Bill O’Reilly’s Great Fast Forward
It’s been a little over one week since North Korea tested a nuclear weapon of its own device, and two days since the United States confirmed that the test, while possibly a dud, did actually occur. But dud or no dud, the political clout the test carries is staggering—what this means for the rest of the world is a nuclear-armed country with not much to lose, and one with a long history of deft and daring (and much more dangerous) political maneuvering to gain the world’s attention.
But last week, FOX News viewers got a different perspective. What Americans may have heard is North Korea is testing nuclear bombs because they want to destroy Republican chances in the mid-term elections, now just three weeks away.
The idea came most recently from an episode of the Bill O’Reilly show, a day after the underground nuclear explosion. In his talking points memo, O’Reilly told viewers, “Now, the reason that North Korea is causing trouble is that it wants to influence the November election, as we discussed last week. Iran is doing the same thing in Iraq, ramping up the violence so that Americans will turn against the Bush Administration. This is not a partisan statement—it is a fact.” Non-partisan? A Fact?
Let’s take that at face value: let’s assume it is a fact. Aside from the obvious attempt to present Iran and Iraq as one and the same entity (conservative commentators have been pretty successful at pushing the idea that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were brothers-in-arms, and it isn’t absurd to say that a good percentage of Americans still believe this), that would mean what countries like North Korea and Iran/Iraq really want is to install a Democratic government; to turn the tide against the Republicans who’ve been so successful at creating a generation of new terrorists and nascent America-haters.
Of course, O’Reilly’s more subtle message here is that Democrats are pussies who will leave America open to terrorist attacks and the Republican controlled House and Senate are, obviously, doing a better job than Democrats could conceivably do (with recent Time polls showing that 57 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, while Bush is still in the doghouse with a 36 percent approval rating).
Interestingly, another member of the G.O.P. expressed a similar jab at Democrats in an October 4th interview on the Rush Limbaugh program (as the Mark Foley scandal was ramping up into high gear): “What we’ve tried to do as the Republican Party is make a better economy, protect this country against terrorism—and we’ve worked at it ever since 9/11, worked with the president on it—and there are some people that try to tear us down. We are the insulation to protect this country, and if they get to me it looks like they could affect our election as well.”
The quote is from House speaker J. Dennis Hastert. Aside from the obvious arrogance implied by our election, on which much has been well-written, Hastert was also suggesting that if Democrats took control it would lead to an America weaker on defense, more open to terrorist attacks, and that Democrats are, indeed, part of the international conspiracy against him and America itself. “This is not a partisan statement—it is a fact.”
Remember that? Well, here’s another fact: Hastert and the Republican party itself have done more in the last few weeks to ruin their chances at re-election than the evil empires of North Korea and Iran/Iraq combined. In an article titled “The End of a Revolution” from last week’s Time: “In the latest Time poll, conducted the week after the news broke, nearly 80% of respondents said they were aware of the scandal and nearly two-thirds were convinced that Republican leaders tried to cover it up. Among registered voters that were polled, 54% said they would be more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate for Congress, compared with 39% who favored the Republican—a near perfect reversal of the 51%-40% advantage the G.O.P. enjoyed as recently as August.”
So, while trying to grab the high-ground in the implied conspiracy with high-falutin claims of being “the insulation to protect this country,” Hastert and Republican leaders, if we follow Bill O’Reilly’s standards of measurement, are paradoxically in the same boat as the Axis of Evil that secretly wants to install a Democrat-controlled government.
Fact: Hastert has vowed to force the resignation of anyone who covered up evidence or indications of Mark Foley’s history of conduct toward pages.
Fact: Three G.O.P. members claim to have warned Hastert himself of Foley’s proclivities—former aide to Foley, Kirk Fordham, House majority leader John Bohner and campaign chairman Tom Reynolds. Both Bohner and Reynolds say they told Hastert about Foley last spring, while Fordham, who is gay incidentally, says he told Hastert about Foley’s taste in teenage pages nearly three years ago. Two other gay G.O.P. members, Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) and House clerk Jeff Trandahl, also say they spoke about Foley to Republican leaders.
Fact: Hastert’s chief of staff Scott Palmer denies this, along with Hastert himself who claimed he hadn’t heard anything about Mark Foley’s behavior toward pages until the week the story broke. Other Republican leaders were quick to wash their hands of the Foley affair, laying the responsibility solely on Hastert, whose resignation was immediately called for in the Washington Times. Another Republican suggested eliminating the page program altogether.
Assumption: Hastert wasn’t including himself when he said he’d force the resignation of anyone who covered up information about Mark Foley.
Bush shouldn’t be excluded from O’Reilly’s measuring stick either. After all, the North Korean bomb test did occur under his watch, and in many ways, the Bush administration’s exercises in diplomacy allowed it to occur. Its relentless policy of disengagement, and of reserving talks exclusively for the Six-Party talks the administration wants, has left North Korea with few choices in gaining the world’s attention—and has instead left it to its own devices, such as its ICBM test this summer.
Surely if Americans are losing hope (with the war in Iraq, combined with the development of North Korea’s nuclear activities), then Bush and his administration should share the blame. The lack of faith in the Bush administration’s policies is evident in Bush’s tanking polls. Using O’Reilly’s finger-pointing policy in advance of the Republicans losing the mid-term elections, then Bush is also responsible for the G.O.P.’s self-destruction. As Gary S. Samore, an expert on North Korea told the New York Times on October 11: “The Clinton Administration was prepared to accept an imperfect agreement in the interest of achieving limits. The Bush administration is not prepared to accept an imperfect agreement, and the result is we have no limits.”
That imperfect agreement was the verbosely-titled Agreed Framework between the United States of America and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, signed nearly 12 years ago on October 21, 1994. Among the provisions of the agreement were replacing North Korea’s nuclear power plants with light water reactors, steps to keep North Korea within the boundaries of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, formal assurances to North Korea against nuclear attack or threats by the United States, and a clear path for normalizing political and economic relations between the U.S. and the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name). While the Agreed Framework wasn’t perfect—North Korea began cheating toward the end of Clinton’s term—it did freeze North Korea’s plutonium production and International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors were still in the country when Bush took the helm.
Relations have clearly broken down, into what may amount to a full scale cold-war, or worse. As of this writing, North Korea is openly talking about another nuclear test, declaring enforcement of any economic sanctions as an act of war, and CNN is showing footage of the DPRK army marching with torches in hand, like a kind of Fourth Reich. North Korea, as defiant and reckless as they seem, knows it cannot launch an attack on a neighboring country without being obliterated off the face of the earth. That leaves the DPRK with a few other options, including selling nuclear technology to the highest bidder and continuing to ramp up its tests by combining them with its ICBM abilities.
If indeed war breaks between North Korea and the rest of the world, the United States, with its army stretched past its limits in Afghanistan and Iraq, would be left with little to counter. In this week’s Time, Robert L. Gallucci, the chief U.S. negotiator of the Agreed Framework, wrote:
There are now—and have always been—only three options available to deal with the North Korean problem: military force, sanctions and negotiation. Although the military option was available but unappealing a dozen years ago, it is barely so today. Limited targets, little reserve force to deal with retaliation and an ally in Seoul hostile to military action argue against that option. Sanctions, always limited by what China would permit, will not force North Korean compliance and amount to a policy of containment or acceptance of a growing North Korean nuclear weapons program… That leaves negotiation—genuine negotiation in which we expect to get what we need and concede to the North at least some of what it wants.
The caption reads: “A nuclear detonation testing site discovered this time is located where valleys located at upper stream of the Tongchang River, which flows the northeast part of Kusong, P’yonganpukto, merge (the place was formerly called Yongtok-ri). The Tongchang River flows northeast part of Kusong City, P’yonganpukto located in the northwestern part of North Korea. Traces of explosion can be seen at nine spots, and at least six buildings, which seems to be control facilities, observation facilities, explosives assembly plant, and storage, are located near the testing field.”
“North Korea’s ‘Nukes’ Place World in ‘Crisis’ Again” Tokyo Shukan Posuto (in Japanese), 16 April 1999
Concession is not in the Bush administration’s vocabulary when dealing with North Korea. They’ve consistently refused to meet North Korea on anything less than their own terms, and the result is what we have today. In response to Bush’s speech last week following the bomb test, Madeline Albright, former secretary of state with Bill Clinton, said, “During the two terms of the Clinton Administration there were no nuclear tests by North Korea, no new plutonium production, and no new nuclear weapons developed by Pyongyang. Through our policy of constructive engagement, the world was safer. President Bush chose a different path, and the results are evident for all to see.”
And Senate minority leader Harry K. Reid (D-Nev.) stated: “President Bush and his Republican Congress are in a state of denial about their own failed policies. The President’s policy in Iraq sent that country into a civil war and turned it into a training ground and rallying cry for terrorists. His policy in North Korea allowed that country to develop and test nuclear weapons.”
But the other side of this is that North Korea may be, in effect, helping the Republicans do what they’ve been doing best in the last few years, which is instill fear. Interestingly, as the nuclear threat from the Korean Peninsula becomes more real, there have been no overt calls for renewed proliferation of defensive ICBMs, as there were this summer. The U.S. has rarely taken the same forceful tone with North Korea as they have with Iraq, instead opting for a more conciliatory one, pressing diplomacy, while obstinately refusing to capitulate to Kim Jong-il’s one demand he’s stressed over and over: bilateral talks with the United States. Instead, O’Reilly and Republicans like Hastert are already shrewdly prepping the conservative masses for a November loss, laying the groundwork of blame before the dogs of political war get their chance.