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Thursday, Oct. 19, 2006

America's double standard fuels crises


LONDON -- The U.S. government's double standard in dealing with the intensifying nuclear crisis in North Korea further strengthens the argument that President George W. Bush's colonial designs are either exasperated by the vulnerability of his foes or deterred by their lethal preparedness.

Considering the U.S.-North Korea protracted standoff, one can only imagine how foolish deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein must now feel that he didn't pursue a more determined program of weapons of mass destruction. Even if one would accept Iran's claims that its nuclear program is constructed for peaceful purposes, one has to wonder if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is willing to reconsider the overriding intent of his nuclear ambitions.

Indeed, the United States' feeble, yet precarious handling of the Korean Peninsula crisis, instigated by North Korea's underground nuclear test Oct. 9 in Hamgyong province is a further attestation to a very important deduction: The U.S. war on Iraq was never intended to dismantle Iraq's alleged stockpiles of illicit weapons, but to control the world's most strategically and economically viable region. Despite incessant assurances by the former Iraqi government that it possessed no such weapons, allegations confirmed repeatedly by international monitors and verified on more than one occasion by the United Nations itself, war seemed the only rational response in the anxious minds of Washington's warmongers.

A recent study, published by a joint U.S.-Iraqi team in the eminent medical journal, The Lancet, estimates that about 655,000 Iraqis have been killed in post-invasion Iraq, 31 percent of whom have fallen victim to U.S. and other "coalition" attacks. While the bulk of the reported casualties were allegedly killed during the ongoing ethnic strife, few can deny that such deaths would not have taken place were it not for the state of chaos and ethnic rivalry created and fed by the March 2003 U.S. takeover.

Needless to say, no weapons of mass destruction were ever recovered in Iraq, for no such weapons existed. Yet while the death toll in Iraq is now comfortably exceeding the half-million mark, U.S. officials arrogantly parrot the same tired argument: that the world is now better off without Hussein, a classically pretentious retort to any serious criticism of the Bush administration's disastrous and reckless war.

In my visit to Iraq in 1999 to report on the crippling economic embargo, the sites of newly erected statues honoring Hussein provoked a feeling of revulsion and disgust. However, to confidently argue that Iraqis are better off now than ever before is pure hypocrisy and self-exaltation.

What is even more infuriating to any rational human mind is the eagerness for war exhibited by the U.S. administration and its propagandists throughout the Western media prior to the invasion of Iraq, and the utter laxity -- interrupted by occasional shouting matches -- toward a much more immediate North Korean threat, one that is sending waves of fear throughout an already fractious region.

Only days after the North Korean nuclear test, some U.S. officials ruled out the military option, while others called for the resumption of the six-party talks, which had for years engaged North Korea, the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

The talks were of great benefit to a region whose economic progress is highly dependent on its political stability. Although the nuclear row is anything but new -- North Korea renounced its commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1993 -- the U.S. seemed willing at times to exhaust the diplomatic option. Such efforts proved successful as early as 1994 when former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited the North to help diffuse simmering tension.

The most recent development, however, was the culmination of a row that dates back to late 2005. Just weeks after a joint statement by the six parties declared the North's agreement to end its nuclear quest and dismantle its program, the Bush administration provoked Pyongyang when it slapped the impoverished country with monetary sanctions that gravely harmed its banking system. Level-headed U.S. diplomats involved in engaging North Korea were, once again, marginalized by elements within the administration that saw sanctions and war as the only effective foreign-policy mechanizations.

Just as the war on Iraq failed to bring stability to the Middle East and secure U.S. economic interests there, the breakaway from diplomatic efforts to engage North Korea helped produce an irrevocable scenario where the latter now effectively possesses nuclear-weapons technology and the long-range missiles to deliver it. Yet if the issue had been treated with sincerity, political consistency, yet with unity and firmness from the outset, the region would not have had to endure such trepidation. Instead, the U.S. found it more suitable to ravage Iraq under a cluster of pretenses in a war that has substantiated and spread terror around the world, not withstanding Iraq itself.

How will Washington respond to Kim's latest grandiose act is still unclear, but it will most likely be consistent with the U.S.' own political agenda, not the good of the region. In my first visit to South Korea a few months ago, I learned to appreciate the peacefulness and hospitality of the Korean people; they are one of the most accomplished and proud nations I have ever visited; there ambitions hardly deviate from those of political stability, economic prosperity and progress. Japan, too, has ample reasons to see an end to this uncertainty, and the Japanese people, too, don't deserve to be held hostage to lethal U.S.-North Korean games.

There is so much at stake for the economically vibrant Asian Pacific Rim countries; knowing what we now know about the risk of allowing the U.S. to meddle in other regions' affairs and the disastrous Iraq tragedy it helped spawn, these countries must rely on their own diplomatic channels to bring an end to, as opposed to further exasperate, the nuclear crisis. The Korean Peninsula must be denuclearized, for the sake of its people and the region as a whole. The U.S. inconsistency, double standards and quick resorts to policies of starvation and wars cannot achieve such an objective; it can only make matters worse, with Iraq remaining the prime example.

Ramzy Baroud frequently writes on Middle East issues. His latest book, "The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle" (Pluto Press, London), is now available on Amazon.com.


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