So now we have the mystery of the missing “Dear Leader” of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, who did not show up in public Tuesday for the 60th anniversary parade to mark the founding of the modern world’s most brutally repressive state.
Is Kim alive? Is he dead? Has he had a stroke? Who knows? There’s even a story making the rounds that Kim died five years ago, and well-trained doubles have been filling in for the rotund tyrant — in which case someone behind the scenes has been doing a thorough job of keeping alive the tradition in which Pyongyang ruling elite swill cognac, build nuclear weapons and extort aid, cash and concessions from the U.S. while millions of ordinary North Koreans starve.
Whatever’s become of the elusive Kim, his current vanishing act highlights the willful idiocy of U.S. policy that has sought, first under President Clinton, and again during the second term of President Bush, to strike nuclear disarmament deals with North Korea that depend on Kim’s promises of future cooperation. The problem is not solely determining whether Kim himself is alive or dead, but that nothing issuing from him (assuming it IS him), or his regime can be trusted, and as we are now observing, it cannot even be verified.
That hasn’t stopped the Bush administration, with the Condi Rice State Department blazing the way, from sending Kim — or whoever it might be in Pyongyang — $25 million in hard cash, re-starting the Clinton era shipments of free fuel, shoveling in aid (which North Korea can all too easily divert from hungry people to its massive military machine) and ladling out a series of dipomatic concessions in hope of pleasing Kim enough so that he will at least provide a full accounting of his nuclear programs — which North Korea has yet to deliver.
More than a year-and-a-half has passed since the State Department trumpeted a breakthrough nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea — which has turned into a debacle. Just last weekend, U.S. special envoy to the Six-Party Talks, Chris Hill, was back in Beijing nattering on about the need for North Korea to provide a “verification protocol” for its nuclear ventures.
Give us a break. Step one ought to be a “verification protocol” for who’s actually in charge, and where he/they are. Step two should be the end of that regime. Not payoffs and dignification of the mystery tyrant.