'Regime change' for N. Korea? Former CIA Chief Woolsey calls for "flat-out regime change" with no negotiations
By Tom Plate

The Straits Times

23 August 2003

LOS ANGELES - On the podium, as well as in private, Tulsa-born R. James Woolsey, graduate of Stanford, Yale Law School and Oxford, is witty and self-deprecating, with an easy manner that makes you laugh hard and often, as in his recent talks here on the West Coast.

And no one would question the patriotism of this American foreign-policy figure: He has served his country in important ways, including as director of Central Intelligence (1993 to 1995), and deserves great respect.

But yet - well, here it is: During an otherwise splendid talk to an establishment foreign-policy-type audience in which he praised Muslims, defended British Prime Minister Tony Blair and warned against future preventive detention of minorities (as with Japanese-Americans during World War II), the former CIA director took this line on North Korea.

He strongly suggested that the current negotiations were a waste of time and recommended instead flat-out 'regime change' in North Korea. Period. End of policy.

Much of the audience in fact applauded. No surprise there: The prospect of forcing North Korea's 'Great Leader' Kim Jong Il into hiding would be joy-making - just as we applauded when American armies swept thrillingly into Baghdad and kicked that other nasty tyrant out.

But have we learnt nothing since then? As it turns out, we now know that the relatively easy part is the military part, but arranging for a stable 'regime change' isn't quite the same deal as organising a Texas barbecue. It turns out that what happens after the regime is changed is much, much harder than actually changing the regime. And it turns out that the United States is now in deep doo-doo in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Just look at the tragic developments in and around Baghdad: the bombing of the United Nations headquarters; the death of many of its staff, including its director; the hurried pullout of World Bank officials; and the continued casualties to men and women in the US military.

Can the US really say it has mastered the art of what- happens-next?


REMEMBER, Mr Woolsey is to the American establishment something like what the New York Yankees are to American baseball. And he made public his dismissive comments at the very moment when Beijing (along with Moscow, Seoul, Tokyo and Washington) was getting a bit of traction on the six-party talks with North Korea.

This significant diplomatic effort must not be belittled. It hasn't failed until and if it fails.

Mr Woolsey, however, flatly recommends that the US bounce Mr Kim's regime out on its ear and replace it with - oh, sorry, details start to get vague here (once again).

Can this man be serious? The Bushies are struggling mightily now not to lose what they have achieved. They had better not listen to the Woolsies of the world if they want (and are to deserve) a second term.

Better they listen to wise old head John Howard. Charisma-challenged he may be, but Australia's Prime Minister is often properly weighed down by invaluable common sense.

In Tokyo recently, Mr Howard laid out a basic road map that emphasised the need for the West and its Asian allies to stay unified when dealing with North Korea, especially if it acts up again and employs its classic divide-and-confuse rule.

The hard work done in Beijing and elsewhere to lasso Pyongyang to a Beijing talks table can pay off only if the Beijing- and Washington-led peace coalition speaks in public and in private with a common voice.

Mr Howard is no one's fool (much less some wide-eyed peacenik). 'The threat of North Korea is real,' he said.

But he also noted that the country with the most influence on Pyongyang is China and the West needed to work with Beijing, not undermine it.

Yet, former CIA director Woolsey would do just that if he is asking China to initiate a campaign to effect North Korean regime change. The content of the suggestion is as indelicate as its timing.

China, which hugs the North Korean border unhappily and would be hit by the influx of a horde of refugees if that regime fell (as would South Korea), is going to do nothing of the sort.

Indeed, its very leverage over Pyongyang is premised on Pyongyang's acceptance of China's counsel that the only way its regime won't change is if it ceases its nuclear programme and arms exports, reforms its economy Chinese-style and plays nice with neighbours.


AMERICA'S former chief spook has every right to voice his views, but he also has the responsibility to realise that they travel vast distances to reach ears and mentalities that lack the nuanced education of Rhodes Scholars, even Tulsa-born ones.

Does any sane portion of the US political and military establishment wish to torpedo these talks aimed at the peaceful de-nuclearisation of the tense Korean peninsula? Mr Woolsey is either off his rocker on this issue, or is on some clandestine mission to derail.

The writer is a UCLA professor and a Straits Times columnist. He can be reached at: tplate@ucla.edu