Late Night Rambling

So I was about to read Nick Kristof’s latest column, because the teaser for it on the NYT op-ed page made it look sensible.

(Stop laughing — Nick does that sometimes. Honest.)


But rather than taking me to the column, clicking on the link presented me with a click-thru Flash ad for Smith-Barney.

My first reaction was to get really snippy. But then I thought for a moment, had a sip (OK — three sips) of a very icy Citron martini and decided there just wasn’t any reason to get upset.

The Wall Street Journal charges me a hefty fee to read their stuff on the web — and it’s worth it. So surely the NYT, whatever its faults, is worth the occassional click-thru. I don’t like it, but I don’t pay for their bandwidth, either.

Anyway, here’s Kristof:

North Korea is potentially more dangerous than the mess in Iraq. It probably has at least 1 to 3 nuclear weapons already, it is producing both plutonium and uranium, and it is on track to have close to 10 nuclear weapons by the end of this year.

Yet because President Bush’s policy has failed in North Korea, Washington is determinedly looking the other way. When we next focus on North Korea, after the election, it could be a nuclear Wal-Mart.

North Korea not only has genuine nuclear weapons programs, but it is also the model of a rogue state: it gets its U.S. currency by printing it. That’s right; it counterfeits excellent American $100 bills.

The latest disclosure, via David “Scoop” Sanger of The Times, is that the father of Pakistan’s bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, claims that North Korea showed him three nuclear weapons in 1999. The Bush administration, after publicizing anything to do with Iraqi W.M.D., tried to keep that North Korean revelation secret.


What Kristof doesn’t address in his partisan furor is that — short of war or total DPRK collapse — there is no policy, none whatsoever, that the Bush administration, or any administration, could follow to deal successfully with North Korea. None. And even war or collapse would amount, in many ways, to a failure.

Sometimes the world is like that. In fact, that’s often the case with foreign policy. You play the hand you’re dealt, no matter how lousy.

But what about the rest of his column? Yes, North Korea is an even bigger direct danger than Iraq ever was. Yes, it’s being largely ignored (by Bush and Kerry) because it’s a problem with no easy solution, and this is an election year. Yes, North Korea very well may sell nukes on the open market.

Let’s play with the Iraq angle first.

Comparing Iraq with North Korea is specious. Despite all the hype, we didn’t go to war with Iraq because of WMDs. We went to war to upset the applecart in the Middle East, and hopefully to force some strategic change in the region which invented the suicide bomber and the Boeing 757 cruise missile. And we did it, because we knew we could win (or at least do enough to tip over that applecart) with relatively few casualties.

War with North Korea would be about WMDs, but the result would be a tactical, not strategic victory. North Korea can supply arms (even nuclear arms) — but it doesn’t supply al Qaeda terrorists. And North Korea is hardly the world’s only proliferator. In fact, war in Iraq ridded us, free of charge, of that former proliferator called “Libya.”


War with North Korea would mean massive casualties — for us, our South Korean allies, and perhaps in Japan, too. All just to gain a tactical, not strategic, advantage.

To compare North Korea and Iraq, then, is to compare applecarts with orange vendors.

And the electoral politics? It’s the voters, stupid. We don’t want to be told we have a nearly-intractable problem in North Korea. We’re Americans — we don’t believe in intractable problems. The first candidate to promise us that “I don’t have a clue what to do about North Korea, other than to pray a lot,” would be a big loser come November.

But that’s what it comes down to. Short of a disastrous war, the very best we can do is stall and hope the regime collapses before they sell a nuke to Osama.

Now let’s look at the nuclear proliferation problem. . .

North Korea isn’t going to nuke Los Angeles. Ain’t.Gonna.Happen. And for the same reason the Soviets never nuked New York — they know what we’d do in response.

So the danger to us is: To whom would they sell a nuke?

The short answer is, anybody with enough cash. And we all know who has the means (cash), and will (hatred of All Things West), to buy and use a nuclear weapon against us.

Pretend North Korea doesn’t collapse, and pretend that they sell a nuke to al Qaeda. What kind of nuke do they have? A small one. Small in yield, that is. But large in size.


The first nukes we built were so big that a B-29 bomber, the best of its time, could carry only one. And it could carry it only as far as Japan, from the island of Tinian, not too distant. And it could only do that because they’d stripped off all the Enola Gay’s guns. And that nuke delivered a “mere” (by nuclear standards) 12-17 kilotons.

Primitive nukes — the kind North Korea is most likely to produce — are big, heavy, and not very powerful.

To level Hiroshima, the Enola Gay dropped the Fat Man from a great height, and the bomb detonated at 5,000 feet. Think al Qaeda could pull that off? Think they could get themselves a bomber — you can’t drop a bomb from an airliner — and pass over New York, drop the bomb on target, and have it detonate properly? Those bastards couldn’t even learn to land a plane, much less properly aim and detonate a complicated warhead.

So, absent a thermonuclear suitcase bomb — something North Korea is years away, if ever, from producing — what could al Qaeda do with a nuke?

Best guess: Stick it in a shipping containing and detonate it at harbor.

The results would be terrible, but still far less destructive than the bomb we dropped on Hiroshima 60 years ago. Most of the explosion would be wasted on water and sky — only a fraction would actually hit the target.

And then, after a short pause, North Korea, the capitals of half a dozen Islamic states, and Mecca and Medina would cease to exist.


Or, to make myself plain, I’m not so certain North Korea would sell a nuke to al Qaeda. Because it wouldn’t take a genius — no matter how stupid you think W is — to figure out where the bomb came from.

North Korea might very well sell nukes to Vietnam, Iran, or even — and this is a daring guess — to Taiwan. Nation-states, all of them — and “responsible” to a degree that al Qaeda never will be.

So don’t get your panties all in a twist just yet over North Korea. Win or lose, nothing good will ever come from that twisted little country.

But I doubt the end of the world will come from there, either.

Sorry for the long and winding rant. Click here to get back to the usual crap.

UPDATE: Plunge turned me on to this post at Oxblog. Good stuff.


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