Hill Fires Back at Bolton

A lot of observers took note when former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton blasted the Bush administration’s new North Korea deal before the ink was dry:

You know, Secretary Powell in 2001 started off the administration by saying he was prepared to pick up where the Clinton administration left off. President Bush changed course and followed a different approach. This is the same thing that the State Department was prepared to do six years ago. If we going to cut this deal now, it’s amazing we didn’t cut it back then. So I’m hoping that this is not really what’s going to happen.

Now that the deal has been seemingly endorsed by the president, it looks like Christopher Hill, the architect of the deal, is feeling his oats and looking to shoot back at Bolton. On the Charlie Rose Show the other night, Hill engaged in this exchange:

CHARLIE ROSE: You believe — there are those who suggest there are hard-liners in North Korea who don’t believe this will happen.

CHRISTOPHER HILL: Hard-liners in North Korea? There are hard-liners all over the place.

CHARLIE ROSE: Hard-liners in Washington?

CHRISTOPHER HILL: I sometimes think they’re all related, because there are hard-liners who don’t believe in a negotiated process.

Now, for those not versed in the subtlety of cufflinked diplo-speak, this isn’t such a jab, but in the State Department lexicon, this is about as close as you get to a middle finger. (Secretary of State Rice had responded to Bolton’s criticism by stating flatly, “He’s just wrong.”)

Substantively, there’s an interesting question here: do you take what you know to be an imperfect deal in order to at least, say, retard the North Koreans’ nuclear program? In a Korea war game conducted by the Atlantic magazine a couple years back, former Clinton administration official Robert Gallucci described the thinking after having argued with Kenneth “Cakewalk” Adelman and retired Lt. Gen Thomas McInerney about the right approach to dealing with North Korea:

“When I came back with the Agreed Framework deal and tried to sell it,” he said, “I ran into the same people sitting around that table — the general to my right, Ken across from me. They hated the idea of trying to solve this problem with a negotiation.

“And I said, ‘What’s your — pardon me — your [expletive] plan, then, if you don’t like this?’

“ ‘We don’t like—’

“I said, ‘Don’t tell me what you don’t like! Tell me how you’re going to stop the North Korean nuclear program.’

“ ‘But we wouldn’t do it this way—’

“ ‘Stop! What are you going to do?’

“I could never get a goddamn answer. What I got was, ‘We wouldn’t negotiate.’”

I pointed out that the North Koreans had — as McInerney emphasized — cheated on the 1994 agreement. “Excuse me,” Gallucci said, “the Soviets cheated on virtually every deal we ever made with them, but we were still better off with the deal than without it.”

To people who say that negotiating with the North Koreans rewards bad behavior, Gallucci says, “Listen, I’m not interested in teaching other people lessons. I’m interested in the national security of the United States. If that’s what you’re interested in, are you better off with this deal or without it? You tell me what you’re going to do without the deal, and I’ll compare that with the deal.”

He was adamant that we were better off under the Agreed Framework—cheating and all — than we are now. “When the Clinton folks went out of office, the North Koreans only had the plutonium they had separated in the previous Bush administration. Now they’ve got a whole lot more. What did all this ‘tough’ [expletive] give us? It gave us a much more capable North Korea. Terrific!”

On a less substantive note, all the back-and-forth sniping between the diplomats and the Boltonites should make Bolton’s forthcoming memoir all the more readable. He’s reportedly “typing as fast as his fingers can go.”