Thursday, March 01, 2007

More imaginary threats exposed

Josh Marshall comments on the latest revelation about North Korea. It seems the BushCo bungled another one -- the U.S. pulled out the Clinton-negotiated 'Agreement' that halted N.K. plutonium production "under international inspection" because of an "alleged uranium enrichment program" which now appears to have existed the same way Iraqi WMDs did. It comes as no surprise that the NYTimes reports:
The disclosure underscores broader questions about the ability of intelligence agencies to discern the precise status of foreign weapons programs. The original assessment about North Korea came during the same period that the administration was building its case about Iraq’s unconventional weapons programs, which turned out to be based on flawed intelligence.
Josh Marshall:

White House: Okay, maybe the North Koreans don't have a uranium enrichment program after all.

You have to be relatively deep into the minutiae of North Korea policy for this story. But it's a big one. The Bush administration is now saying they're really not even sure the North Koreans have a uranium enrichment program for the production of nuclear weapons.

A 'senior administration official' tells the Times, "The question now is whether we would be in the position of having to get the North Koreans to give up a sizable arsenal if this had been handled differently."

That, as they say, is something of an understatement.

This gets a tad tedious. But bear with me because it's important.

Speaking very broadly, there are two big ways to make nuclear weapons -- with uranium and plutonium. Each involves different technical challenges and processes. And each has a different bang you get versus the complexity of the task of putting the thing together.

The big issue with North Korea has always been their plutonium production. Back in 1994, they were on the brink of being able to produce bombs with the plutonium they were making. The US came close to war with the North Koreans over it. But the two countries settled on something called the 'Agreed Framework' in which the North Koreans' plutonium production operation was shuttered and placed under international inspection in exchange for fuel oil shipments and assistance building 'light water' nuclear reactors.

We don't need to get into the details of the agreement at the moment. The relevant point is that from 1994 to 2002 the North Korean nuclear weapons program was frozen in place. The strong consensus judgment was that they had not yet made any nuclear weapons. And during that period they could not access the plutonium they had already produced.

It was on the basis of this alleged uranium enrichment program -- which may well not even have existed -- that the US pulled out of that agreement. This allowed the North Koreans to get back into the plutonium business with a gusto. And they have since produced -- by most estimates -- at least a hand full of nuclear weapons, one of which, albeit a rather feeble one, they detonated last October.

So now let's review that quote from the senior administration official: "The question now is whether we would be in the position of having to get the North Koreans to give up a sizable arsenal if this had been handled differently."

Frankly, it's not much of a question.

Because of a weapons program that may not even have existed (and no one ever thought was far advanced) the White House the White House got the North Koreans to restart their plutonium program and then sat by while they produced a half dozen or a dozen real nuclear weapons -- not the Doug Feith/John Bolton kind, but the real thing.

It's a screw-up that staggers the mind. And you don't even need to know this new information to know that. Even if the claims were and are true, it was always clear that the uranium program was far less advanced than the plutonium one, which would be ready to produce weapons soon after it was reopened. Now we learn the whole thing may have been a phantom. Like I said, it staggers the mind how badly this was bungled. In this decade there's been no stronger force for nuclear weapons proliferation than the dynamic duo of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.

Or, as Atrios puts it: Anything But Clinton
Those of us who can remember all the way back to 2001 know that the original "Bush doctrine" was known as "Anything But Clinton." Basically, if Clinton had anything to do with it, it was time to scrap it. This included a lovely little agreement which had prevented North Korea, charter member of the "axis of evil," from obtaining nuclear weapons. Bush scrapped the agreement based on the idea that Clinton got tricked because the North Koreans were pursuing a parallel uranium program. Agreement scrapped, NK gets its plutonium back, makes some bombs.

And that supposed uranium program? Eh, not so much.
Robert Farley at TAPPED:
Let's make one thing as clear as possible, though; North Korea has nuclear weapons today because George W. Bush is a stupid, stupid man.

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