North Korea and the Farce of the State Department Terror List

North Korea goes off the list? What a joke.


What will be the fate of the Bush administration's deal with North Korea? One victim will be the false notion of paper containment when the hermit kingdom surely cheats on the arrangement. Another more satisfying victim will be the "pragmatists" who, despite common sense and history, championed the deal. More immediately, however, there is State's "terror list" itself, which by North Korea's removal is revealed as a joke.

About the only thing the U.S. gained was North Korea's word to behave and a promise to permit snap inspections of a reactor site that holds few secrets. Meanwhile, the North's peddling of conventional weapons systems and nuclear know-how across South Asia and the Middle East and demands that international inspectors have unfettered access to suspected nuclear worksites were taken off the table. Indeed, the deal itself was born of terrorism: North Korea pledged to continue down the road of nuclear development unless the U.S. government removed it from the list.

In an op-ed in today's L.A. Times , Lionel Beehner picks up on this with his aptly titled "America's Useless Terrorism List."

Beehner gives several reasons for his distaste for the list, chief among them that it is a unilateral "with us or against us" designation that fails to tackle the "socioeconomic causes of why terrorism takes root in the first place."

None of these particularly bother me. The "socioeconomic causes" for North Korea's terror peddling, for example, are that its Dear Leader is a wily nutcase who needs money. And I've no problem, either, with a U.S. blacklist for terror-sponsoring countries—when it comes to serious issues like this, there's no room for terrorist-versus-freedom fighter vacillation. What bothers me is that, if we are to have a terrorism list, then let's at least give it some integrity.

Playing politics with the list is hardly new. As Beehner points out in the case of Iraq:

Washington, for example, only removed Iraq from the terrorism sponsor list in 1982 so the U.S. could supply military technology to Saddam Hussein in the early days of Iraq's war with Iran. Iraq was put back on the list after it invaded Kuwait in 1990—which was an act of aggression, to be sure, but a move that had nothing to do with its support of terrorism.

More recently, there is Sudan. As bullying and distasteful as that government is, it poses no threat to America or her security interests. Although the country played host to Osama bin Laden in the mid-1990s, it has fully repented for doing so, and these days its intelligence community readily cooperates with the United States on a host of antiterrorism activities in the region.

And now, of course, there is North Korea. I hardly sleep better at night knowing that North Korea is off our list because we cut a deal that has nothing to do with terrorist proliferation.