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Context of 'September 9, 2003: Bush Administration Manifests Unconcern at Prospect of North Korean Nuclear Test'

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Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage admits telling Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (see June 13, 2003) and columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003) that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA official, and says it was a “terrible” mistake to have done so. “Oh, I feel terrible,” he says. “Every day, I think I let down the president. I let down the secretary of state. I let down my department, my family, and I also let down Mr. and Mrs. Wilson.… I value my ability to keep state secrets. This was bad, and I really felt badly about this.” Asked if he owes the Wilsons an apology, Armitage says, “I think I’ve just done it.” He explains his conversation with Novak: “At the end of a wide-ranging interview he asked me, ‘Why did the CIA send Ambassador Wilson [Joseph Wilson, Plame Wilson’s husband] to Africa?’ I said I didn’t know, but that she worked out at the agency.” Armitage calls it “just an offhand question,” and adds, “I didn’t put any big import on it and I just answered and it was the last question we had.” He claims that the State Department intelligence memo that listed Plame Wilson as a CIA agent was only partially classified, and excuses his revelation by saying, “I had never seen a covered agent’s name in any memo in, I think, 28 years of government,” so he had no idea that Plame Wilson was a covert agent. He believes he referred to her as either “Mrs. Wilson” or “Wilson’s wife,” and adds: “I didn’t know the woman’s name was Plame. I didn’t know she was an operative.” Armitage claims he realized he was Novak’s source several months after Plame Wilson’s outing, and immediately informed the FBI (see October 1, 2003). He says he has not publicly discussed his role in the Plame Wilson affair until now because special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked him to remain silent: “[T]he special counsel, once he was appointed, asked me not to discuss this and I honored his request.” Fitzgerald has now released him from his pledge. Armitage has testified three times before Fitzgerald’s grand jury, the last time in December 2005, without being subpoenaed. “I was a cooperating witness from the beginning,” he says. (CBS News 9/7/2006; Johnston 9/8/2006)

US senior negotiator Christopher Hill warns North Korea that it should not test a nuclear device (see October 9, 2006), and that if it does, the US may consider it a “provocative act,” implying that the US might retaliate with military force. (BBC 12/2007)

Victoria Toensing, a former Justice Department official under the Reagan administration, reiterates and expands on claims made by her fellow conservatives (see Late August-Early September, 2006, September 2-5, 2006, September 5, 2006, September 5, 2006, September 6, 2006, and September 7, 2006) that the admission by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage of his leaking of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to a reporter (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003) exonerates accused perjurer Lewis Libby (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). “Mr. Armitage is responsible for one of the most factually distorted investigations in history,” Toensing writes. Toensing again asserts, as she has in the past, that Plame Wilson was not a covert official (see November 2-9, 2005 and November 3, 2005), though Plame Wilson’s covert status has been affirmed many times (see Fall 1992 - 1996, Late 1990s-2001 and Possibly After, April 22, 1999, (July 11, 2003), Before July 14, 2003, July 22, 2003, July 30, 2003, September 30, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, January 9, 2006, February 13, 2006, and September 6, 2006). She also echoes previous claims that Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003), is responsible for exposing his wife’s covert identity. (Toensing 9/15/2006)

United States Geological Survey graphic showing the location of the North Korea nuclear test. The USGS notes the test as ‘seismic activity.’United States Geological Survey graphic showing the location of the North Korea nuclear test. The USGS notes the test as ‘seismic activity.’ [Source: United States Geological Survey]North Korea explodes a nuclear weapon in an underground test site. The test takes place in spite of repeated US (see September 11, 2006), United Nations, and other international warnings. The North Koreans claim that the test is an unmitigated success. Both Japanese and US sources report a seismic event at the time of the test, and Russia says it is “100 percent certain” a nuclear test has occurred. The US calls the test a “provocative act”; China, in an unusually strong denunciation of its ally, calls the test “brazen,” expresses its “resolute opposition” to the test, and says it “defied the universal opposition of international society.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan calls the test “unpardonable” and notes that the region is now “entering a new, dangerous nuclear age.” Many observers believe the United Nations will attempt to impose economic sanctions on the country, and to condemn it in a Security Council resolution. “We expect the UN Security Council to take immediate actions to respond to this unprovoked act,” says White House press secretary Tony Snow. Abe, in South Korea to meet with President Roh Moo-hyun, agrees, urging the Security Council to take “undaunted” action. Abe says the test will spur Japan and the US to speed up work on a joint missile-defense system begun after a North Korean missile test in 1998. Roh says the test creates a “severe situation” that threatens stability in the region; South Korea’s military is on high alert. For its part, North Korea says the test is a “historic event that brought happiness to our military and people,” and claims the test will maintain “peace and stability” in the region. It is “a great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous, powerful socialist nation.” (BBC 10/9/2006) A week later, the US confirms that the North Koreans have, in fact, tested a nuclear weapon of less than a kiloton. (Bliss 10/16/2006)

North Korea says it may carry out further nuclear testing (see October 9, 2006), and says that any United Nations sanctions (see October 14, 2006) would be considered an act of war. The North blames the US for the threatened sanctions, and says, “If the US keeps pestering us and increases pressure, we will regard it as a declaration of war and will take a series of physical corresponding measures.” South Korea has placed its military on high alert. President Bush calls for stiff sanctions against North Korea, but insists the US has “no intentions of attacking” it. The US remains committed to diplomacy, Bush says, but “reserves all options to defend our friends in the region.” UN General Secretary Kofi Annan urges the US to hold bilateral talks with North Korea, and adds: “I would urge the North Korean authorities not to escalate the situation any further. We already have an extremely difficult situation.” Any further nuclear tests hinge on the US’s actions, says Kim Yong Nam, the deputy leader of the North Korean government. Kim says, “The issue of future nuclear tests is linked to US policy toward our country.” (Fox News 10/11/2006)

The United Nations Security Council votes unanimously to sanction North Korea for its recent nuclear weapons test (see October 9, 2006). UN Resolution 1718 demands that North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons as well as its ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction. The resolution gives other nations the right to inspect cargo moving in and out of North Korea to look for non-conventional weapons, but has no threat of force connected to the inspections’ potential findings. It also demands that Pyongyang return “without precondition” to the stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear program. (BBC 12/2007) As it threatened, North Korea labels the sanctions “a declaration of war” (see October 11, 2006). Though Pyongyang makes no direct military strikes towards South Korea or any other neighbor, indications are strong that it may be preparing for a second test. (Branigan 10/17/2006)

In an abrupt reversal, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il apologizes for his country’s nuclear test (see October 9, 2006). He reportedly tells a Chinese delegation that he regrets the test, denies any plans for further tests (see October 11, 2006), and says he is willing for North Korea to resume its participation in international nuclear negotiations if the US agrees not to “financially isolate” his country. For their part, US State Department officials say they doubt Kim made any such statements. But the US is willing to rejoin negotiations. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says, “The Chinese are emphasizing the need for six-party talks to begin again and for the North to re-engage in the talks.” North Korea “urged us to be open to returning to those talks without preconditions, which for us is not difficult.” (MSNBC 10/20/2006)

Investigative reporter Robert Parry, writing for the progressive Web news outlet ConsortiumNews, notes that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage may be far more intimately involved with the 2003 White House attempt to besmirch the credibility of former ambassador Joseph Wilson than has been previously noted (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). Armitage was the first administration official to expose former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to a reporter (see June 13, 2003), and later leaked it again (see July 8, 2003), that time to columnist Robert Novak, who exposed Plame Wilson in a July 2003 column (see July 14, 2003). Parry writes that conventional media wisdom paints Armitage as an outsider, not a member of the White House inner circle, and a skeptic about the Iraq war; therefore, the media argues, Armitage’s leaks of Plame Wilson’s identity were “inadvertent” and merely coincidental to the White House efforts to claim that former ambassador Joseph Wilson was sent to Africa (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) for partisan reasons by his wife. Parry notes that, as recently as September 2006, the Washington Post joined with conservative supporters of the Bush administration to claim that the White House did not intentionally “orchestrate” the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity (see Late August-Early September, 2006), and that Armitage had no connection with whatever efforts went on inside the White House to leak her identity. However, Parry notes, the mainstream media has consistently ignored the deep connections between Armitage and White House political savant Karl Rove, who many believe did orchestrate the Plame Wilson leak. According to Parry, “a well-placed conservative source… [a]n early supporter of George W. Bush who knew both Armitage and Rove… told me that Armitage and Rove were much closer than many Washington insiders knew.” Armitage and Rove became friends during the first weeks of the Bush administration’s first term, and they cooperated with one another to pass backchannel information between the White House and State Department. The source tells Parry that it is plausible to surmise that Armitage leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to two separate reporters, not by accident, but in collusion with Rove’s strategy to besmirch Wilson by exposing his wife’s CIA identity. Novak printed his column outing Plame Wilson using two primary sources—Armitage and Rove (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003). The source says that Novak’s initial claim of being given Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 21, 2003) suggests, in Parry’s words, “Armitage and Rove were collaborating on the anti-Wilson operation, not simply operating on parallel tracks without knowing what the other was doing.” The source finds the media’s assumption that Armitage “inadvertently” let Plame Wilson’s identity slip out, almost as gossip, amusing, and inaccurate. “Armitage isn’t a gossip, but he is a leaker,” the source says. “There’s a difference.” (Parry 1/17/2007)

The US abruptly reverses course on its North Korean policy (see Mid-January 2003 and October 9, 2006) and reopens negotiations with the North Koreans. It offers to release $25 million in North Korean funds impounded by Banco Delta Asia and to allow chief negotiator Christopher Hill to finalize a deal on the North’s denuclearization. The US will provide heavy fuel oil as North Korea shuts down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allows international inspectors into the country. The deal is quite similar to the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton administration (see October 21, 1994). The long-term goal is full disclosure of North Korea’s nuclear program, and normalized relations with the US. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “The North Korean regime seems no weaker for the years of antagonistic treatment by Bush conservatives” (see May 4, 2003). (BBC 12/2007; Scoblic 2008, pp. 261)

Neoconservative John Podhoretz, who has penned a number of columns in defense of former White House official Lewis Libby and repeatedly demanded that all charges against him be dropped (see November 18, 2005, April 9, 2006, and Late August-Early September, 2006), calls the defense decision not to have Libby testify in his own defense (see February 13-14, 2007) “a risky… tactic.” Podhoretz terms Libby’s efforts to avoid a guilty verdict “fighting for his freedom,” says the defense made the best decision it could “under the restrictions laid down by Judge Reggie Walton,” and quickly moves to question prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s ability to paint Libby as guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice. Podhoretz implicitly concedes that Libby may well have leaked Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to the press, but concludes that “nothing came of it.” Podhoretz says that given the events of the trial, it is unlikely that Libby will win a 12-0 vote in the jury and be acquitted; instead, he believes, the defense is now going for a hung jury. “Can Libby prevail?” he writes. “It’s easy to see how a few jurors at least might decide that they’ve just been subjected to a nonsense case that should be thrown into the garbage. But all 12 jurors siding with Libby? That’s a little like trying to fill an inside straight.” Podhoretz concludes by asking, “At which point, the question will be: Will prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald fold up his tent or is he going to devote more time and resources trying to destroy my friend Scooter Libby’s life by putting him on trial a second time?” (Podhoretz 2/14/2007)

Mona Charen.Mona Charen. [Source: News New Mexico]Conservative columnist Rich Lowry, who often writes for the National Review, writes a harsh denunciation of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in a syndicated column picked up by, among other media outlets, the Salt Lake Tribune. Lowry begins by joining other conservatives in calling for a presidential pardon for convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 8, 2007, and March 9, 2007), but quickly pivots to an all-out attack on Fitzgerald’s integrity as a prosecutor and on the jury that convicted Libby. Fitzgerald “had sufficient evidence to convince a handful of people drawn from Washington, DC’s liberal jury pool that Libby was guilty,” Lowry writes, and states, without direct evidence, that even the jury “didn’t believe Libby should have been in the dock in the first place.” Lowry echoes earlier arguments that Valerie Plame Wilson was exposed as a CIA official by her husband, Joseph Wilson (see November 3, 2005 and Late August-Early September, 2006), who, Lowry writes, should have known that once he wrote a column identifying himself as a “Bush-hater” (see July 6, 2003), questions would inevitably be asked as to why someone like him would be sent on a fact-finding mission to Niger. Lowry also echoes the false claim that Plame Wilson sent her husband on the mission (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). “Fitzgerald let himself become an instrument of political blood lust,” Lowry writes. If Democrats and other opponents of the Bush administration want to “score points against ‘the case for war,’” Lowry writes, the way to do that “is through advocacy [and] political agitation,” not by “jailing [Vice President Dick Cheney’s] former chief of staff. This is the very definition of the criminalization of politics. If the other party occupies the White House, each side in our politics is willing to embrace this criminalization, even if it means doing violence to its own interests and principles.” (Lowry 3/8/2007) A day later, Lowry’s National Review colleagues, Mona Charen and Thomas Sowell, echo Lowry’s charge that Fitzgerald’s investigation “criminalized politics.” Charen goes somewhat further, labeling Fitzgerald “Ahab” in reference to the obsessed whale-boat captain of Moby Dick, and compares the Libby trial with the alleged perjury committed by former President Clinton in a sexual harassment lawsuit, where Clinton denied having an affair with a White House intern. Sowell dismisses the entire leak investigation as a great deal of nothing, and writes that Libby’s life has been ruined so that “media liberals” can “exult… as if their conspiracy theories had been vindicated.” (Charen 3/9/2007; Sowell 3/9/2007)

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, described by observers as a moderate liberal, castigates US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and the government lawyers who successfully prosecuted former White House senior aide Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby (see October 28, 2005 and March 6, 2007). Unlike some of his more conservative colleagues (see October 29, 2005, October 31, 2005, November 4, 2005, November 17, 2005, November 18, 2005, December 8, 2005, April 9, 2006, April 17, 2006, July 12, 2006, Late August-Early September, 2006, September 2-5, 2006, September 5, 2006, September 5, 2006, September 7, 2006, October 16, 2006, January 17, 2007, February 16, 2007, February 16, 2007, February 27, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 8-9, 2007, March 9, 2007, and March 11, 2007), Cohen does not plainly state that Libby is innocent of any crime. Rather, Cohen accuses Fitzgerald of doing the work of the “liberal press (especially the New York Times)” and “opponents of the Iraq war” in “mak[ing] a mountain out of a molehill.” The outing of clandestine CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003 and July 12, 2006) was nothing more than a “run-of-the-mill leak,” he writes. Moreover, he writes, Fitzgerald “wound up prosecuting not the leaker—Richard Armitage of the State Department (see June 13, 2003)—but Libby, convicted in the end of lying. Cohen justifies his claim by writing: “This is not an entirely trivial matter since government officials should not lie to grand juries, but neither should they be called to account for practicing the dark art of politics. As with sex or real estate, it is often best to keep the lights off.” Cohen goes on to call the Libby investigation “a train wreck—mile after mile of shame, infamy, embarrassment, and occasional farce.” He accuses Fitzgerald of using the power of his office to unjustly compel journalists to testify to their own knowledge and complicity in Libby’s leak. The Iraq war opponents “cheered” Fitzgerald on, Cohen writes, and goes on to say that those opponents “thought—if ‘thought’ can be used in this context—that if the thread was pulled on who had leaked the identity of Valerie Plame to Robert D. Novak, the effort to snooker an entire nation into war would unravel and this would show… who knows? Something. For some odd reason, the same people who were so appalled about government snooping, the USA Patriot Act, and other such threats to civil liberties cheered as the special prosecutor weed-whacked the press, jailed a reporter, and now will send a previously obscure government official to prison for 30 months.” Had the Iraq war only claimed 300 American lives and ended with a clear victory, Cohen writes, no one would have called for any such investigation. As it stands, he continues, the anti-war left and the “liberal press” demanded “scalps” and was given Libby’s. “Accountability is one thing,” Cohen writes. “By all means, let Congress investigate and conduct oversight hearings with relish and abandon. But a prosecution is a different matter. It entails the government at its most coercive—a power so immense and sometimes so secretive that it poses much more of a threat to civil liberties, including freedom of the press, than anything in the interstices of the scary Patriot Act.” He concludes by calling on President Bush to commute Libby’s sentence. (Cohen 6/19/2007; Greenwald 6/19/2007) Cohen has previously asked that the prosecution of Libby be terminated (see October 13, 2005), called Libby’s prosecution “silly,” and misrepresented the facts behind the prosecution (see January 30, 2007). Author, columnist, and former civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald, writing a response to Cohen’s column for his blog in the Internet news publication Salon, savages Cohen by mockingly “praising” Cohen’s column as perfectly “capturing the essence of our Beltway media.” Cohen’s exhortation to allow politics to be practiced with “the lights off” is, Greenwald asserts, “the central belief of our Beltway press.… If that isn’t the perfect motto for our bold, intrepid, hard-nosed political press, then nothing is.” Greenwald notes what he calls the “multiple falsehoods” of Cohen’s argument—the appointment of Fitzgerald to investigate the leak that outed Plame Wilson was not a result of pressure from the “liberal press” or what Cohen calls the “sanctimon[ious]” anti-war left, unless the CIA and the Justice Department are left-wing organizations (see July 30, 2003, Before September 16, 2003 and December 30, 2003). Greenwald writes that the core of Cohen’s apparent horror and indignation at the pursuit of the Plame Wilson leak is that his colleagues in the media were investigated and in one instance jailed (see July 6, 2005). “As any prosecutor knows—and Martha Stewart can attest—white-collar types tend to have a morbid fear of jail,” Greenwald quotes Cohen as writing. Greenwald responds: “Indeed, it is so terribly unfair to investigate powerful government officials because, as ‘white-collar types,’ they have a ‘morbid fear of jail’—in contrast, of course, to blue-collar types, and darker ones still, who really do not mind prison at all. Why would they? It’s their natural habitat, where they belong. That is what prison is for. That has been the real point here all along. The real injustice is that prison is simply not the place for the most powerful and entrenched members of the Beltway royal court, no matter how many crimes they commit. There is a grave indignity to watching our brave Republican elite be dragged before such lowly venues as a criminal court and be threatened with prison, as though they are common criminals or something. How disruptive and disrespectful and demeaning it all is.” Greenwald says that the “most valuable lesson of Cohen’s column… is that the overriding allegiance of our permanent Beltway ruling class is to the royal court which accords them their status and prestige. That overarching allegiance overrides, easily, any supposed partisan, ideological or other allegiances which, in their assigned roles, they are ostensibly defending.” Were the Beltway press to actually investigate and pursue stories instead of “snuggling” with their “friends” in government, it would expose corruption and foster justice, instead of encouraging corruption and fostering injustice. Greenwald concludes: “Our media stars have not merely stood idly by while our highest government officials engage in endless deceit and corruption. They actively defend it, enable it, justify it, and participate in it. Keeping the lights off is their principal function, one which—with rare and noble exceptions—they perform quite eagerly.” (Greenwald 6/19/2007)

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) enter North Korea to inspect the North Koreans’ promised shutdown of their nuclear program (see February 8, 2007 and After). It is the first time inspectors have been in North Korea in nearly five years (see December 31, 2002). (BBC 12/2007)

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA—see June 26, 2007) confirm that North Korea has shut down its nuclear facility at Yongbyon. Pyongyang has just received the first fuel oil shipment as promised in earlier negotiations (see February 8, 2007 and After). (BBC 12/2007)

Bilateral negotiations between the US and North Korea result in Pyongyang agreeing to declare and disable all of its nuclear facilities by the end of the year. The nation has already shut down its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon (see July 16, 2007). In return, the US agrees to take North Korea off its list of nations that sponsor terrorism. (BBC 12/2007)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is not sure whether North Korea actually has a secret program to enrich uranium, as the Bush administration had long claimed. She adds that she intends to persuade Pyongyang to give up the weapons-grade plutonium it does possess. “There is a debate within the intelligence community as to exactly the extent of the highly-enriched-uranium program,” she says. “My goal is the denuclearization of North Korea,” she continues. “That means a verifiably complete accounting of whatever programs they have and the removal of the reprocessed plutonium that they were able to achieve because they were given the opportunity to do so.… When they move forward” on ending the program, “we have a great openness to working with them, [and] a willingness to help the people of North Korea.”
Broadening Focus Beyond Uranium Possession - The claim of the uranium program led to the Bush administration’s rejection of the 1994 agreement that kept the North Korean nuclear weapons program in check (see October 21, 1994), she says: “The Agreed Framework was torn up on the basis of the concerns about the highly-enriched-uranium program. There is no debate that, once the Agreed Framework was torn up, the North Koreans began to reprocess plutonium with a vengeance because all bets were off. The result is they now have nuclear weapons, which they did not have before.” When the Bush administration withdrew from the Agreed Framework (see October 20, 2002), Clinton says, North Korea restarted its plutonium-based reactor at Yongbyon and now has enough material for at least a half-dozen nuclear weapons. A 2006 nuclear test by the North Koreans prompted Bush officials to reopen negotiations and eventually craft a new agreement remarkably similar to the Agreed Framework (see February 8, 2007 and After). Most Asian nations are expected to welcome Clinton’s new position on the uranium issue, as they thought the Bush administration had put too much emphasis on North Korea’s uranium possession. (Kessler 2/15/2009) Clinton also warns North Korea not to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile (see February 15, 2009).
'Old Wine in a New Bottle' - The senior editorial writer for South Korea’s Hankyoreh newspaper, Jungsoo Jang, calls the Clinton proposal little more than “old wine in a new bottle,” writing: “Of course, the side by side denuclearization and normalization plan elucidated by Clinton clearly does represent a considerable change from the Bush administration, which focused on a schematic view of denuclearization first, normalization second. But Clinton’s solution does have limitations, in that normalization of North Korea-US relations cannot be pursued as long as prior issues such as total abolition of nuclear weapons and suspicions about enriched uranium are not neatly resolved.” Jang says that a conflict between a more conservative camp and a more progressive camp in the Obama State Department is currently being won by the conservatives, who favor an emphasis on US-Japanese relations and a more direct, confrontational approach to dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program. (Jang 2/16/2009)

Former 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), a former adviser to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005), calls for the US to launch a military strike against North Korea in order to remove that nation’s nuclear weapons capability. Zelikow dismisses Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s reservations about North Korea’s nuclear program (see February 15, 2009) and writes, “To accept the combination of nuclear weapons and IRBMs or ICBMs in the hands of North Korea is a gamble, betting on deterrence of one of the least well understood governments on earth, in a country now undergoing high levels of internal stress.” Zelikow refers directly to the 2006 call from two former Defense Department officials, Ashton Carter and William Perry, for a military strike against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see June 22, 2006), and writes that at the time he believed the call for military action was “premature.” Now, however, “political predicate for the Carter-Perry recommendations has been well laid.” Zelikow recommends that the Obama administration issue the requisite warnings to dismantle the nuclear weapons, and if North Korea refuses to heed the warnings, the US should destroy them. (Zelikow 2/17/2009; Zenko 10/22/2010)

Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the Obama administration’s policies endanger America, and defends his administration’s actions, including warrantless wiretapping, torture of suspected terrorists, and its economic policies. Using torture against suspected terrorists and wiretapping Americans without court orders were both “absolutely essential” to get information needed to prevent terrorist attacks similar to that of 9/11, Cheney tells a CNN audience, though he does not use the word “torture.” But Obama’s new policies are putting America at risk, he says: “President Obama campaigned against it all across the country, and now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”
'Pre-9/11 Mindset' - Cheney says to return to a pre-9/11 mindset of treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, rather than a military problem, is a mistake: “When you go back to the law enforcement mode, which I sense is what they’re doing, closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and so forth… they are very much giving up that center of attention and focus that’s required, that concept of military threat that is essential if you’re going to successfully defend the nation against further attacks.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), appearing after Cheney, counters Cheney’s arguments, saying that the Bush/Cheney policies undercut “what is actually the source of America’s greatness—our principles.” Sestak asks, “How can we say that keeping a man in a black hole forever—perpetually in a black hole—and saying, ‘Let’s torture when we decide to,’ is what America stands for?” Sestak is a retired admiral who led the Navy’s anti-terrorism efforts.
Iraq a Success - As for Iraq, Cheney says that while his administration had to spend more money than it had anticipated, and although over 4,200 US soldiers have lost their lives fighting in that country, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is an almost-unvarnished success. The US has “accomplished nearly everything we set out to do” in Iraq, including establishing a democratic government in the Middle East, Cheney says. Cheney answers questions about the threat of supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by saying, “We’ve eliminated that possibility.” Sestak disagrees, saying the problems the Bush/Cheney policies in Iraq created have overshadowed the “whole fabric” of US national security: “The cost of this war is something that I strongly believe has far, far hurt us. We’re going to recover, because we’re Americans. But Iraq was just one piece of our security, and this administration failed to realize that.”
Opposition to Hill as Iraqi Ambassador - Cheney says he does not support the Obama administration’s choice of Christopher Hill as the ambassador to Iraq (see March 18, 2009). Hill successfully concluded negotiations with North Korea during the last years of the Bush administration, but Cheney repudiates his accomplishments. “I did not support the work that Chris Hill did with respect to North Korea,” he says, and adds that Hill lacks the Middle East experience necessary for him to represent the US in Baghdad. “I think it’s a choice that I wouldn’t have made,” he says. (CNN 3/15/2009)

Many top US military commanders in the Middle East are distressed at Senate Republicans’ efforts to block Christopher Hill’s attempt to become the next US ambassador to Iraq. Hill, who was largely successful in crafting a nuclear non-proliferation agreement with North Korea (see Spring and Summer 2005 and February 8, 2007 and After), is being blocked by the efforts of Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Republican Opprobrium - Brownback calls Hill’s past dealings with Congress over North Korea “evasive and unprofessional”; McCain and Graham have said that Hill has a “controversial legacy” on North Korea, and added: “The next ambassador should have experience in the Middle East and in working closely with the US military in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism operations. Mr. Hill has neither.”
Military Wants Hill Confirmed - But CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus, top Iraq commander General Raymond Odierno, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates want Hill in the slot as soon as possible. Odierno says he has served as de facto ambassador since the previous ambassador, Ryan Crocker, left the position on February 13. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says: “Generals Odierno and Petraeus have come out very publicly and very forcefully in support of Ambassador Hill’s nomination. I know they support it. They know him from previous assignments, they like him, they believe he is well suited to the job, and are anxiously awaiting his confirmation because they do need help, frankly.… Everybody involved with Iraq wants to find a way to replicate that arrangement,” referring to the effective interaction between Generals Odierno and Petraeus and former Ambassador Crocker. “So that you have an even yoke that on the civilian/diplomatic side and on the military side which share the burden and are working together to get the job done. It’s what’s in the best interest of the Iraqi people and the American people. With regards to [Senate] members who have issue with him, I would say this. We appreciate their steadfast support of the Iraq mission. But you can’t be bullish in support of that mission and not send an ambassador in a timely fashion.”
Difficult, Myriad Tasks in New Position - Hill faces a difficult job: political stabilization and economic development have taken precedence over military missions in Iraq; tensions between Arabs and Kurds are heightening; sectarian groups are struggling for political dominance; and national elections are approaching. A Washington official says that keeping a lid on such political tensions is “crucial to consolidating the security gains from the surge, yet the advocates of the surge want to slow down the process of getting an ambassador to Iraq.” Retired General William Nash, who commanded US troops in Bosnia, says: “I would not at all be surprised if military commanders in Iraq are frustrated that they don’t have a new ambassador in position. The issues are far more political and economic than they are military and US efforts need to move forward on those fronts. That’s particularly critical in the execution of the withdrawal plan.”
Political Retribution? - Asked why McCain, Brownback, and Graham are blocking Hill’s appointment, Nash says the three are “being difficult to be difficult. I have known Chris Hill for 14 years. He is a wonderful diplomat and exactly the kind of guy we need in Iraq.” Crocker has spoken out in favor of Hill, as has Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So have former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and former US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, who join in writing a letter that reads in part: “We need his experience during this crucial time in Iraq. His previous experiences will serve him greatly when addressing extreme challenges in Iraq.” A Democratic Senate staffer says, “This is all about retribution.” Conservatives blame Hill for nudging Bush’s second term North Korea policy towards multi-party talks, and thusly, “[t]hey want to give Hill a black eye.” Noting that these same Republican senators have argued that Iraq is a central element in America’s national security, the staffer asks, “Why are they d_cking around and not putting an ambassador in there if Iraq is so important?” (Rozen 3/18/2009)

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