Let’s be honest. While the vast majority of Americans presently oppose the Iraq War, most of those same Americans were being well represented when Congress voted its initial authorization for the use of military force against Iraq. Chilling reports of the use of chemical weapons against its own people, a cat-and-mouse game with U.N. weapons of mass destruction inspectors, and reports of exporting post-9-11 terrorism convinced many of us to support the efforts to depose Saddam Hussein.
Since then, the original intelligence reports have proven erroneous. Most allied nations have withdrawn their troops. The quick overthrow of the government has turned into a protracted civil war. We now find ourselves caught in a military quagmire.
The dismay over the war is multiplied by a common assessment that our president has been operating unilaterally, acting like a lone cowboy shooting the bad guys, and even seizing lands and resources like a Caesar expanding his empire.
In the midst of all that, we sign a peace agreement with North Korea. What’s with that?
A 1994 agreement signed by the Clinton administration with the North Koreans went to seed when Mr. Bush, in his 2002 State of the Union address, categorized NK as one of three member countries in the axis of evil. Kim Jong-Il moved ahead with plans to build nuclear facilities, to test nuclear weapons, and to snub all things American. Indeed, his project of cultural isolation took an even starker turn.
Many American citizens urged the president to engage in bilateral talks with the NK government. He refused. He insisted that conversations could be fruitful only if they also include the Chinese, the Japanese, the Russians, and the South Koreans. That sounded like an excuse to avoid meeting the enemy. In the meantime he continued his tough talk, leading some to wonder if a new Asian war was on his mind.
Lo and behold, representatives of the six governments did meet, and on Feb. 13, a joint agreement on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament was approved.
Syngman Rhee, moderator of the 212th General Assembly of the PC(USA) told the Outlook, “For those of us working for peace and reconciliation with North Korea and for the relationship of the U.S. with North Korea, this is a very meaningful breakthrough.” He added, “The six-party talks have resolved to take serious steps to build real trust and to make joint efforts for lasting peace and stability in northeast Asia. These are directly related parties that will negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula in an appropriate forum. The efforts and commitment our church has had for some time has seen a gain, and we need to pray for a successful carrying out of these agreements for all sides involved.”
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton castigated the deal for being too easy on the Koreans. Mr. Bush responded in a Feb. 14 news conference, “I strongly disagree–disagree with his assessment. I have told the American people, like the Iranian issue, I wanted to solve the North Korean issue peacefully, and that the president has an obligation to try all diplomatic means necessary to do so. I changed the dynamic on the North Korean issue by convincing other people to be at the table with us, on the theory that the best diplomacy is diplomacy in which there is more than one voice — that has got an equity in the issue — speaking.”
So much for unilateralism. So much for the lone cowboy or Roman Caesar.
Could it be that up the sleeve of the Bush presidency we might find the diplomacy blueprint sketched by Ronald Reagan? You may recall that after dubbing the Soviet Union the evil empire, Reagan sat at table with Gorbachev and hammered out substantial progress for peace, ultimately leading to the end of the Soviet system. Could it be that Mr. Bush’s tough talk is also aiming for a real peace?
The continuing battles in Iraq scream a horrendous horror. The saber rattling over Iran chills us with apprehension. But the recent action with the North Koreans holds forth the possibility that reconciliation of other kinds may be coming. We Presbyterians will pray and advocate and march toward such a future.
Remember that old proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick”? It seems to have given way to another, “Talk like a hawk and love like a dove.” It’s too trite to make any quote books, but if it paves a path to peace, then it might be useable.