Inviting a terrorist to dinner

March 20, 1995|By Georgie Anne Geyer

Washington -- WHAT DOES North Korea have to do with Northern Ireland? The answer is simple: These two issues favored by the Clinton administration reveal a good deal about those folks' real thinking on foreign policy.

Let's start with the most recent. Until the past few months, Gerry Adams, the black-bearded head of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, was considered one of the world's top terrorists. But President Clinton not only invited him to spend St. Patrick's Day at the White House, but also announced that Mr. Adams could go money-raising in America.

Not surprisingly, the invitation raised such a ruckus in British-American relations that many wondered whether they would ever get back on track. Prime Minister John Major pointed out archly that, after all, despite the beginnings of an agreement with the IRA to bring peace to Northern Ireland, the IRA had not yet even agreed to "decommission" its weapons.

One of the Clinton officials involved in this rather odd diplomacy told me stoutly that the money-raising in America was absolutely necessary. "We have to make it worth their while to continue with the peace process," he insisted. "They have to see they're getting something."

This same process of "foreign policy through buy-off" (my phrase) is to be seen in last fall's agreement with North Korea, an agreement crafted to give that nation $4 billion worth of "safe" nuclear reactors, to be built by South Korea, in order to woo LTC them away from their wicked propensity to build nuclear weapons and sell them at every international arms bazaar.

The difference between the two "Norths" is that we now have some months to see what North Korea is doing with our understanding and therapeutic approach to foreign policy.

Right away, they diverted the oil that was being given by America as part of the deal to military use; then they had a regression to their old selves and threatened noisily to scrap the whole agreement if Washington insisted that Pyongyang accept South Korean light-water reactors.

Some fascinating behind-the-scenes insights into North Korea's response to the nuclear agreement also came recently from an )) unlikely source. Korean-born U.S. journalist Lee Chan Sam sneaked into the North, first posing as a Korean-American investor and then as a Korean trader from China, and was able to learn what ordinary people were thinking.

The leadership had convinced them that their present economic ruin was not the fault of the system "but that it was South Korea and the United States that have somehow created the situation." They had been sold on the idea that the agreement of last October, far from indicating a defeat, actually was a reward for the nuclear-threat policies of the North Korean government. They were assured that "they endured near starvation in order for the government to develop a weapon that brought the rest of the world to its knees." In one region, the regime was even moving 100,000 people away from a zone where foreign capital was to come in -- to keep North Koreans far away from capitalism's scourge.

In short, far from acceding peacefully to the "reasonable" American idea that the nuclear agreement would reform and liberalize North Korean society, the North Koreans are using it for their own purposes. And, indeed, why would they not?

This is where the Clinton foreign policy falls down. There is a pleasant expectation in its thinking that everybody really wants to change for the better, whether dear-leader Kim Jong Il or IRAista Gerry Adams. It is up to America to gauge what carrot, or what come-on, is strong enough to make them say, "Oh my, we shouldn't have been living like this; now we see the light!"

These types of New Age feelings, which are especially revealed in these two foreign policy decisions of this administration, come out of the therapeutic mind-set of the president as well as the "Renaissance Weekend" thinking of the young people around him.

And they end up finally with a foreign policy that is primarily passive. They see American power as something embarrassing, not to be used but to be harnessed, and thus seek to reward North Korea and Gerry Adams before they change, not after. As these policy-makers renounce the use of American force in the world (except to evacuate U.N. troops from various places, another passive response), they leave a yawning power vacuum in a world crying for leadership from America.

Of course, it may just be that, before we awaken tomorrow, Kim Jong Il will have closed down his nuclear plants for good and Gerry Adams will have decommissioned his weapons and started "Hug-a-Protestant Day!"

Wanna bet?

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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