North Korea stunned the world by its admission to clandestinely operating a nuclear weapons program, violating her 1994 agreement with the United States. More concerning is North Korea’s declaration that it has “more powerful” weapons, and in fact, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said on October 17, “I believe they have a small number of nuclear weapons.” Although President Bush called the North Korean announcement “troubling,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters, “We are seeking a peaceful resolution. This is best addressed through diplomatic channels,” which has left me scratching my head in bewilderment.
Our country is willing to invade Iraq, costing billions of dollars and scores of American and Iraqi lives, to head off a possible future threat of a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein. North Korea, another member of the “Axis of Evil,” probably already has “a small number of nuclear weapons,” but there are no plans to launch a military strike. Very perplexing.
We want to invade Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people from a mad despot who “used gas against his own people,” yet North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Il, may arguably be worse than Saddam Hussein. Harper’s Magazine, in its November 2002 issue, published an excerpt of the testimony of Soon Ok Lee, a former prisoner at the Kaechon prison in North Korea, before a House subcommittee during which she described how “The prisoner nurses, with trembling hands, squeezed the [prisoners’] babies’ necks to kill them.” Nevertheless, the North Korean people are not as deserving of “liberation” as the Iraqi people.
Why the double standard? According to national security adviser Condoleeza Rice, “International pressure may have an effect [on North Korea]. We’ve tried everything with Saddam Hussein. Nothing has worked.” Really? Now that we know North Korea has flagrantly violated the 1994 pact it signed with the United States, how can we trust that “international pressure” will be effective this time around? We cannot, plain and simple, and yet war is simply off the table.
This is wrong. First, we are sending the signal that any war with Iraq is about oil. Iraq is sitting on the world’s second-largest crude oil reserve, over which American oil companies are salivating. North Korea, on the other hand, has no oil. Therefore, Iraq must be occupied by the U.S. because it may “one day” have nuclear weapons, and diplomacy should save the day with the now nuclear North Korea. No one would doubt that if Iraq made the same announcement as North Korea, we would already have been pounding Baghdad to Babylonian times. Second, while North Korea does have a formidable army, and any military action would exact a heavy casualty toll on American troops, we are the most powerful country on earth, and we must be willing to take on any foe, no matter how formidable, who threatens our national security. Our reluctance to take on North Korea militarily may be taken as a sign of weakness, and we must never send that signal to our enemies abroad.
Although it seems so, I am not calling for war with North Korea. War is hell, and a diplomatic solution must be sought for both the Iraqi and North Korean crises. Yet, President Bush made it the official strategy of the United States to pre-emotively strike against nations who threaten our national security, and it would seem that North Korea snugly fits into that category of nations. The apparent double standard in America’s treatment of Iraq and North Korea threatens to further erode America’s credibility, especially in the Muslim world. Unfortunately, however, it seems some members of the “Axis” are more evil than others.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and columnist for Beliefnet.com and the Independent Writers Syndicate.é He is also contributing author to the forthcoming book Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith, due to be released by Rodale in November 2002.