No, not the way the United Nations is speaking. The Chinese and South Koreans have said they'll go for sanctions, but not really ones that are regime-changing sanctions. Russia has sent an emissary to Pyongyang. So the international community, at least via the U.N., is sending all the wrong signals. That is not to say that the United States can't start to exert serious pressure on South Korea, serious pressure on the Chinese, to change their attitude towards North Korea. But we're not doing that.

Gigot: And how would you do that, Jason?

Riley: Well, sanctions, in and of themselves, have a spotty history here. I mean, ask Saddam. Ask Fidel. Ask the ayatollahs. It's the quality of the sanctions that matters. So you do need the Chinese. You do need the South Koreas to be on board. And sanctions are the way to go. And frankly, with our obligations in Iraq, they limit our options and what we can do.

Stephens: Well, but I think that's true up to a point. But let's not forget, we have taken very effective financial measures to cut the flow of illegal financing to North Korea. They were using front banks in Macau to work their financing, drug smuggling. There are things you can do. And you can do a naval blockade.

Gigot: All right. Last word, Bret, thanks. We'll be back after this short break. The state of Ohio swung the 2004 presidential election, and now the Buckeye State may determine who holds power in the Senate. That and our "Hits and Misses" of the week when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

Gigot: Ohio Republican Sen. Michael DeWine and Democratic Congressman Sherrod Brown are locked in a neck-and-neck race for the Senate that may determine which party holds power in the chamber in 2007. DeWine has been running on his support for the administration's homeland security efforts and criticizing Brown's antiwar record.

Announcer: Nineteen ninety-three, The World Trade Center is bombed. Months later, Congressman Brown votes to cut intelligence funding. Nineteen ninety-six, al Qaeda kills 19 U.S. servicemen. Brown votes again to slash intelligence spending. Nineteen ninety-eight, terrorists strike U.S. embassies. Brown votes against the intelligence budget. After 9/11, a bipartisan Congress gives law enforcement tools to fight terrorism. But Congressman Brown votes "no." The record is clear.

Gigot: Brown voted against the war in Iraq and accuses DeWine of playing a part in covering up prewar intelligence failures.

Announcer: What kind of man would use our troops to smear his opponent? DeWine. A man who doctored photos of 9/11 for political gain, missed critical meetings on the Intelligence Committee, misled us on weapons of mass destruction, then tried to cover up intelligence failures.

Gigot: Jason, you've been spending some time in Ohio, and it's been a good Republican state for years. But this year, it seems to be trending very badly for the GOP. What is the larger context in Ohio this year?

Riley: Well, the strategy in Ohio for Democrats is really of a piece with the nationwide strategy. We've seen it in Pennsylvania with Santorum. We've seen it in Missouri with Jim Talent. And the strategy for Democrats is to link the Republican opponent to President Bush, who's got low approval ratings, and then essentially run against the president. And in Ohio, they really hit pay dirt in the form of not only low approval ratings for Bush, but a governor whose approval ratings are also in the tank. Gov. Bob Taft, who is even more unpopular than the president right now. And that's because of not only just a bad economy in the state, but scandals and corruption in the state.

A Republican fund-raiser was recently sentenced to prison for violating campaign contribution laws. Bob Ney, the Ohio congressman, has been linked to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal in Washington. And even the governor himself pled no contest to ethics violations last year. So Sherrod Brown's strategy has been to tie DeWine to all of this corruption, and he's having some success. But the race is a toss-up right now.

Gigot: I think even some Republicans call the governor Taft-and-spend, a play off of old tax-and-spend. So, I mean, it's going to be a bad year for Republicans in Ohio, isn't it?

Henninger: Well, it could be. Ohio--what has gone on there, you could serve as a case study in political science classes on how a Republican governor can blow up control of a state. I mean, they had control of that state through the '90s. But they've got a lot of problems common to many states: Exploding Medicaid costs that they have to meet somehow. They had a schools decision that they had to underwrite.

And Ohio's never been able to make up its mind, whether it was going to raise taxes or drop taxes. The state is always on the bubble economically. It's losing population. Yes, it's losing manufacturing jobs. But cities like Columbus are booming. They're attracting new economies. Well, this sort of state of affairs creates a sense of dissatisfaction among Ohioans. And I'm from Ohio. I was back there recently. And the mood is really sour.

Gigot: The Mike DeWine ad, you saw it. It focuses on national security. Clearly, this is an attempt to reframe the election debate so that he can pull out that Senate race by talking about something else, other than the things we've been talking about. Do you think it's going to work for him, Bret?

Stephens: Well, I think it'll be more difficult because DeWine has gone some distance to--he's tried to distance himself somewhat from the Bush administration. He has been one of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's fiercest critics. And I don't really think that helps him so much. I mean, if he now comes out as a critic of Rumsfeld or a partial critic of the way the war is conducted, then voters are likely to say, Well, I'm just going to plump for Brown because he was saying this stuff before the Iraq war began.

Gigot: He said that--DeWine said, I think, recently that if he had to do it over again, he would have voted against the Iraq war. Now how does that help him with his own base voters?

Riley: I think it--I don't know that it does. But I think it's a sign of how Brown's got him on his heels.

Henninger: And look at the way the momentum is going. Whatever you make of it, the rule of thumb is that a president can't win unless they carry Ohio. This is a thing that's always seemed to have been true. If the Democrats win the governorship in Ohio, and if the Democrats win that Senate race, Ohio is going to be white hot going into 2008. Because the Democrats will think something happened there that's going our way. And to some extent, they'll be right.

Gigot: But on the other hand, if national security does, that theme, does pull it out for DeWine, this will be proof to the Republicans again that that is a very potent political theme going into 2008. Who do you think is going to win, Dan?

Henninger: I think DeWine will win by a hair.

Gigot: All right. Either of you guys have a different opinion?

Stephens: Brown.

Gigot: Brown?

Riley: I would say DeWine pulls it out.

Gigot: All right, two to one. All right, thank you. We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Gigot: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses." It's our way of calling attention to the best and the worst of the week. Item one, an update on the Senate race in Connecticut. Dan?

Henninger: Yeah, remember that one? Ned Lamont and Joe Lieberman and how the Democrats all swarmed Connecticut to drive Joe Lieberman out of the Democratic primary? Well, the latest University of Connecticut/Hartford Courant poll has Lieberman up over Lamont, 46% to 39%. Ned Lamont has had to pour another $2 million of his own fortune into it, bringing it up to about $8.75 million of his own money. Small donations to the Lamont campaign are apparently beginning to dry up. So remember the old song "Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out"? That's what Joe Lieberman was singing during that primary. But it's kind of beginning to look like Ned Lamont may be the guy who's on his way out.

Gigot: So Lieberman wins, you think?

Henninger: I think so.

Gigot: All right.

Next, a miss for Tower Records. Jason?

Riley: Yes. The Internet upends another business model with iTunes and digital music dominating the marketplace. I guess it was inevitable that it would no longer be profitable to ship little plastic discs to record stores. But I, for one, will miss the ambiance of music stores. And I'm sure that a lot of other people, who grew up being able to browse music stores, will miss the same. But I doubt Tower will be the last one to go.

Gigot: You have an iPod?

Riley: I do not.

Gigot: All right. Finally, Bret, a hit for The Wall Street Journal, if we can do that on this show.

Stephens: Yes. If we can advertise ourselves. This has been--for the last five years, the press has been embroiled in various ways and disputes with governments. And for a long time, Britain was a place where people went to sue the press thinking that it was an easy place for them to win. Well, The Wall Street Journal was dealing with a landmark case dealing with allegations of Saudi terrorist financing. And this case went on. We lost in some of the lower courts. But finally, it went all the way up to the Law Lords, who ruled that The Wall Street Journal had been conducting responsible journalism on one of the most pressing issues of the day, which was terrorism financing, and that that kind of journalism deserved protection, and that they needed more of it. So it's a great day for The Wall Street Journal and for all the media.

Gigot: All right, thanks, Bret. That's it for this week's edition of "The Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to Dan Henninger, Jason Riley and Bret Stephens. I'm Paul Gigot. Thanks to all of you for watching.

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