Friday, January 03, 2003

Paul Krugman doesn't really say anything that hasn't been said before by myself and others. He just does a better job of it (I guess that's why he gets paid for this stuff and I don't).
Games Nations Play
What game does the Bush administration think it's playing in Korea?
That's not a rhetorical question. During the cold war, the U.S. government employed experts in game theory to analyze strategies of nuclear deterrence. Men with Ph.D.'s in economics, like Daniel Ellsberg, wrote background papers with titles like "The Theory and Practice of Blackmail." The intellectual quality of these analyses was impressive, but their main conclusion was simple: Deterrence requires a credible commitment to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior.
I know, it sounds obvious. Yet the Bush administration's Korea policy has systematically violated that simple principle.
So Mr. Bush thinks you're a bad guy — and that makes you a potential target, no matter what you do.
On the other hand, Mr. Bush hasn't gone after you yet, though you are much closer to developing weapons of mass destruction than Iraq. (You probably already have a couple.) And you ask yourself, why is Saddam Hussein first in line? He's no more a supporter of terrorism than you are: the Bush administration hasn't produced any evidence of a Saddam-Al Qaeda connection. Maybe the administration covets Iraq's oil reserves; but it's also notable that of the three members of the axis of evil, Iraq has by far the weakest military.
So you might be tempted to conclude that the Bush administration is big on denouncing evildoers, but that it can be deterred from actually attacking countries it denounces if it expects them to put up a serious fight. What was it Teddy Roosevelt said? Talk trash but carry a small stick?
So here's how it probably looks from Pyongyang:
The Bush administration says you're evil. It won't offer you aid, even if you cancel your nuclear program, because that would be rewarding evil. It won't even promise not to attack you, because it believes it has a mission to destroy evil regimes, whether or not they actually pose any threat to the U.S. But for all its belligerence, the Bush administration seems willing to confront only regimes that are militarily weak.
The incentives for North Korea are clear. There's no point in playing nice — it will bring neither aid nor security. It needn't worry about American efforts to isolate it economically — North Korea hardly has any trade except with China, and China isn't cooperating. The best self-preservation strategy for Mr. Kim is to be dangerous. So while America is busy with Iraq, the North Koreans should cook up some plutonium and build themselves some bombs.
Again: What game does the Bush administration think it's playing?
A coward's game is what it is. But Mr. Krugman would never be allowed to say so directly in the pages of the New York Times. So he just says it in a way that is clear to most sentient beings. We are being lead by a blundering coward. Sleep tight!


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