Diplomacy as Catastrophe? Or is it a BOBO—the Best of Bad Options…

North Korea’s agreement to dismantle its nuclear program appears to be a stunning success of diplomacy. The six party talks appear to have brought the right actors to the table that can offer both carrots and sticks. Our $100 million in aid (1/3 of total package) seems like a bargain. Could it be that this administration has had its “Nixon to China” moment and secured compliance from North Korea where Clinton administration could not? Stephen Colbert hilariously noted the irony of this in his clip on diplomacy. We don’t negotiation with terrorists—North Korea is a terrorist country, part of the axis of evil—and yet we have negotiated successfully.

As Colbert (and others) have asked, could we have done this in Iraq? Could we have and should we have paid Hussein to leave Iraq? While we could argue that such an agreement rewards dictators and would be immoral, one wonders from a practical and moral sense of negotiation really would have been that wrong. Colbert jokingly notes that paying North Korea (and splitting it with others) is acting like we are a cheap date. When we invaded Iraq, still spending billions of dollars, Colbert argues we are going first class.

While not popular, negotiating the peaceful removal of dictators (or here in North Korea the dismantling of the nuclear program) may well be the best of bad options (BOBO). It’s hard to argue now that paying off Saddam would have been a terrible choice given the billions we have spent, the squandering of US reputation, and the thousands of Iraqis killed.

As we have seen in South America, justice is sometimes delayed when amnesty is granted and dictators retire peacefully. But in the justice and peace choice, that too may have been the BOBO.

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