Sunday, September 14, 2008

Talking To Our Enemies

(originally published June 2008)

64 years ago this morning, the largest military operation in history was unleashed from the British Isles onto Normandy, France. As the sun rose on Omaha Beach, ten thousand vessels carrying over a million soldiers approached the German-controlled and fortified beaches. Within two days, these brave men had established a defensible beach-head, marking the beginning of the end of the Nazi regime. The war in Europe would end eleven months later, only days after Hitler's suicide. D-Day was a majestic triumph for Generals Eisenhower, Montgomery and Patton - as well as the political leadership of Winston Churchill and F.D. Roosevelt. Unprecedented in history, most of Europe has since seen a lack of traditional military conflict for over 63 years.

Only months after D-Day, the US fought a fully-fledged naval battle against Japan outside the Philippines. It remains the last such battle fought, and will likely remain so for the rest of history. Technology has made it impossible to launch not only large invasions in secret (such as D-Day), but also to have a naval battle that's basically not over before it's even started.

What does this mean? It means that information technology and the dispersion of destructive power have made wars particularly expensive. Sure, you can always win a war, but they may not be worth launching, even if you win. Witness the high cost to the US of removing one of our contemporary Hitlers, in the form of the Butcher of Bagdhad, Saddam Hussein.

This leads to the present problem of how to depose today's most destructive and dangerous regimes, who threaten the survival of the free world. Regimes in North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela engage in some combinations of enslavement of their populations and aggression against their neighbors and other countries. Left unchecked, these regimes are on paths to kill millions of people, perhaps many here at home.

Military options against these countries carry high risks and costs. North Korea could wipe out South Korea and perhaps other countries with conventional weapons alone. Nuclear weapons could kill 10 million New Yorkers in one second. Iran may be as little as a year or two from developing those weapons as well. It is starting to look like these situations resemble the cold war, when the US had no military power to take out the Evil Soviet Empire: Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

So how did we take down the Evil Soviet Empire? Apart from the fact that it collapsed under its own Obama-nomics weight, we - or rather, Ronald Reagan - engaged in a very public diplomacy to embody our moral superiority over the enemy. Speaking of Obama, it now looks like this is the one limited area where he is actually taking a book from the Reagan playbook, and suggesting we talk to these dicators without preconditions. This is opposed by the Clintons as well as McCain and many others.

The recipe for potential success here is for the current and future US Presidents to realize - just like Reagan did - that we have moved into the TV mass media age, and that it is time to stop hiding. Instead, the US President should fly immediately to Iran and insist on a debate with the leadership - live broadcast on TV for everyone to see.

The point here is that we are now talking to these regimes, but only at lower levels of government, through back-channels and behind closed doors. This is useless. Our enemies can lie, continue to make preposterous claims and break any promises made. It does not help their own peoples to get the courage to depose their oppressors. Obama may have proposed the idea in principle, but McCain may be better in pulling it off, in the form of his most-beloved town-hall debate format. Now, if he only could support the idea to begin with...

This tactic may work in Iran, where there is TV and people have some knowledge of the rest of the world. It would probably not work in North Korea, where until earlier this year a cell phone call carried the death penalty via hanging in public. There is no TV.

No, when it comes to North Korea, a very different form of US Presidential diplomacy is needed. Specifically, the kind employed by an ex-President. And I'm not talking about Jimmy "The Naïve" Carter, who screwed up the North Korean situation to begin with, in 1994. No, rather I'm talking about Bill Clinton.

Former President Clinton needs to take Mr Party Boy leader of North Korea - Kim Jong Mentally Ill - to a weekend in Las Vegas, focusing on the more expensive late-night establishments. Think Eliot Spitzer's preferences, $5,000 an hour. Lots of them. I say, spend $100 million on the weekend. A long weekend.

Then, at the end of that long weekend, Bill Clinton needs to whisper in Kim's ear: "Look, either of the following two things will happen now: We will take a risk and remove your country and its residents from the face of the Earth. Cheney will press the button himself. Or we have option #2 for you."

Kim: "What's option #2?"

Clinton: "That this weekend will never end. We have made available an island in the South Pacific, where we have built a copy of The Playboy Mansion. Hef himself has made sure to guarantee a rotating staff of 500 of his finest friends and acquaintances. I have the pictures and videos of all 500 on this iPod Touch right here, so you can see for yourself right now. We will ensure you will live out your dreams for the rest of your life. All we require is that you never leave the island or have any outgoing communication to the rest of the world. Deal?"

Kim: "Beats a nuclear bomb falling down on my head. Where do I sign up?"

Clinton: "Just follow my lovely friend Monica into that oval room. She will help you use the pencil. Here is a cigar, too."

Conclusion: Deadly world crisis averted.

Alrighty, so it may happen slightly differently, or he may be more suicidal than interested in a good time. But it's worth trying, no?

Nixon turned Red China from foe to friend by going to see Chairman Mao in Peking 1972. Reagan took General Secretary Gorbachev to task in the mid-late 1980s, with several personal TV-broadcast meetings, and stood personally at the Brandenberger Tor gate in Berlin demanding that Gorbachev "open this gate" and "tear down this wall."

Where is Reagan when we need him yet again?