See, here’s the crazy thing about diplomacy: sometimes engaging in it works better than declaring it pointless.
For years, the North Koreans have been trying to get the US to engage in talks. But the Bush administration has insisted that the only way we could ever possibly talk to North Korea is in the format of the Six-Party Talks, with Russia, China, Japan and South Korea in the room. The successes of this approach include North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests last year.
Now, in a surprise move, the US seems suddenly to have decided that bilateral talks could be possible. How did this come about? Well, Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill made this discovery while in bilateral talks with senior North Korean officials.
Does this strike anyone else as spectacularly tortured? Our high-level officials met their high-level officials, with representatives of no other country present; at this meeting, they discussed the possibility of bilateral talks?
The whole argument against bilateral talks was that they would somehow encourage the North Koreans to more bad behavior by demonstrating that prior bad behavior got them what they wanted. And so we did: nothing. That’ll learn ’em! Of course, this is typical Bush admin thinking, which puts talks with us on a pedestal as the ultimate prize to be earned for doing what we want, instead of seeing talks as how we convince other countries to do what we want. Traditionally, talks have been seen as relatively safe, even if they’re not expected to produce results, while wars have been seen as relatively dangerous, even if they’re expected to go well. The Bush administration has turned that thinking on its head.
But now something seems to have changed. This is good. Talking to North Korea is wise. Talking to all our enemies would be wise. And perhaps one day we will have a government that realizes you flip more bad guys with dialogue than with waterboarding.