Hannah Storm Puzzled By President Bush's Refusal To Cave To North Korean Demands

With North Korea testing nuclear weapons and Democrats demanding that the Bush administration engage in bilateral talks with them, it should come as no surprise that the "Early Show" once again turned to Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution for analysis. O’Hanlon, made his 17th appearance of the year on Thursday’s "Early Show" where he was sure to plug his book. "Early Show" co-host Hannah Storm conducted the interview and pondered why, if the Democrats and Kofi Annan and the North Koreans want the Bush administration to engage the North Koreans directly, why wouldn’t President Bush simply acquiesce:

"But first President Bush said Wednesday that negotiating directly with North Korea would not have stopped that country's nuclear tests, and he added there would be no one-on-one talks now, that's something that Democrats are calling for...Also, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for direct talks. The North Koreans has asked for it. Why does the president say no?"

O’Hanlon asserted that President Bush is correct, that for there to be a real solution there will have to be many partners, but he lamented it was a mistake to not at the same time have direct talks with the North Koreans on the side, and to refuse solutions that would allow the North Koreans to save face:

"Well I think He's got a point to an extent Hannah because he's right, any solution to this is going to have to involve a lot of partners...Where he, perhaps, is wrong is to say that we don't even want to have bilateral talks on the side or he's not willing to have some kind of a solution that will give the North Koreans a little bit of face."

Wasn’t the talk directly to the North Koreans approach already attempted by the Clinton administration? And did it work? The larger point is that America should not allow itself to be blackmailed by any government, let alone a despotic regime such as North Korea’s. But O’Hanlon didn’t seem to grasp that point.

Instead, O’Hanlon plugged his book and insisted that America should pursue a policy of positive reinforcement with North Korea:

"...Try that more positive approach and then resort to tougher measures only if the positive approach fails. That's something that Kurt Campbell and I have just written about that in our new book 'Hard Power.' We basically say you've got to try to help North Korea move in the direction of Vietnam or China have moved with their economic reforms and general changes within. And, if the North is willing to do that, we can help them. We can lift trade sanctions; we can give loans et cetera. If they don't, China and South Korea may then be willing to get tough themselves. Otherwise, I don't think the sanction approach is going to go very far because again, China and South Korea really don't want to see the North Korean state punished too severely."

North Korea has been warned repeatedly not to develop nuclear weapons, and if they did that there would be consequences. The North Koreans, a nation that has declared all other nations in the world its enemy, ought to be punished for its actions, not coddled. After all, does O’Hanlon believe that if America would just give Kim Jong Il another basketball, all of a sudden he'dchange his ways?

The transcript of the segment follows:

Hannah Storm: "But first President Bush said Wednesday that negotiating directly with North Korea would not have stopped that country's nuclear tests, and he added there would be no one-on-one talks now, that's something that Democrats are calling for. Michael O'Hanlon is a foreign policy analyst and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. Good morning Michael."

Michael O'Hanlon, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow: "Hi Hannah."

Hannah Storm: "Also, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for direct talks. The North Koreans has asked for it. Why does the president say no?"

Michael O'Hanlon: "Well I think He's got a point to an extent Hannah because he's right, any solution to this is going to have to involve a lot of partners. China's going to have to help North Korea reform its economy, for example. You know, the way to reform a communist society by letting market based reforms come in, is something China has a lot of experience with. Japan's going to have to give economic aid. Russia may have to help with some arms control approaches. So, I think the president's basically right, we need all these <inaudible> involved. Where he, perhaps, is wrong is to say that we don't even want to have bilateral talks on the side or he's not willing to have some kind of a solution that will give the North Koreans a little bit of face. Because we're getting bogged down in procedural issues, when we should be focusing on the strategy. What basic approach will solve this problem substantively, that's the real question."

Hannah Storm: "So, what should the next step be?"

Michael O'Hanlon: "I think the next step should be for the president, we can't do much unless China and South Korea are willing to get tough with the north. Right now they're not willing to get tough. They don't want to see destabilized country on their border. The only way they might be willing to get tough is if we show a genuine willingness to try help the North reform first. Try that more positive approach and then resort to tougher measures only if the positive approach fails. That's something that Kurt Campbell and I have just written about that in our new book 'Hard Power.' We basically say you've got to try to help North Korea move in the direction of Vietnam or China have moved with their economic reforms and general changes within. And, if the North is willing to do that, we can help them. We can lift trade sanctions; we can give loans et cetera. If they don't, China and South Korea may then be willing to get tough themselves. Otherwise, I don't think the sanction approach is going to go very far because again, China and South Korea really don't want to see the North Korean state punished too severely."

Hannah Storm: "It's interesting because the president did leave open the possibility, he said on several occasions on Wednesday, 'look if our current strategy isn't working, I'm willing to change.' For now he's also ruled out military action, but is that possible down the road?"

Michael O'Hanlon: "Well, only if things get worse. There are no real good military options. We don't know where those ten North Korean nuclear bombs are stored. There's not much value in destroying the test site because they can always drill another hole under ground, they're pretty good at that. So the question is, what would you attack? And you're not going to try to overthrow this regime unless it becomes a very last resort, because Pentagon models show that a million people could die even if nuclear weapons are not used in that kind of a war. So, perhaps, we could destroy the nuclear reactor that the North Koreans still operate, there are a couple of more minimal options, but you've got to be sure that the value of that strike is really worth the risk of North Korean response. And I think right now, the president's correct to focus more on the economic rout. I'm just not sure that's going to work unless we first reach out in a more genuine way to try to push the North Koreans to reform. Of course, it's a funny moment to talk about trying to be kinder to the North Koreans, and so I'm not sure that's very likely to proceed from here."

Hannah Storm: "Michael O'Hanlon, thanks, we appreciate your insight this morning."