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Critique of pure Reasoner

Essays and commentary related to topics in Tom Reasoner's "Truth and Beauty" blog

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

North Korea part III

Nathanael also asked what to do about North Korea now. Watch this space on that topic.

North Korea, redux

Nathanael replies to my comments about "hitting" North Korea:

It's not in North Korea's interests to compromise. It's in North Korea's interests to get nuclear weapons and blackmail us. Yes, there are more ways to deal with a country than to "hit" it. But if we can't hit it, we're in a bad position to negotiate.

Nathanael has very concisely made my point for me. Right now with the imbroglio in Iraq, it is very hard for us to present a credible threat to North Korea - our ground forces are publicly overcommitted to the point where we're attriting our peninsular presence.

Granted, the Navy and Air Force are the forces likely to be able to damage North Korea's nuclear facilities, but the subsequent response by Kim Jong Il and his gigantic army is strategically curtailed by significant presence of US ground forces - essentially if he engages our troops in a major way, it commits the US to flattening him. If he can avoid engaging our troops as much as possible, however, then he may feel he can avoid the US's full-scale involvement. That's the doctrinal reason for the presence of US ground forces near the DMZ.

Maybe we can get by with half as many troops there - perhaps it'll still be seen the same way - but at less than 40k troops it was already in danger of being a clearly token force. Inter alia, the intelligence resouces of those troops are moving as well, with all their focused understanding of the Korean situation. Bad idea? I would say so, if we didn't really need those troops in Iraq-which-is-not-a-quagmire.

Meanwhile, that's ony half the kind of pressure we can exert. The Chinese, on whom the North Koreans depend heavily, have a great deal of traction with them. In multi-lateral talks, there's a great deal we can bring to bear on China to in turn bring to bear on North Korea. It has worked before, and it could well have worked again, if we hadn't already used (squandered, really) most of our leverage with China on Iraq. So, while we've been screwing around with the oppressor who wouldn't be able to obtain nuclear weapons for several years yet, who we thought had chemical weapons that he might have been able to deliver to targets outside Iraq, and who was not widely assessed to be willing to sell such munitions to terrorists, we've missed the boat with the oppressor who had nuclear weapons and said he was making more and does have the capability to deliver the nukes to US targets (or whomever else) and is assessed to be willing to sell anything to anyone.

And now the North Koreans have made a bunch more nukes. When it was one or two, we would likely have been able to deal with them through airstrikes. Now we're screwed. And yes, paying the blackmail might work better - by now - than apologizing to the South Koreans and the relatives of those who used to live in Seattle. Great job, Bush!

Friday, September 24, 2004

North Korea

Nathanael addresses my brief commentary about North Korea (even more) briefly, saying:

North Korea’s bad. But we can’t hit them because they would nuke Seoul, or Tokyo, and kill millions. Right?

Such a laconic statement couldn't possibly state anything like a comprehensive option (nor, I think, does Nathanael intend it as such), but it's a good starting place for discussion to address the implications of this central fact. Having just gotten back from a rough time in the feild, however, I'm not feeling like dropping the analysis bomb. Instead, I'll just treat his statement as if it really represented the totality of Nathanael's thought on the topic.

The fact that Korea has the current and confirmed ability to cause true catastrophe at any moment for any reason is the opposite of a reason to commit all of the the slack in our resources to an unpopular, aggressive action against a regime we have placed in the same rhetorical category. We make them nervous while reducing our ability to counter their actions.

And I never suggested we "hit" North Korea. That this apparently springs immediately to Nathanael's mind as the first choice consequence of focusing on the problem would signal a seriously limited imagination, if he really meant it that way.

Monday, September 20, 2004

I also admit

My feelings about Bush prior to the war made me much less likely to support the war in the first place. I think this goes for most of the rest of the world that he offended from his first days in office. Now, just because the world's offended doesn't mean it's right - we don't get to vote on the truth, after all - but it does mean that Bush was always going to have to work harder to convince than someone else would have. He seemed to work moderately hard to bully, but not so hard to convince.

People seem to have forgotten

Does anyone remember that during the US rush to invade Iraq, a variety third-party nations floated compromise plans delaying just months or even weeks on the US plan? The Canadian plan in specific was very favorable to us, terminating on March 28 of 2003. Under such a plan, we might have been able to obtain at least a majority in the Security Council to lend legitimacy to our side. Other plans in which we waited longer might have even overcome the French veto threat. This not to mention the possibility of securing transport through Turkey, increasing coalition partnership and participation, maintaining the political stability of allied leadership, and so on.

Plenty of US intelligence analyses even today give high probability of severe sectional strife and possible civil war next year. Over and over again before the war, foreign policy specialists wrung their hands over whether Iraq without Saddam would disintegrate into two or three pieces, resulting in long term chaos and destruction familiar to Afghanis. I do think that with enough focus on the matter we'll keep that from happening, but it's worth noting that it's a year and a half later and we haven't gotten out of crisis yet. Saying that the violence is (currently) only regional is misleading if it continues to gut Iraqis confidence in central governance. And since our use of the UN essentially amounted to "here's what we're gonna do, take it or leave it," and we showed absolutely no willingness to compromise with anyone to gain their support, we do not have nearly the resources (diplomatic, financial, moral, and military) we would have had otherwise.

Considering that the threats from North Korea that were intensifying then and remain today still unresolved, this does appear to be a collossal misallocation of resources. Unconscionable, in my eyes.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Finally, a return to something relevant

AP reports that Kerry's made the very good point that Bush spent political, diplomatic and military capital that should have been spent on the much more serious crisis on the Korean peninsula. A not so good point is his claim that we should have settled for bilateral talks - I agree with the analysis that insists no real progress can be made without all major regional parties represented. A good point not made directly - or a least not quoted in the article - is the point that North Korea has been and continues to be quite willing to sell arms to anybody and everybody -including terrorists - to obtain foreign scrip.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


Jesus ... invited only freely given belief and love.

It would seem the Christian "deal" runs something like: "You have the free choice between believing in Jesus and going to heaven or not believing, and spending eternity in torment. Choose any old way you want, and no pressure."

Now, I understand that it's not docrinaire to put it that way, but it certainly seems to amount to that often. I would feel the choice was more "free" if there was no mention of reward or punishment in the Bible, and the soul presumably found out about their happy reward (or terrible punishment) at death. It's suspicious, no?