August 13, 2002
The Toronto Sun

Why Bribe North Korea But Not Iraq?

by Eric Margolis

NEW YORK -- Name a `rogue nation,' part of President George Bush's `axis of evil,' run by a megalomaniac dictator who threatens his neighbors and America with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. If you said Iraq, wrong.

The correct answer: North Korea. So is Washington planning to invade North Korea and overthrow Kim Jong-il's Stalinist regime? Absolutely not. While the war-infatuated Bush Administration insists full-scale invasion of Iraq is the only way to deal with wicked Saddam Hussein, its policy toward far more dangerous North Korea is radically different.

Last Wednesday, a high-profile ceremony was held in Kumho, North Korea, attended by 100 US, Korean and Japanese officials, complete with fireworks, flowery speeches, and a brass band, to lay the foundation of two nuclear power plants for `axis of evil' North Korea. The plants are being given to North Korea by a US-led consortium as a part of a US $4.6 billion package signed in 1994 to get the north to end its nuclear weapons program and not invade South Korea. Rather than fight a major war, the Clinton Administration decided to bribe North Korea to behave with cash, food, oil and nuclear plants. The Bush Administration has reaffirmed this policy, albeit reluctantly.

CIA estimates North Korea has at least 2-3 nuclear devices and a intermediate range missiles capable of delivering nuclear, chemical or biological warheads to all of Asia, Hawaii, and Alaska. North Korea is expected to have ICBM's capable of striking the American mainland in 2-3 years. North Korea refuses to admit UN nuclear inspectors. But this is apparently acceptable to the US.

North Korea also continues to strengthen its already huge, 1.1-million man army. Newly fielded batteries of long-range artillery, rockets, and tactical missiles, mainly improved Scuds, can deliver a storm of nuclear, conventional, chemical, and biological weapons onto Seoul, all positions of the US 2nd Infantry Division, and US airbases further south. North Korea has repeatedly threatened to `burn' Seoul and `annihilate' the 37,000 US troops in South Korea. In addition, its 100,000-man commando force, the world's largest, is tasked with attacking US bases in South Korea, Japan, Okinawa and even Guam.

Recent naval clashes with South Korea clearly show that while occasionally talking peace as a means of getting handouts of more cash, oil and food to feed its starving people, the North remains a dangerous, totally unpredictable nation led by a regime every bit as sinister and brutal as Saddam's, perhaps even more so.

Iraq threatens no one, save its own people. Iraq has less than 100,000 effective troops and an inoperative air force. Only 40% of its antiquated tanks and guns are operational. Its armed forces cannot move, fight, see, or communicate effectively. Iraq has perhaps five or so inaccurate Scud missiles hidden away and no nuclear weapons.

As for Iraq's much balyhooed weapons of mass destruction - mustard and nerve gas, anthrax, and botulism - nearly all were destroyed during seven years of intrusive UN inspections. Whatever small amounts were hidden away by Iraq have became chemically inert, according to former UN inspector Scott Ritter, who points out the shelf life of chemical and biological weapons is only 3-5 years.

By contrast, North Korea actively, directly threatens US troops and - one day soon - the US mainland. So why doesn't Bush go after North Korea, which is really a danger to Americans, instead of Iraq, which is not?

Two reasons: first, unlike Iraq, North Korea can fight back. The Pentagon estimates a major war with the North would cost 250,000 American casualties. War against Iraq would be a breeze by comparison. US military strategy calls for wars only against small nations that cannot well defend themselves. And, of course, North Korea has no oil.

Second, there is no US domestic lobby for war against North Korea. The US media has downplayed the threat of North Korea while exaggerating that of Iraq. America's highly influential Israel lobby and its partisans in the Pentagon, the Vice President's office, and media are straining every sinew to press the US to attack Iraq. The lobby's next target is Iran. This week, Vice President Dick Cheney said that even a return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq will not deter an invasion. From Israel's friends in the Pentagon came threats that Saudi Arabia might be next.

But if Washington is content to bribe truly menacing North Korea to be quiescent, why not do the same with Saddam Hussein, who was, after all, a former close US ally? If Saddam was America's friend and regional bullyboy up to 1991, why not again? Iraq was even flirting with Israel in the late 1980's. Saddam is no fool and would leap at a diplomatic, face-saving way of averting invasion and his own demise.

Bribery is always 90% cheaper than war. Bush's proposed crusade against Iraq will cost a minimum US $120 billion. It will sharply worsen the growing deficits Bush created, and trigger inflation. Why should America risk its soldiers in a trumped up, unnecessary war that the rest of the world will denounce as naked aggression and imperialism, when all Baghdad wants is to be pampered into goodness like `evil' North Korea?

[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and author of War at the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in The Economist, May 13, 2000]

Copyright © 2002 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
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