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Monthly Archives: July 2008

Call it UN-BRIBE

July 29th, 2008 - 1:51 pm

So, while the U.S. Treasury is trying to tighten sanctions on Burma’s thug government, the United Nations has been busy funneling millions of dollars to the Burmese regime — thanks to a classic artificial foreign-exchange rate dodge, which the UN finally acknowledged in public only after weeks of questioning by Inner-City Press (see post below).

This latest in the long list of UN gifts to dictators came about as part of the relief mission launched in May to help Burmese victims of Cyclone Nargis. In a press conference yesterday at the UN’s New York headquarters, the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, John Holmes, appeared not to understand the niceties of how the Burmese exchange-rate fiddle actually works. Nor, as Holmes told it, had other UN officials been paying much attention; they “were not aware of the extent of the loss.” Holmes’s estimate is that “probably less than $10 million so far” has flowed into the wide abyss between the market rate of Burma’s currency (the kyat), and the official rate, set by the Burmese junta, which is what the UN has been buying into.

The actual amount of money thus disappeared in Burma is still desperately unclear (“the losses are significant, but not absolutely gigantic,” was another of Holmes’s locutions yesterday on the subject) …. This is the UN, where officials have no hesitation in spelling out to the last decimal point their multi-year plans for the GNP of every developing country on the planet, or issuing an appeal for $482 million in emergency relief for Burma, or lamenting shortfalls in their elaborately calculated funding targets. But when it comes to accounting for where exactly the money goes, the UN is suddenly a place of missed messages, ignorance and confusion. They didn’t notice, they hadn’t realized, they never knew, they were not aware … this is the endless refrain, in Oil-for-Food, in Cash-for-Kim, and now in Burma Shave…

They “were not aware” … That’s highly questionable, in light of a June 26 UN internal document obtained and posted by Inner-City Press, which records in-house concerns more than a month ago that the Burma relief operation was suffering ”a very serious 20% loss on foreign exchange.”

But let us assume that a UN official, especially in discussing the handling of millions in other people’s money, would never tell a lie.

In that case, one has to marvel at the parade of astounding naifs who rise to top ranks of the UN, apparently without ever learning to look out for even the simplest of financial scams and outrages.  Take these innocents at their word, and one can only conclude that the UN specializes in promoting an extraordinary tribe of irredeemable dupes. Clueless, and apparently ineducable, they roam the first-class hotels of the Third World, dispensing billions worth of other people’s money and resources, indefatigably oblivious to fiddles that a six-year-old street grifter in any of these places could spot faster than you can say “millennium development goals.”

Tiered exchange rate schemes? Over-invoicing? After-sales-service kickbacks? Phony consulting fees? Oil buyers posing as end-users in Liechstenstein? Front companies run by Russians in Switzerland? A Mercedes shipped to Africa in the name of the Secretary-General? Double-billing in the Middle East by UNICEF? Counterfeit cash in the Pyongyang office safe? Cash transfers to North Korean front companies linked to nuclear proliferation?

From Kofi Annan to Ban Ki-Moon; from the UN Development Progam’s former administrator Mark Malloch Brown to the current Kemal Dervis; from the UN’s former humanitarian coordinator Jan Egeland (who promised transparency in funding of the 2004 tsunami relief efforts, and never delivered) to the current John Holmes (apparently so blindsided by Burma’s currency shave); from nameless officials deep in the UN alphabet soup to the scores of Assistant and Under-Secretaries-General floating like croutons on top; so very many UN officials would have us believe, as Holmes described his own operation, that they are “arguably a bit slow” to notice the stock mechanisms by which money meant to help the sick, the hungry, the stricken, somehow keeps flowing into the pockets of tyrants.

Maybe instead of fielding a toothless ”Ethics Office,” the UN as a sort of remedial education service for its own top management should set up an agency of Bribery, Rackets, Insider Boondoggles and Extortion (call it UN-BRIBE), devoted to explaining, cataloguing and quantifying for the record the scams, cons, schemes and fiddles to which UN programs are so endlessly prone. Right now, the institutional memory for such stuff appears to consist solely of whatever will fit in Ban Ki-Moon’s wastebasket.

UN-BRIBE could perform the handy service, for instance, of providing public benchmarks for what level of bribery, scam, pay-off, rake-off, etc., qualifies at the UN as ”significant, but not absolutely gigantic.” Or maybe, for ease in budgeting, provide graft-and-skimming schedules custom-tailored (and inflation-adjusted) to the habits of individual member states, UN departments, and so forth. No one could reasonably expect such an exercise to actually clean up the UN; it would almost certainly succumb at speed to its own arts — and in short order would probably have Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe and Iran on its executive board. But hey, if this is how the UN works, why not at least make it official?

In fairness, of course, not everyone at the UN is so staunchly oblivious. There are also the whistleblowers, without whom many of the UN scandals would never come to light at all. But they are the exception; they lead an endangered existence, far less likely to be promoted than expelled, especially if their names become known to the perennially surprised innocents who run the institution  – just ask former UNDP contractor, whistleblower in the North Korea Cash-for-Kim scandal, Artjon Shkurtaj.

If ringing rhetoric and nifty stage-sets could save the world, there’d be no problem about changing our national anthem — Yes, we can! — to ”Kumbayah.” But global reality comes crammed with more than serial exclusive TV interviews and 200,000 happy Germans snacking on bratwurst. There are also tyrants, terrorists, schemers, crooks and con men, whose take on citizens-of-the-world exhorting enraptured crowds to ”stand as one” is that it’s an excellent opening for all sorts of thuggery.

Take Burma. While Barack Obama has been touring 8 countries in 9 days, refining a foreign policy based on the spontaneous coming-together of the world (or was it the “planet?”), a sordid tale has been oozing out of Burma — with almost no attention from the American mainstream media. In this case, the change-seekers are the members of Burma’s brutally repressive junta, led by Than Shwe. And the change they’ve been seeking — and getting — is hard-cash foreign exchange, skimmed out of the massive United Nations relief operation for victims of the cyclone that hit Burma in May.

How has Burma’s junta been managing this racket? In brief, by requiring the UN to change hard-currency into Burmese currency, the kyat, at lousy, below-market rates — with the Burmese regime pocketing as much as 25% of every dollar exchanged.

This tale only came to light thanks to the intrepid efforts of the small but feisty Inner-City Press, whose UN-based reporter, Matthew Russell Lee, in a series of articles over the past few weeks, has dubbed the scandal “Burma Shave.” Back in June, Lee began asking the unsexy but hugely important question of what exchange rate the UN was getting from Burmese authorities for relief funds spent in local currency inside Burma. Following the usual pattern of UN scandal, the UN’s first response was no answer at all, except that someone would look into it. A fortnight later, having pressed the question again, Lee was assured there were no “dodgy deals.” He kept digging. Last week the UN finally admitted to going along with a Burmese government dodge involving the UN purchase at inflated rates of “Foreign Exchange Certificates” which the Burmese government requires in order to buy Burmese kyat.

So, while the UN has been collecting hundreds of millions in emergency funding for Burma’s cyclone victims, how much of that money has the UN been forking over to the Burmese junta in hard cash? (Hey, this is the UN. What matters is that donors stand as one to give money; not where the money goes). As Lee reported this past weekend, it’s still unclear what the numbers really are — though with the de facto exchange fees ranging from about 17% to 25%, the transfer of UN relief funds to Burmese junta coffers has likely been on a scale of millions. Lee asks a very good question: “Why were these losses never disclosed while funds were being raised, including in UN appeals for $200 million and then, earlier this month, $300 million more?”

While Inner-City has been trying to extrude information about this scam from UN officials, the UN has been busy bemoaning a funding crunch for its relief efforts in Burma (the Burma Shave foreign-exchange scam gets a brief mention way down in the final paragraph of this July 25th article in The Christian Science Monitor).

So, what’s just happened here? Burma is hit by a terrible cyclone, with vast devastation, including an estimated 140,000 or so people dead. The reason the Burmese are so especially vulnerable is that the country is kept miserably poor under the boot of one of the world’s worst governments — the same regime that last fall slaughtered peacefully protesting monks. To help the cyclone victims, the UN raises hundreds of millions in aid from generous donors. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon makes a personal visit to Burma, where he says, “The whole world is trying to help Myanmar.” He sits down to talk with high-ranking officials, including the head of the junta, Than Shwe. From that meeting, Ban emerges to say, as reported by the UN public information office, that “substantive progress was made on all critical issues at hand regarding humanitarian assistance to Myanmar… .” 

And now we learn — thanks not to the UN, or the MSM, but to the internet-based Inner-City Press — that in this coming-together and talking-to-dictators relief operation, the Burmese junta, dignified by a personal visit and happy words from the UN Secretary-General, buoyed up by a tide of relief money and goods from abroad, has been pocketing one heck of a lot of change. As with Oil-for-Food in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Cash-for-Kim in North Korea, aid to Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, funds to Gaza under Hamas … it’s an approach that helps keep Burma under the jackboot, while the world, standing as one, coming together, don’t-bother-us-with-realities, sings kumbayah. Yes, they can. 

“People of Berlin — people of the world — this is our moment. This is our time.”

What is he talking about? Time for what, exactly? Time for Obama round the clock, round the world, round and round the rhetoric goes, and where it stops…?

With Obama’s voice echoing from the TV set every time I switch on the news, I’ve tried to stay focused on some immediate projects involving the grand stew of corruption, cover-ups, petty sleaze, big scams, moral bankruptcy and gross failures going on at the chief seat of the “people of the world,” a.k.a. the United Nations — where so many of Obama’s collectivist visions are already well advanced in practice. But I’m a member of the media, and no one of that tribe can afford to by-pass what is evidently the hottest story ever: Barack Obama on world tour with the message that this is our time, this is the moment, we are the change we seek, change we can believe in, powered by hope and yes, we can!

OK, so maybe it does sound like something assembled out of word-kit refrigerator magnets. And yes, if a car dealer tried to sell me a vehicle “powered by hope,” I’d be nervous. But this is a presidential campaign; apparently different standards apply.

So, here am we are, as the opening lines of Obama’s Berlin speech reverberate yet again from the TV. And it strikes me us (we have to get used to referring to ourselves in the plural) — as the loop endlessly replays– that ”powered by truth,” he couldn’t even get past the salutation without telling a come-hither lie:

“Tonight I speak to you not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen, a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world.”

Oh, come on. Obama didn’t go to Berlin because he felt an abrupt personal itch to commune with a crowd of Germans. Neither was a hole discovered in the ozone over the Brandenburg Gate that only the speech of an Illinois Senator could fill. We, you, he, she, it, they and I all know it was a campaign stunt. And if that sounds so obvious that it’s not worth caviling over, then the least Obama could do is respect the intelligence of voters back home enough to skip the fiction.

But fiction — messianic fiction — is the element in which he swims. Kennedy and Reagan went to Berlin because they were the elected leaders of the United States, and it was a flashpoint in the mighty showdown between the U.S. and U.S.S.R that shaped the second half of the 20th century. Obama dropped in under the urgent imperative of needing some quick-fix foreign footage to bulk up his campaign resume. Thus did he announce:

 “Now, the world will watch and remember what we do here — what we do with this moment.”

That might be a little confusing for those who thought the “moment“ had already come in June (when he started to heal the earth) or January (during the early primaries). But on Obama-time, it is always “the moment” — which goes far to explain why he sees no contradictions in his own flip-flops. Whatever he said in previous moments, about Iraq, Iran, Jerusalem, his own associates, whatever, that was then, this is now, and anyway, it’s all “change.”

In his Berlin ”moment,” Obama specified that the world will ”remember what we do here.” The phrase carries an echo of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address; except Lincoln, with his presidential war-time credentials, was rather more modest: ”The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

No such deference from Obama. But what exactly did he, or they, or “we” do that the world will remember? His German audience turned out some 200,000 strong (many, but not as many as the one million or so that some had predicted) gave the biggest cheers over the broadest hints that America might soon be wilting its way toward the local brand of peacenik, tree-hugger Euro-socialism, and then – they went home.

Obama, the we-in-chief of this worldly gathering, gave a history of the Berlin airlift in which he neglected to mention who flew the planes (the Americans and the British, including 70 airmen who gave their lives to save West Berlin — was that not worth remembering?). Instead, in Obama-world, the planes just sort of materialized. It was the “spirit” of “global commitment to progress” that “led airlift planes to appear in the sky above our heads.”

What else did Obama do during his moment in Berlin (apart from scrap a visit to wounded American troops)? He did a bang-up job rearranging some of those refrigerator magnets. In Germany, “we” are not simply “powered by hope,” but have become a people of “improbable hope“… “resolve“… “history” … “destiny” … and – yes — “this is the moment” when “we“ (seeking the yes, we can, change we are) are all going to “stand as one,” ”come together,” tear down walls, reduce carbon emissions, save the planet, “give our children back their future” and under the “burdens of global citizenship“ join in “global partnership.”

OK. But what does that mean? If, at some moment in this global partnership of future and destiny, Iran, protected by Russian air defenses, uses a North Korean-engineered missile to land a nuclear bomb on Israel, what would he do? Phone Reverend Wright?

If there’s another catastrophic attack on America’s shores, what would he do? Calculate the carbon footprint?

Come to think of it, where does America itself figure on Obama’s list of polymorphous priorities? 

In his narrative as a private oracle of global destiny, Obama offers this tid-bit to the German crowd: “I know my country has not perfected itself” …”We’ve made our share of mistakes”…”there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.” Fair enough. But what makes that all right? Well, it seems the prime redeeming factor, the first one Obama mentions, is all about himself: “But I also know how much I love America.” In his magnanimity, this citizen-of-the-world forgives America its imperfections, so maybe, in the thrill of “the moment,” America will be loved by all because everyone will be Obama

The problem here isn’t lack of foreign-policy experience, but a gospel in which there is no clear distinction between I and we; no clear line between American presidential candidate and citizen-of-the-world (whatever that really means); no clear sense of the vital difference between the defense of individual freedom and the debilitating pursuit of collective utopia. History tells us the cost of this worldview can be colossal. But hey, it’s a rockin’ roadshow, and on we go, yes we can…improbable hope…change…destiny…this is the moment…no, this is the moment…and this… and this…this is our time…we are the change we seek…

Kidding Around With the Mullahs

July 21st, 2008 - 2:30 pm

Condi Rice has just accused Iran of being “not serious” in negotiations meant to halt its uranium enrichment program. She’s got to be kidding.

It’s the endless charade of an EU-plus-minus-U.S.-or-whatever negotiated “threat management” diplomatic solution that’s not serious.

It’s the farce of UN sanctions that’s not serious.

It’s the pretense that this is not a clear and present danger that’s not serious.

It’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the President, the national “intelligence community” and too many members of Congress (including Barack Obama, now on his virgin celebrity tour of assorted hotspots) who aren’t serious.

The Iranians have been buying time for years to develop nuclear bombs, and they have just bought themselves some more.

They are deadly serious. 


Meanwhile, at Scandals-R-the-UN

July 18th, 2008 - 10:35 am

One way to bury a scandal is to hold a confidential investigation, ignore the findings and pension off the alleged culprit. The United Nations, helped along by diplomatic immunity, does this with such expertise that it’s surprising they haven’t set up entire agencies devoted to this art. Or maybe they have. At the UN, top management has been sitting for more than two months now on a confidential report from the UN’s own anti-corruption task force alleging ”gross negligence” and diverted funds within — I’m not kidding — the UN’s own good governance office. Does Ban Ki-Moon care? Or is he too busy jetting around the world opining that we should let the UN serve as world’s chief rationer of energy? More on UN lessons on how to indulge in bad governance and get away with it, in my article in today’s New York Post

For connoiseurs of UN scandal, it seems the UN official currently busy burying these latest signs of institutional rot in his “In” tray is Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang, a member of the UN Management Group which Ban Ki-Moon chairs.

Who is Sha Zukang? 

He’s one of China’s men at Turtle Bay. Based in New York, Sha runs the UN’s sprawling Department of Economic and Social Affairs — an influential position with broad reach, spending lots of money (including lots of U.S. tax dollars) around the globe on all sorts of nebulous projects — including the dissemination of principles of governance.

That bears thinking about, because in a previous incarnation, Sha was based in Geneva as an envoy of the People’s Republic of China, busy shaping the disastrously warped dictator-friendly UN Human Rights Council (which replaced the grotesquely twisted Human Rights Commission).  Among Sha’s functions, from 2004-2007, as described in his UN bio, was “Coordinator of the Like-Minded Group of the Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Council.”

What was this “Like-Minded Group” that Sha Zukang coordinated, and on behalf of which he gave speeches urging the UN to avoid the practice of ”naming and shaming” the world’s worst human rights violators? It was a group of about 20 countries consisting largely of some of the world’s worst violators — including Sha’s own China, Belarus, Cuba, Iran, Burma, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.    


As if today’s swap of the bodies of kidnapped and murdered Israeli soldiers for live Lebanese terrorists were not sickening enough, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon weighs in to hail the deal. Saying he hopes “this will be the beginning of many to come,” Ban applauded this triumph for terrorism as a victory for “the leadership and initiative” of the UN’s mystery “facilitator” — an unnamed German official appointed back in 2006 by Kofi Annan (assuming it has been the same “facilitator” since then, and that this is not just a handy UN label for anyone and everyone who on the UN’s behalf happens to be glad-handing Hezbollah  and its Iranian terror masters).

Maybe the better term for the activity of this acclaimed anonymous UN facilitator would be fauxcilitation. This is UN “diplomacy” on a par with the fauxtography that came pouring out of the Hezbollah camp in the 2006 war. 

In lauding the “prisoner exchange,” as the UN calls this swap of coffins for terrorists, Ban totally ignores the terms of the UN’s own Resolution 1701, (if the UN’s user-unfriendly document system blocks you out, here’s another link to the text of Res. 1701) adopted by the Security Council on August 11, 2006. This was supposed to end the war that Hezbollah launched in July 2006 by kidnapping from inside Israel the two soldiers — Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev — whose bodies have now been redeemed by Israel at staggering cost — with terrible implications for the future security not only of Israel, but of such places as New York (where Ban Ki-Moon, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, currently resides). Resolution 1701 stated clearly the UN’s aim was “the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers.”

Has Ban Ki-Moon even bothered to read that clause? Or do UN resolutions mean as little to the UN Secretary-General as they do to Tehran and Hezbollah?

On the matter of Lebanese authorities preparing a hero’s welcome for the terrorists sprung by this UN-facilitated deal — dealt out to the Israelis as anything but “unconditional” — Ban has so far remained silent. Perhaps he is too busy with UN efforts to ladle hundreds of millions of dollars worth of aid into Lebanon, where a UN lacking a definition of “terrorist” is busy, in effect, helping to construct the launching pads for the next war.

Bailouts, inflation, bills up, savings down… Time to re-visit the funniest video ever made about the Federal Reserve. I still don’t know who these geniuses were at Columbia Business School, but here’s the brilliant youtube clip that first made the rounds when President Bush passed over former Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Glenn Hubbard, and appointed Ben Bernanke to chair the Fed: Every Breath You Take.

(Hubbard became Dean at Columbia Business School). 

Lethal Tourism in North Korea

July 12th, 2008 - 1:47 pm

Good thing no one from the New York Philharmonic wandered off for a stroll when the orchestra performed for the Pyongyang elite in February. This week, while vacationing at North Korea’s Mount Kumgang resort, a 53-year-old housewife from South Korea, Park Wang-ja, went for an early morning walk on the beach — and according to North Korean officialdom, strayed too far. So a North Korean soldier shot her to death.

North Korea then refused to cooperate with South Korea’s requests to investigate. South Korea suspended visits to the Kumgang resort (which is bankrolled by South Korean money, and operates inside North Korea as a cordoned-off source of hard cash for Kim’s regime). North Korea has denounced this is an “intolerable insult” (have you ever noticed that the most despotic systems are also the most chronically offended?), and is demanding an apology from South Korea.

Meanwhile, at the Six-Party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, there’s just been another round of “diplomacy,” involving discussion about arranging further discussion to talk about discussing details of a still-to-be-fully-discussed and narrowly-defined “verification” setup for North Korea’s nuclear program, or at least the parts of it already highly visible. The “progress” for the U.S. and allies is strictly on paper.  Forget such absolutely germane questions as whether any inspectors who ultimately go to work in North Korea will be allowed to look where they choose. The question is whether they’ll even be able to take a walk on the beach without getting shot.

What Jesse Jackson Left Out

July 11th, 2008 - 10:32 pm

Chalk it up to sheer accident. But anatomical obscenities to the side, Jesse Jackson did get one thing right – or at least partially right — when he muttered into that open microphone that Obama “is talking down to black people.” What Jackson left out is that Obama talks down to white people too. And to Hispanics, and to people of Asian ancestry, and if there’s anyone reading this of Eskimo descent, he’s talking down to you, too. Actually, in talking down to people, Obama does not discriminate. He talks down to Americans.

The problem with Obama goes way beyond the condescension he has displayed in such telling moments as the clinging-to-guns-and-religion comment, the prevarications over Rev. Wright, the ease with which he threw his own grandmother under the wheels as a “typical white woman,” or the way he expects us to faithfully follow his loop-the-loops on foreign policy. Clearly it’s not what Jackson had in mind, but the basic problem here is the “talking down” that goes on when any politician — black, white, Obama, Hillary, you-name-it — aims to change this country into an ever more collectivized state. In his campaign speeches, his comments, his asides, Obama is promising an America in which the main way to move up will not be individual enterprise, not “Yes, I will” – but to have the government (at someone else’s expense) hoist you up the ladder, with Obama looking down from the top, intoning “Yes we can.”

If that’s supposed to be a formula for hope, Obama is talking down to all of us. This stuff has a shelf life that will expire shortly after the inauguration. It’s been tried before, at great cost. Whatever the fine intentions, the brunt falls heaviest on those least privileged, least connected and least adept in gaming the system. The way the world really works is: The bigger the government’s say over who gets what, the more the dictate becomes not “Yes we can,” but “No, you can’t.”

North Korea, the Model

July 9th, 2008 - 1:19 pm

Iran as part of its “Great Prophet” war games test fires missiles, flaunting this on TV, bragging up a range that can hit Israel.

What to do? Obama calls for “aggressive diplomacy” instead of “farming out the diplomatic activity to the Europeans” –by which he seems to mean replacing European carrots with American apple pie. McCain calls for “Working with our European and regional allies” — which sounds like adding peas to the carrots.

And they’re both behind the times. The Condi Rice State Department has already developed a framework for threat-managing such unfortunate developments, in which diplomacy of every variety is on offer — unilateral, multilateral, a dazzling poker game of peas, carrots, plutonium, uranium, cash and pie-in-the-sky. North Korea is the model. Working from that template, here’s what comes next:

Assorted powers convene yet again to exert multilateral pressure, with maybe a few futile UN resolutions thrown in. Much talk. Special envoy Chris Hill, or his moral equivalent, is dispatched to conduct aggressive diplomacy. Time goes by.

Iran tests a nuclear bomb (which is referred to as a “device’).

More talk. A nuclear disarmament deal is announced. Iran immediately demands additional concessions, not mentioned in the public deal. Chris Hill, or his backup copy, hops to. Millions in frozen funds are released back to the Tehran regime, preferably with the help of at least three central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve. New deadlines are announced for Iran to declare and give up its nuclear program.

Iran ignores the deadlines. Iranian nuclear experts are discovered to have been collaborating with another terrorist-sponsoring state on the near-complete construction of a secret reactor with no apparent purpose but to produce plutonium for nuclear bombs. But that’s OK because it gets quietly blown up by an Israeli air strike, which the U.S. administration then keeps secret for months, lest such realities make a big enough splash in the news to interfere with the rapport at the negotiating table.

Finally, many months past various deadlines, Iran delivers an incomplete, narrowly defined nuclear declaration, the documents themselves dusted with enriched uranium. The White House promptly announces that Iran is being removed from the list of terrorist-sponsoring states. With great fanfare, Iran responds with the televised demolition of a large hunk of concrete appended to one obsolete portion of its sprawling nuclear program. U.S. taxpayers bankroll the demolition, and America swings into action to ship hundreds of millions worth of aid to the government of Iran, filtering some of it through the same UN that ran the Oil-for-Food and Cash-for-Kim programs.

It is a performance dazzling in its way, a circus act both unilateral and multilateral, soft and agressive, punctuated with announcements of progress and warnings that above all, there must be no serious threat of military action against Iran — lest it derail the diplomacy.

… Of course, if you tally it all up, Iran’s government under this scenario (like North Korea’s today) would still be in possession of all nuclear bomb ingredients, known or unknown, declared or undeclared, stockpiled at the beginning, manufactured since, or contracted out for supply by third parties. And Tehran’s mullahs and Revolutionary Guards would have greater access to their global nuclear supply and proliferation networks, as well as pockets stuffed with pay-offs from America (and Europe). Not least, they would have the distinct pleasure of strutting this successful shakedown on the world stage, both as warning to their own people not to get uppity over domestic repression, and as prelude to the next round of nuclear extortion — or worse.

What would America get? A big stack of paper, some of it contaminated with uranium, providing an incomplete guide to nuclear weapons material over which the U.S. has no control; a stack of bills for U.S. taxpayers; video clips of a large hunk of concrete being blown up. And quite likely a queue of despotic governments looking to sign up for this kind of deal.

That’s how it works right now. Which is pretty strange. Just as things have been looking up in Iraq, the administration on other fronts has been abandoning the principles of Iraq, the Model. Instead, American foreign policy now pivots around such stuff as North Korea, the Model. Keep yer lead-lined raincoats handy.