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Mary McGrory

Unequal Opportunity for Tyrants

By Mary McGrory
Sunday, October 20, 2002; Page B07

At a glance it would seem as if the warlords in the White House are as clueless as the frustrated police pursuing the shooter who has been rampaging through Washington's suburbs for the past 21/2 weeks.

George W. Bush, who had been doing a credible imitation of Alexander the Great conquering the known world, was stopped in his tracks by North Korea.

_____More McGrory_____
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Yes, representatives of Pyongyang's demented leader told a State Department envoy, they are working on a nuclear bomb.

Iraq, Bush's obsession, has been six months away from a nuke for years, and Bush wants to bomb, invade and occupy it. But here's North Korea's Kim Jong Il, who fits perfectly Bush's description of Saddam Hussein as "a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction."

Bush doesn't want to raise a finger against him.

"We seek a peaceful solution," said he.

We do?

How come?

It is true that there is a difference between Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il. Hussein is power mad; Kim is mad -- certifiably so, which could make him even more dangerous. And his nuclear program -- aided and abetted by our principal ally in the war against terror, Pakistan -- is farther along than Iraq's. Moving into the broken-promises area, North Korea has been no piker: Hussein has broken more U.N. resolutions, but Kim violated the all-important 1994 agreement on nonproliferation.

As for mass murder of their own people, they are twins. The president has been telling us of the crimes of Hussein, the gassing of the Kurds and the cruelties toward his real and official family. Kim has chosen another means of exterminating his citizenry. In the wake of flood and drought, North Korea faced famine, and some think as many as 2 million died. Kim manipulated humanitarian aid programs and starved people he deemed nonessential.

Bush has no comment.

What has been drained off his crusade for sending the bombers over Baghdad is the moral imperative of regime change. If Hussein has to be removed because he is so loathsome, why not Kim? You had to go to the small tent city outside police headquarters in Rockville, where frustrated cops brief press from all over the world about what they don't know, to find a more flummoxed crew than the White House warlord. The most recent shooting was of a 47-year-old woman who had survived cancer; she was felled by a single shot as she and her husband loaded their car with Home Depot purchases. The horrible event was thought to have a redeeming feature -- a harvest of clues and eyewitness accounts. But it all vanished. Chagrined officers and officials said the cream-colored van, the olive-skinned man and the broken taillight were imagined and not seen.

Bush is moving fast these days. The commander in chief spends all his time waging war on Democrats. He should perhaps pause long enough to explain to those in Congress why he withheld the news about North Korea's nuclear program from them for 12 days, making sure that the war resolution was safely passed without any distracting revelations. Democrats who voted for the resolution, particularly those who railed against it while doing so, might find an explanation to mitigate their embarrassment. They were prodded to a roll call by Bush's hard sell about the importance of every minute; they were also being hammered on the right for being "appeasers." Democrat Paul Wellstone, despite a stiff Republican challenge, bucked the tide and voted against the war. He is so far not paying any price. Even pro-war voters have commended him for showing guts.

Voters have long been accustomed to living with a double standard from both parties in dealing with troublesome foreigners. Little Cuba is still caught in a 40-year-old embargo because of its Communist dictator, while humongous China, with its brazen human rights violations, religious persecution and ruthless repression, is a partner.

But as we barrel down the road to war with Iraq, maybe we ought to quiz our unilateralist president about why it is necessary for us to bomb, invade and occupy Iraq while North Korea gets the striped-pants treatment. Is it because North Korea has a million men under arms? Is it because Kim Jong Il never threatened to kill Bush's father, or because he has no oil, or is not a Muslim? Maybe we should ask the advocates who dreamed for 10 years of invading Iraq. Do Richard Perle, Richard Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz believe in equal opportunity for tyrants? Their leader seems to be pointing the other way.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company