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A Better World
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Fred Kaplan's latest in Slate is a sloppy effort to discredit Bush's latest speech, which:

lists the world's hot spots, one by one (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan), contrasts what each was like three years ago with what it's like now, and concludes each success story with the refrain, "and the American people are safer." After the last item on the checklist, he expands the viewfinder, exclaiming, "and America and the world are safer."

Kaplan begins by trying to discredit the notion that the war with Iraq had anything to do with Qaddafi's decision to come clean with regards to his WMD programs, and Kaplan bases this on timing:

First, when Bush first touted Libya's disarmament in his State of the Union address last January, he heralded the move as the result of "nine months of intense negotiation" involving Libya, the United States, and Britain. Qaddafi made his announcement in December. "Nine months" suggests the talks started the previous March. That was before the war in Iraq began.

If he's talking about March 2003 (I don't know why the hell he doesn't just state the month and year), then that is the month the war began. If he's talking about early March 2003, at that time we had already massed troops around Iraq. Basically, we had taken a hard line on Iraq's refusals to fully cooperate with inspectors, and Qaddafi saw this.

He then notes the seizure of "nuclear equipment" (without citing sources or news articles...this is the web, dude, a link or two would be nice) six months after the Iraq war. This was while Libya was in negotiations with the U.S. and Britain. Without knowing what was in the shipment (aluminum tubes?), it's difficult to say what was going through Qaddafi's mind. Since he was in negotiations at that point, but still undecided, the seizure of the equipment helped to further convince him that he wasn't going to be successful.

The fact is, nobody knows what went through Qaddafi's mind in his decision to relinquish the pursuit of WMD. But it would seem strange if the buildup of pressure on Iraq and the subsequent war had nothing to do with his decision-making process. As Tony Blair pointed out, Libya did not go to the U.N., or to France, or to Germany, to negotiate the dismantling of its WMD programs. It approached the U.S. and Britain.

Kaplan then moves on to Afghanistan, which he calls "Bush's singularly great accomplishment", but then goes on:

The U.S. troops left in place—even with NATO assistance—were too paltry to stabilize the territory. As a result, warlords are once again slicing up the country. Elections have been put off due to poor security. Poppy growth and subsequent heroin exports to Europe are at nearly an all-time high. Taliban fighters are gaining ground here and there. And the eastern border to Pakistan, not at all secure, almost certainly still harbors Osama Bin Laden.

The elections have been delayed from this June to this September. Yes, security and drug exports are still problems...but is Kaplan seriously arguing that Afghanistan is worse off now than it was under the rule of the Taliban?

On Iraq, Bush—as usual—was very careful with his language. Three years ago, he told the Oak Ridge scientists, Iraq was ruled by "a proven mass murderer who refused to account for weapons of mass murder." (Note: "weapons of mass murder," not "weapons of mass destruction"; and "refused to account for," not "refused to disarm.") Now, Bush went on, Iraq is "becoming an example of reform to the region." Because America "helped to end the violent regime of Saddam Hussein, and because we're helping to raise a peaceful democracy in its place, the American people are safer."

Kaplan says that this remains to be seen. But it is clear that we've removed at the very least the doubt concerning Iraq's WMD, and toppled a horrendous dictator to boot. It will most likely take years for the effects of a fledgling democracy in the Middle East to ripple throughout the region, but this plan, to reform the politics of the Middle East by force makes more sense than the alternative...the status quo. The Middle East is a region rich in resources, but stunted in terms of politics and human rights. If revolution has to come externally, then so be it.

But then Kaplan goes on to talk about North Korea:

However, the world's most alarming and concrete instance of proliferation—the open emergence of North Korea as a nuclear state—has been appallingly mishandled by the Bush administration. For over a year, Bush refused even to discuss the matter with the North Koreans, despite their clear desire to negotiate. A month ago, he finally offered a deal nearly identical to the deal the North Koreans offered us at the beginning of 2003—but it's too late. They have since moved much closer to mass production of A-bombs, and so they've stiffened their terms. Possibly even more than the war in Iraq, this could go down as Bush's deepest diplomatic disaster.

Yes, North Korea was eager to negotiate...another toothless agreement of money and aid for noncooperation. North Korea didn't want any other signitaries to any other agreements...because they didn't want any sort of international legitimacy to the framework. As long as the deal was between them and the U.S., they could always continue to forge ahead with their nuclear plans and blame such breaches on bad faith on the part of the U.S., all the while getting plenty of food and oil aid. A win-win for them. The Bush administration refused to play this little game, demanding involvement by North Korea's neighbors (why the hell anybody would see this as unreasonable is beyond me). That way, the next time North Korea broke its promises, it wouldn't just be breaking them to the U.S., but to a host of countries. North Korea has demonstrated, time and again, plenty of evidence for not trusting them. Why was it unreasonable to try to involve Russia, Japan, and South Korea in any future agreements, those countries that have the most at stake in the region?

Is Kaplan seriously arguing that we should have set up another framework such as the one under Clinton? A U.S./North Korean agreement with no other international involvement? Does he really think that would have stopped the North Korean nuclear program? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, I'm a friggin idiot.

Things are still fragile right now, but they have a whole hell of a lot more potential than the world pre-9/11. That world had Al Qaeda safely entrenched in Afghanistan. Now they're on the run. That world had the Taliban in power. Now they're not, and a democratic Afghanistan has a chance to emerge. That world had Libya pursuing nuclear weapons. And now they're not. That world had Saddam Hussein in power, and what he had or didn't was uncertain. Now we know and he's out of power, and Iraq has its first chance at democracy.

It doesn't just seem like a safer world...but a better one.

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