While others blog about the within-the-Administration deck chair movements that made this week's North Korea deal possible (here, here, here for starters), I'll suggest three less-sung heroes:
1. The Chinese decided it was time for the North to get in line, after the embarrassment of the missile test, and are demonstrating -- with their stop-the-clock diplomacy when things got stuck-- that they can deliver. This seems like good news for the future of the agreement -- China's prestige will be invested in it -- and for demonstrating, if that were needed, that while China is frustrating and, to put it mildly, problematic on some issues (Darfur, human rights, exchange rate) working with China on other issues of mutual concern is required, not optional.
2. The US Foreign Service. After a week of complaints about State's inability to come up with officers for tough/dangerous/hopeless posts in Iraq, here's a reminder in the person of Assistant Secretary for Asia Chris Hill that there is just no substitute for someone who has spent his whole professional life furthering US interests in the most challenging places and against the most challenging backdrops back in Washington. Hill, who also happens to be a genuinely nice guy, won accolades for his performance in the Balkans a decade ago before being rewarded (?) with his Asian portfolios. I assume he's already won every award the State Dep't has, but hey, triplicate never hurts. (And while I'm on this subject, may I just mention how delightful it was to see career FSO and consummate professional Alejandro (Alex) Wolff, our acting rep at the UN in NY, make this comment on UN reform last week:
You’ll have a lot of different views on the details, whether this is the best one or a different approach might be better,” he said, “but you have 192 members and consensus is not easy to get, so support for the secretary general is the principle that we stand by."
Imagine what we'd have achieved in the 2005 anniversary summit with that approach. But I digress.)
3. The American people. The Administration concluded, correctly, that the American people voted in November not just on Iraq but on the general proposition that we can't militarily pre-empt all our challenges all the time. A month after the election, 82% of Americans said that we should talk to countries we disapprove of, not just threaten them; going further, seven of ten said we should sign an agreement not to attack North Korea and six of ten said we should agree to increase food aid in exchange for the North's commitment to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Nice work, my fellow Americans.
None of that means that this deal is perfect or that the North Koreans won't try to bust it sometime in the future. But even if it performs only half as well as the Clinton Administration agreement that lasted a decade, that five years is enough time to wind up the distracting disaster of Iraq, move to reinvigorate the global non-proliferation regime, and regain our good name as a champion of non-proliferation.
I also find myself very tempted to turn the this-deal-is-a-bad-signal-to-Teheran argument on its head: sure, it's a signal to Teheran. The international community stood with us and we got what we wanted, with intrusive international inspections. Get ready to give us the non-proliferation guarantees and inspections we need to see, with the ability to know if you're not playing fair, and we're ready to give you a deal too.
Negotiations, after all, like conflict, have a certain logic that breeds more negotiations -- if they're allowed to.