Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It's Not Just Me

Just in case you think I am the only one in Washington who is weary of the "game," you should check in with today's Nelson Report. Mr. Nelson's near-daily observations are the must-read for the Asia policy crowd in Washington. Every major Asian government subscribes to his report and any analyst, policy official, or scholar worth anything is on his mailing list.

He was appalled by the lack of preparation of the Congressmen holding the hearing, North Korea's Nuclear and Missile Tests and the Six-Party Talks: Where Do We Go From Here.  It was jointly held by two subcommittees of the House Foreign Affairs Committee: Asia and Terrorism. 

Unfortunately, the heads of these subcommittees are among the dumbest in Congress. Both have excellent, knowledgeable staff to advise them, but it is completely lost on the two Ranking Members' ability to absorb complex thought or even to read correctly what their staff has written for them.

Nelson bluntly criticized their shear inability to ask a reasoned question. More subtly, he criticized the men who testified as having a bit too much self-confidence in their ability to repeat common knowledge off the cuff. He writes:
Today's joint House HFAC subcommittee hearing on N. Korea policy (by Asia & Pacific, and Terrorism) could have made a real public service today, had it been interested in serious discussion with highly experienced, very diverse policy advocates including Sig Harrison, Richard Bush, Scott Snyder, and Tom Hubbard.

It wasn't, so the opportunity was lost. 
Neither Hubbard nor Harrison appeared to have written statements ready for distribution at the time of the hearing (you can find them all now online along with a video and transcript here). Guess the interns were slow in writing it. Amb. Hubbard was also so practiced at repeating his thoughts on Korea, that he merely spoke off the cuff. Harrison, a former Washington Post journalist who discovered North Korea, tends to sensationalize and focus on a "story lead."

Nelson continued:
Bush, Snyder and Hubbard patiently outlined the critical issue of China's evolving views...and angst...over NK actions this year; the rising pressure on Japan and S. Korea was cogently analyzed; each explained why they now have, reluctantly, concluded that the game has changed and the DPRK is no longer interested in negotiating its nuclear program.

Harrison paradoxically agreed, but said that's entirely the US fault because the US won't renounce the possible use of force, including nukes, against the DPRK.  A tautological argument, to be sure, but a very important point meriting serious debate.

Not from this group of Members.  Rather, the only real passion came with demands to immediately effect the rescue of the two women, the absolute nadir of which was Chairman Faleomavega's final remark after a long, 2.5 hour exercise:

"We need to wonder whether the 6 Party nuclear talks are more important than these two women..."

Having thus trivialized the nuclear issue beyond any rational point of recognition, Faleomavega earlier, correctly noted that N. Korea and Iran seem to be held to a different standard than India and Pakistan.

But he went on to suggest a practical and moral equivalency between the US and NK nuclear arsenals.

This is taking objectivity to new heights, one might suppose, but as serious discussion of reality, including US treaty commitments based on reality, it begs a few questions...none of which were articulated by Members.

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