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The Consequences of Clintonism

Author: Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies
October 28, 2002
Weekly Standard


POOR BILL CLINTON. He tried so hard to be a peacemaker, and until recently it appeared that he had at least partially succeeded. Sure, Middle East peace didn't emerge from the frenzied negotiations at Camp David in July 2000. But at least he had succeeded in brokering deals to bring "peace" to Northern Ireland and the Korean peninsula. Then— oops— it all unraveled last week.

From Northern Ireland came word that Britain was suspending the local assembly in which Protestants and Catholics were supposed to share power. The legislative body had been set up as a result of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, brokered by Clinton's special envoy, George Mitchell. As a condition of power-sharing, the Irish Republican Army was supposed to disarm and become a nice, housebroken political party, like the Tories or Labour. But it never has.

Until now, the IRA's transgressions— whether its failure to turn over its weapons, its role in training Colombia's FARC guerrillas, or its occasional bombings— could be explained away by peace process supporters as the work of "dissidents" and "factions." That illusion became harder to sustain last week, after police raids uncovered evidence that leaders of Sinn Fein, the public face of the IRA, were involved in planning terrorist acts. The Good Friday Agreement— for which Clinton and Mitchell have already taken numerous victory laps— appears to be in the intensive care unit, perhaps headed for the hospice.

Even more disquieting news arrived from North Korea. In 1993 Pyongyang refused to allow international monitors to inspect its nuclear facilities, as required under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Pact that it had signed. The Clinton administration averted a crisis by negotiating a much-touted peace agreement. North Korea would promise to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. In return, the United States, Japan, and South Korea would shower all sorts of goodies on the Stalinist regime, including help in building two light-water nuclear reactors for allegedly civilian use. The United States delivered its end of the bargain— ground was broken on the first of the Western-funded reactors in August— but North Korea neglected to do the same. Last week Pyongyang brazenly announced that it had unilaterally abrogated the 1994 Agreed Framework and was developing nukes and even "more powerful weapons."

You might think that these events would tend to discredit the Clinton presidency. But it's too late for that. Two years after the Marc Rich pardon, one year after September 11, the Clinton administration cannot be discredited any further. The real question is whether these events will discredit the idea that peace comes from a "process." I rather think not, for like all true faiths it is impervious to empirical refutation.

As it happens, at roughly the same time that North Korea was building nuclear weapons and the IRA was plotting further terrorism, the Nobel Peace Prize committee was awarding this year's laurel to Jimmy Carter. One might wonder how he earned the honor. The world, after all, was a considerably less peaceful (and, more important, less free) place after four years of the Carter presidency, which saw the Iranian hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and advances by Soviet allies from Nicaragua to Angola. Skirting this issue, the Nobel committee justified its award by pointing to Carter's post-presidential work.

Much of it is unobjectionable, even laudable— his charitable activities with Habitat for Humanity, or his championing of human rights in places like Cuba. But Carter has also been a leading champion of the view that there is no dispute in the world so intractable as to resist mediation. Some of his efforts— notably the Israel-Egypt accord of 1978— have done little harm (though it's hard to see how regional security was enhanced by Israel's giving up the Sinai). But most of his work— in places like Haiti, Sudan, Liberia, Venezuela, Congo— has conspicuously failed to deliver tangible results.

Is it any surprise that Carter was instrumental in negotiating the 1994 accord with North Korea? He visited the dying dictator Kim Il Sung and found him to be "vigorous, alert, intelligent, and surprisingly well informed about the technical issues" (not to mention "very friendly toward Christianity"). Perhaps, in light of last week's news, the Carter Center will revise its website, which brags of its founder's role in creating the first "dialogue" between North Korea and the United States "in 40 years." Or perhaps Madeleine Albright will express a shred of remorse for clinking champagne glasses with Kim Jong Il during her rapturous visit to Pyongyang in 2000. Or maybe, just maybe, all those sophisticates who hooted at President Bush's inclusion of North Korea in the "Axis of Evil" will issue a mea culpa.

Yeah, right. And maybe the Dear Leader will retire to Scottsdale and work on his handicap.

Professional peace processors are not likely to be put off by a minor inconvenience like North Korea's brandishing of nuclear weapons. They will just see it as one more reason to redouble efforts at "engagement" (a nicer word than "appeasement").

Bill Clinton, Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, and the other architects of Camp David II were, to be sure, briefly dismayed by their failure to end overnight more than 50 years of enmity between Arabs and Israelis. They were even shocked enough to utter an inconvenient truth— that the problem did not lie with both sides, but with one side, to wit Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasser Arafat, who showed himself determined to make war at any cost. But this moment of clarity back in 2000 was all too brief. It did not take long for Clinton to join a chorus of commentators denouncing President Bush for not doing enough to restart the fabled peace process. In part to quiet the critics, the Bush administration has felt compelled to at least go through the motions of reconciling the irreconcilable, even though the president's heart clearly isn't in it. The most pernicious effect of this pressure has been to keep Ariel Sharon from tossing Arafat out of the West Bank, where he remains an impediment to real peace.

Naturally, the same people who think we should cut deals with Kim Jong Il and Gerry Adams and Yasser Arafat do not cavil at working with Saddam Hussein. Indeed Kofi Annan, last year's Nobel Peace Prize recipient, once praised Saddam "as a man I can do business with." And Gunner Berge, the chairman of the Nobel Prize Committee since 2000, made clear that the award to Carter was intended "as criticism of the line the current U.S. administration has taken on Iraq," the current administration not being one that thinks Saddam a likely convert to sweetness and light.

The Nobel Committee is perfectly aware that there is another way to make peace. It simply doesn't like it. On its website is posted a long essay by Francis Sejersted, chairman of the committee from 1991 to 1999, who asks, "What are we to make in that connection of peace based on threats and fear?"

There's a good argument to be made that peace based on threats and fear has proven to be much more durable than peace based on niceness and wishful thinking. After all, it was through threats and fear— and actual violence— that the Allies won World War II, thereby converting Japan and Germany from militarism to pacifism. It was also through threats and fear that Ronald Reagan helped to bring down the Evil Empire and end the Cold War, thereby promoting "fraternity between nations" and "the abolition or reduction of standing armies," two of the achievements the Nobel Peace Prize is intended to honor.

But Sejersted is having none of it. Such a peace, he argues, "takes us back to deterrence and the terror balance. Ought peace of that kind to be honoured?" His answer is an emphatic no, because "it certainly does not correspond to Nobel's conceptions of disarmament and fraternisation." Perhaps not. But do Alfred Nobel's conceptions correspond with how to achieve peace in the real world? On this question, the Nobel committee is silent. Perhaps the ever-voluble Bill Clinton has some thoughts to share on this pressing subject.

Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of "The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power" (Basic Books, 2002).

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