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Bill Orton
(D-Long Beach)

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February 13, 2003

Ari's "Old News"

by Bill Orton

What a relief it is that the White House could brush off two days of testimony by Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, who publicly announced to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea likely possesses "one or two" nuclear bombs.

(Once again, the North Koreans have The Bomb.)

What did White House spokesman Ari Fleischer say about this little tidbit?

"Old news."

In two days of testimony to senators, CIA Director Tenet and his naval intelligence counterpart confirmed that North Korea not only has The Bomb, but they could put one of those weapons on a long-range missile and hit the West Coast of the United States.

"Regimes like North Korea will increasingly have the ability to strike at the United States," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. (No doubt, an effort by the White House to make us feel comfortable.)

Asked whether the North Korean's long-range three-stage Taepo Dong 2 rocket could deliver a nuclear bomb to Los Angeles, Mr. Tenet said simply, "Yes."

And the White House reply?

"It's important to proceed with deployment of missile defense."

Maybe I'm a little cynical, but Ari Fleischer's words don't change my view that we are in the grips of a nuclear missile crisis of the sort that this nation has not faced in 40 years.

One of the world's most paranoid regimes possesses The Bomb and the missiles capable to hitting West Coast American cities.

"The United States says that after Iraq, we are next," a North Korean diplomat told the Associated Press last week. "But we have our own countermeasures. Pre-emptive attacks are not the exclusive right of the U.S."

Does talk of "pre-emptive attacks" ever become "old news?"

What may actually BE "old news" is to repeat the path to this crisis, but since Ari Fleischer seems to tire of mentioning these things, please remember that...
  • Last summer, North Korea announced that it has secretly resumed its banned nuclear weapons program.
  • They've sent heavily armed troops into the Demilitarized Zone, in violation of the cease fire signed half-a-century ago.
  • They've withdrawn from the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and now been referred to the UN Security Council for action.
  • They've begun steps to restart the Yongbyon nuclear energy plant, which, at 5 kilowatts, generates far too little electricity to be used for any civilian purposes. Its only reason for existence is to generate weapons grade nuclear material.
Said the Director of Central Intelligence, a reactivated plant at Yongbyon could provide them with enough weapons grade material to generate six or seven more bombs by July.

They've got "one or two" bombs. Well, that may be "old news."

But unless we stop Yongbyon, by summer they'll have seven or eight. That would rest squarely on the shoulders of THIS Administration.

The words that I want to hear from Ari Fleischer are that the American military will take out the Yongbyon plant, if need be.

And, in fact, for nearly ten years, this was the declared American policy, and so long as we said it over and over, the North Koreans had to abide by it.

But this past Christmas, President Bush and Secretary of State Powell -- in what was called a "strategic gambit" -- publicly abandoned that threat. They backed off. They talk about "diplomatic" and "multilateral" solutions.

The gambit didn't work very well.

Now that the threat is gone, here's what the North Koreans are saying should we even THINK about attacking Yongbyon.

"When the U.S. makes a surprise attack on our peaceful facilities, it will spark a total war," said the state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun in a commentary carried by that country's official news agency.

Does "total war" ever become "old news?"

We have 135,000 American troops either in the Persian Gulf or en route. We're calling up reservists and National Guard troops by the tens of thousands each week to beef up the "Iraq Attack" force.

Saddam is a murderous thug, but he does not have The Bomb. What he does have are "Scud" missiles, which, you might wish to know, are manufactured by North Korea.

Ari Fleischer may think that the Korean Nuclear Missile Crisis is old news, but here on the West Coast, it's just a tad bit disconcerting when the Director of Central Intelligence testifies how about a paranoid regime has the capability today to hit Los Angeles or San Francisco or Portland or Seattle or Anchorage with a nuclear weapon.

But maybe Ari's right.

Maybe in a couple of days, everyone will have turned the channel, away from this nightmare... to find out the latest about Saddam.

And all the talk about a Korean Nuclear Missile Crisis will either be "old news" or it'll become the most terrifying security threat to face Americans since John Kennedy went eye-to-eye with the Soviets over nuclear weapons in Cuba.

Oh, but really, JFK is "old news."


Bill Orton is a writer and historian living in Long Beach, California.