For some reason, though, I’m not seeing North Korea mentioned in the context of preemption. Iraq was the Axis of Evil member we attacked to demonstrate that policy, with White House spokesman Ari Fleischer telling us on Oct. 16, 2002, that:
The risk is how long do you wait for Saddam Hussein to grow stronger, to develop those weapons and acquire nuclear weapons, before it’s too late? Do you only act after he has used them? Or if we had known that 9/11, for example, was coming, would we have acted to stop it? Of course we would have. Now, with Saddam Hussein the president has to ask similar tough questions. Can we know with certainty what Saddam Hussein is going to do? Only Saddam Hussein knows with certainty what he’s going to do with all the weapons that he’s growing and acquiring. And the risk of inaction is it means we have to trust Saddam Hussein to use wise judgment and discretion, something he has never shown an ability to do.
But Hussein never had the weapons. The United Nations inspectors told us so; Iraqi defectors told us so; even envoys of Hussein himself told us so, desperate to avoid a war.
North Korea, though, along with an insane, unpredictable and paranoid leader and a predilection for torturing political dissidents, has nuclear weapons. The North Koreans boast of it, and they sell nuclear knowledge and material to other countries. And we know it.
And our response is to install a missile shield that we can’t make work.
I once asked some friends if Iraq weren’t exactly the wrong way to launch a policy of preemption, since the weakness of our cause there made the next U.S. case at preemption much more difficult to sell. For some reason, the argument didn’t go my way. But the argument also hasn’t gone away.
Perhaps it’s time to try again: If we’re so afraid of North Korea attacking us that we must spend $50 billion over the next five years on missile defense, in addition to the $90 billion we’ve spent on it since 1985 ... why aren’t we attacking North Korea preemptively?
We could eliminate its weapons of mass destruction, punish it for sponsoring terrorism, if not being a terrorist state itself, enact regime change by overthrowing insane despot Kim Jong-il and even give its people democracy.
I suspect we’ll wait for North Korea to attack. And it won’t — as Iraq wouldn’t, although Iraq had additional reasons — and we’ll be relieved, because missile defense doesn’t work.
Relieved and impoverished.