Bush's Direct-to-the-People Diplomacy

President Bush's public response to the North Korean nuclear test was another pathetic foray onto the world stage by the man who once asked Prince Bandar, "Why should I care about North Korea?"

It was filled with the usual bluster:

"The United States condemns this provocative act ..."

"The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or nonstate entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable of the consequences of such action."

But the bellicose bark was accompanied by the bite of a toothless old hound:

"The proclaimed actions taken by North Korea are unacceptable and deserve an immediate response by the United Nations Security Council."

So, what -- he's going to sic John Bolton and Ban Ki-moon on them?

Of course, Bush being Bush, he also delivered a head-scratching punchline, saying: "The United States remains committed to diplomacy ..." -- which is a little like Denny Hastert saying the GOP leadership "remains committed to the safety and well-being of Washington pages."

This, after all, is the same president who has refused to take part in one-on-one negotiations with Pyongyang, preferring the gang-bang diplomacy of six-party talks.

And it's not just North Korea. The Bush administration has also refused to deal with Iran as it treads a similar path as North Korea, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following the Kim Il Jong playbook -- the second spoke on the axis of evil threatening to go nuclear while Bush is stuck in the Iraq quagmire.

He's kept the leaders of Syria similarly at bay despite the crucial role that country is playing in the Middle East. The president apparently feels Syria had enough clout to get Hezbollah to "stop doing this shit" in Lebanon but isn't worth engaging diplomatically.

When it comes to pursuing the United States' foreign policy objectives, the president has clearly not taken the advice of Bush family consigliere -- and Iraq Study Group co-chair -- James Baker who this week told George Stephanopoulos, "It's not appeasement to talk to your enemies."

But while Bush 43 has stopped talking to the leaders of countries he doesn't like, he hasn't stopped talking to -- and for -- the people of those countries. Indeed, it's something he does on a regular basis. Perhaps he sees himself as a one-man Voice of America, able to pull off a diplomatic end run, "negotiating" directly with the people, and, who knows, maybe fomenting the seeds of discontent -- if not revolution.

"Today's claim by North Korea," he said this morning, "serves only to raise tensions, while depriving the North Korean people of the increased prosperity and better relations with the world offered by the implementation of the joint statement of the six-party talks. The oppressed and impoverished people of North Korea deserve that brighter future."

You think Bill Clinton is the only Empathizer-in-Chief we've had? Think again. "I care deeply about the people in North Korea," the president said in July. "I truly do. It breaks my heart to know that young children are literally starving to death." (Note to Mr. Bush: you want heartbreak closer to home? Check the stats on the number of young Americans who go hungry.)

He also gave a shout out to the people of Iran during his U.N. speech last month: "To the people of Iran, the United States respects you ... Despite what the regime tells you, we have no objection to Iran's pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program ... We look to the day when you can live in freedom, and America and Iran can be good friends and close partners in the cause of peace." P.S., I think Tehran is really hot; can you send a pic?

Of course, the president regularly channels the will of the Iraqi people, defending his stay-the-course strategy because "it's what the Iraqi people want." "The Iraqi people want to succeed," he said this summer. "They want to end this violence ... Terrorists and killers are trying to shake the will of the Iraqi people. But despite large casualties, both civilian and military, the Iraqi people continue to stand for public office, enlist in their security forces, and, through their actions, demonstrate every day that they want to raise their families and live their lives." Wow, really knows these people. It's amazing what you can pick up during two whole visits -- lasting a total of 7.5 hours -- to a country. Too bad he couldn't have used this in-depth knowledge to let our forces know they wouldn't be greeted as liberators -- or, at least, give Dick Cheney a heads up that the insurgency actually wasn't in its last throes.

I realize that foreign relations were never W's strong suit. It's a shame Prince Bandar didn't take him aside back in the day and explain that while direct-to-the-people diplomacy (We cut out the middleman!) might make for good soundbytes, if he really wants to make the world a safer place, he needs to start talking to our enemies. Because, as Jim Baker put it, talking is not appeasement.

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