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In a world of conflict, McPeak eyes N. Korea

Retired four-star general feels Bush has made mistakes
by: Vern Uyetake, Merrill “Tony” McPeak, a Lake Oswego resident, has harsh words for the way the Bush Administration is handling foreign policy.

Since North Korea tested a long-range missile analysts believed could hit the western United States, Americans have become increasingly aware of countries harboring ill will to Americans that either have or are developing nuclear weapons.

In 2002, North Korea admitted to possessing an active nuclear weapons program which it had pledged as of 1985 not to pursue.

North Korea's Taepodong-2 missile, which on July 4 launched and splashed 40 seconds after take-off into the Sea of Japan, sparked uproar in the international community.

International relations and military expert Merrill 'Tony' McPeak, a retired four-star general and former Joint Chiefs of Staff member, spoke recently at his Lake Oswego home on the topic of nuclear proliferation.

McPeak said the recent tension about nuclear testing is partly due to the Bush Administration's lack of diplomacy with North Korea and other nuclear weapons nations.

He said it has to do with where the attention of the administration lies.

'We only pay attention when people have nuclear weapons,' McPeak said.

Iran, with a long-standing bitter hatred toward Israel, has recently begun developing nuclear weapons to counter Israel's arms dominance in the Middle East, McPeak said.

'For (Iran), I think the conflict has as much to do with Israel as it does to do with the United States,' McPeak said.

'Israel has nuclear weapons, but Iran is much richer (with its oil),' he said.

McPeak said the disproportion of weapons and wealth could be motive for Iran's recent nuclear weapons development.

'We pay a president to decide what is important and what is not,' McPeak said.

McPeak, who voted for Bush in 2000, said that after seeing how the Iraq situation was mishandled, he switched parties and is now a registered independent.

McPeak had been a Joint Chiefs of Staff member during the senior Bush and Clinton administrations, as well as for one year under the current Bush administration.

'They drove me right out of the Republican Party,' he said.

'When I was asked to help Bush in 2000, I learned a painful lesson,' he said.

To McPeak, Iraq had not been of pressing importance because it did not contain nuclear weapons.

Conversely, North Korea, he said, should have been the country's first priority after revealing its nuclear weapons program.

'First order problems, (like North Korea) require a massive effort on our part,' McPeak said.

But in the process of fighting the Iraq War, 'we've squandered the massive tools (like international support for the United States) to stop (North Korea),' McPeak said.

Since violence ended in the Korean War after a cease-fire in July 1953, the United States has spent billions on military stockpiles.

'Technically, a state of war still exists,' McPeak said.

And due to this constant threat, according to McPeak, North Korea armed itself with nuclear weapons to defend against a preemptive attack from the United States.

North Korea 'has spent an awful lot of money - they have starved their people and beleaguered themselves for their military,' he said.

Yet there was once a fragile promise of peace in the late 1990s when former President Jimmy Carter flew to Pyongyang, North Korea, to negotiate with president Kim Il Sung after North Korea launched its first Tae-podong missile.

At that time, North Korea agreed to stop its production of plutonium in return for two light water reactors and oil, so as to aid its famine-stricken people.

Yet when the Bush administration took office in 2001, said McPeak, reactor production slowed and as oil trading from the United States dried up, Kim Jong Il resumed nuclear testing.

From McPeak's standpoint, this was the catalyst for increasing tension between North Korea and United States.

'The Bush Jr. administration didn't like Jimmy Carter getting the Nobel Peace Prize,' he said. 'They cooled down the relationship and took the oil out,' he said.

Then, he said, '(In 2002) Bush called them the axis of evil.'

'I don't think (the Bush administration) has done anything productive with nuclear proliferation,' McPeak said.

Now, with billions spent in Iraq and tensions escalating in Korea, McPeak said international alliances may be hard to find for the United States to stop North Korea's nuclear weapons development.

'Opinion of America right now is in single digits in some countries,' McPeak said.

And with years left in office, McPeak said the Bush administration hasn't solidified necessary international alliances to offset rising tension in North Korea and in the Middle East.

'Our clout has been sabotaged - torpedoed.'

McPeak said the administration's inability to continue dialogue with emerging anti-American nuclear arms nations may prove to be Bush's biggest blunder.

'A sinner can reform, but stupid is forever.'