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No Partial Credit

By Jed Babbin

The fall of the Berlin Wall marked its beginning, and the claimed North Korean nuclear test marks its end. Between them was the era of partial credit. American presidents could claim that they did their best to solve enormous problems and should get credit for trying regardless of having failed abjectly. They did this to the accompaniment of the UN, diplomats in the role of French Olympic ice skating judges, awarding or deducting style points. President Bush has to disarm North Korea's nascent nuclear arsenal. There will be no credit given for nice tries: only results count. And Iran is watching.

President Bush has a number of options to pursue, each of which could solve the North Korean nuclear problem. One of them isn't the UN. China is already playing its UN card well, agreeing that sanctions should be imposed but objecting to any sanctions that aren't limited to those that affect only North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. By ruling out tough economic sanctions - such as a global blockade of North Korean financial transactions - China means to prevent the UN from imposing any sanctions that will force North Korea to change its behavior. The UN cannot and will not deal effectively with North Korea just like it could not and did not deal with Saddam and cannot and will not deal with Iran. China, Russia and France make that certain. If the president remains stuck in the UN, he will fail in disarming the North Korean nuclear arsenal.

By going to the UN Mr. Bush shelves his ability to use the diplomatic and military tools that are independent of it. The most effective combination of such tools is the Proliferation Security Initiative. The PSI now has nineteen member nations agreed to interdict shipments of missiles and weapons of mass destruction between and among rogues and terrorists. By Italy's cooperation, the PSI was directly responsible for Libya's surrender of its nuclear weapons program to us. Mr. Bush could call upon the Proliferation Security Initiative nations to act directly, and have the solution to the problem well begun before November 7th. Were he to do so, North Korean ships and aircraft would be searched anywhere they are found and Kim Jong-il's principal goal - to produce and sell missiles and nuclear weapons - could be thwarted.

The second tool Mr. Bush should use quickly is his most senior representative, Vice President Cheney. Mr. Cheney should be dispatched to Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul (in that order). Sending Cheney instead of Condoleeza Rice sends a much-needed message of firmness. Japan is one of the PSI members and should be embraced for taking the initiative against North Korea. The new Shinzo Abe government has announced it will ban entry of all North Korean citizens and goods into Japan as well as bar North Korean ships from its ports as sanctions for the nuclear test. (Failing to invoke the PSI and relying on the UN to specify sanctions undercuts Japan's action dramatically). Mr. Cheney should openly praise the Abe government's policies and call upon others to follow them. In Beijing, Mr. Cheney could warn China that world opinion will hold it responsible for failing to control North Korea. As one of our top China hands told me in an interview last year, China is highly sensitive to such criticism, and American representatives can have very frank - even blunt - talks with them without offending. Speaking firmly behind closed doors, Mr. Cheney can move the Chinese. And, in Seoul, Mr. Cheney should warn the South Korean government to follow Japan's example or risk losing the protection of American troops based there.

This would set us on a path to disarming North Korea's nuclear weapons and - by acting decisively outside the UN - the president would let Mahmoud Ahmadinejad know he's not bluffing when he says Iran will not be allowed to have nuclear weapons. Any actions less firm will prove the opposite: that any nation, no matter how radical, jihadist or rogue, will be permitted to have (and possibly sell) nuclear weapons.

The politics of North Korea's nuclear weapons has so far escaped the Republicans. The architects of the Carter-Clinton failed 1994 "Agreed Framework" deal with North Korea are out blaming President Bush for its failure. In Wednesday's New York Times, former president Carter wrote that the failure of his 1994 deal was caused by President Bush labeling North Korea part of the "axis of evil" in 2002. Carter's statement doesn't withstand even the slightest analysis. On April 24, 2003, in Beijing talks with Chinese and American representatives, North Korean representatives declared that their nation possessed nuclear weapons. In 2004, Defense Intelligence Agency experts reportedly said that North Korea had between four and eight plutonium bombs. By Carter's analysis, that would mean the North Koreans stopped their nuclear weapons development for eight years, recommenced it in 2002 and in less than two years had managed to produce several weapons. His claim is risible.

In the last weeks of the 2006 campaign, invoking PSI and launching Mr. Cheney on a trip to deal with the North Korea matter would combine good policy with good politics. No matter what the president does between now and November 7th, he'll be accused by the Dems and convicted by the media of politicizing every problem he tackles. Mr. Bush's rule should be that if you're pursuing good policy, you should take every political advantage that comes with it. To the charge of politicization, he should plead gleefully guilty while reminding Americans that one of the reasons they voted for him in 2004 was that -- unlike John Kerry - George Bush is capable of acting without the UN's permission.

Carter's assignment of blame to Bush, like Clinton's wail that he tried to get bin Laden and failed but Bush didn't try, should be broadcast over and over across the nation. The Democrats' approach to every foreign threat never varies, nor does its result. From Vietnam to pre-9-11 bin Laden, the Dems track record is something campaign ads could hang around their necks like the Old Mariner's albatross. The best news of the week is that RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman is intervening in close Senate races by buying ad time in Ohio, Tennessee and Missouri to help DeWine, Corker and Talent. Maybe there are a few national ads in the making, too. Like war, politics is about winners and losers. And you don't get partial credit for losing an election.

NOTE: In the final paragraph, the "Old Mariner's mill stone" has been corrected to say the "Old Mariner's albatross."

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a contributing editor to The American Spectator and author of Showdown: Why China Wants War with the United States (with Edward Timperlake, Regnery 2006) and Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think (Regnery 2004).

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