Saturday, December 20, 2003

Some thoughts on yesterday's surprising announcement that Libya was giving up its nuclear program and allowing total access to international inspectors:

1. Clearly it means that Libya was paying attention to events in Iraq. It's yet another total vindication of Anglo-American policy in the region.

2. It screws Iran, North Korea and other countries who were partnering with the Libyans on nuclear weapon production. It's not just the basic news that's good; the reverberations from this story are even better. It also means, in all likelihood, a quick end to economic sanctions on Libya, an OPEC member.

3. I can't help contrasting the (apparently wildly successful) Anglo-American diplomatic efforts here with the spectacular failure of the Clinton administration's earlier attempt to bribe North Korea into giving up its own nuclear program. The lessons that we can take from this:

a. Multilateralism does work under the right circumstances. The British apparently played "good cop" in the Libya negotiations, in contrast to the scary, dangerous, trigger-happy Americans. In 1994, the Clinton administration didn't need any help from anyone with North Korea. They knew it all.

b. When dealing with the ruthless and amoral, diplomacy without a credible military backup is pointless. The North Koreans immediately set to work on building nukes after taking the food, the oil, and the free power plant because they understood that Clinton and Albright were not serious negotiators. The North Koreans sensed on some level that Bill Clinton was only interested in scoring public relations points.

c. The contrast in form is interesting. The Bush administration has been professional and downright taciturn on the Libya agreement. This was an enormous change of pace from the festival of self-congratulation that was the signing of the North Korean accord. Among the many things I will never forgive the Clintons for is the terrifying sight of Madeleine Albright dancing in front of a crowd of admiring Koreans.

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