The Plank

How Bad Can It Get?

By and

From the front page of tomorrow's Times:

Three months after the United States successfully pressed the United Nations to impose strict sanctions on North Korea because of the country's nuclear test, Bush administration officials allowed Ethiopia to complete a secret arms purchase from the North, in what appears to be a violation of the restrictions, according to senior American officials.The United States allowed the arms delivery to go through in January in part because Ethiopia was in the midst of a military offensive against Islamic militias inside Somalia, a campaign that aided the American policy of combating religious extremists in the Horn of Africa.

As Michael Gordon and Mark Mazzetti, getting all Hegelian, put it:

[T]he arms deal is an example of the compromises that result from the clash of two foreign policy absolutes: the Bush administration's commitment to fighting Islamic radicalism and its effort to starve the North Korean government of money it could use to build up its nuclear weapons program.

Apparently at least one of these goals is not absolute at all. The best/worst part of the piece consists of anonymous quotes from self-pitying administration officials lamenting Ethiopia's thirst for weapons:

-- "The Ethiopians came back to us and said, 'Look, we know we need to transition to different customers, but we just can't do that overnight,'" said one American official, who added that the issue had been handled properly. "They pledged to work with us at the most senior levels."-- "They really are one of the larger conventional arms purchasers from North Korea, and we're pressing them hard and saying, 'Let's get you out of that business,'" said the American official.-- "There was a lot going on at that particular moment in time," said the senior American official. "They seem to have the readiness to do the right thing."

Well that's comforting. No word yet on how much lower this administration can sink before January 2009.

--Isaac Chotiner

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