Why in the name of all that is holy did Slate hire Anne Applebaum to write a column called Foreigners: Opinions about events beyond our borders? Is she in some way that I’m not aware of qualified for such a column? Her previous entry at least attempted to answer a question about how foreigners thought about the United States, even if it did so in a clumsy and inept fashion. Is the column supposed to be about how foreigners think about the US, or is it just supposed to be a set of ruminations about international affairs?
In her latest, Applebaum makes perhaps the least useful contribution yet to the discussion on North Korea. Applebaum points out, correctly, that China has enormous leverage over North Korea and could, perhaps, bring about the collapse of the hermit kingdom.
But if it is within China’s power to rescue or destroy Kim Jong-il, then how, exactly, did North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program become in any sense the responsibility of the United States? Unlike Beijing, Washington has no diplomatic levers it can use in North Korea, no trade relations of any significance, and certainly no shared border. Yet the United States has been leading the effort to persuade the Security Council—of which China is a permanent member—to impose weak sanctions that probably won’t have any impact at all.
The rather obvious answer here would be that China isn’t at all interested in “solving” the North Korea problem, especially when such a solution involves absorbing considerable costs. Given that China doesn’t think it’s a problem worth solving, trying to place the blame for the proliferation on China seems a rather futile exercise. To go a step farther, since the North Korean government seems to be the entity interested in developing nuclear weapons, isn’t it actually responsible for the proliferation? The answer is “Yes, but so what?”
Applebaum’s purpose is to absolve the Bush administration of any responsibility for the debacle:
Somehow or other, North Korea’s acquisition of nukes has come to look like a U.S. diplomatic failure. Somehow or other, it is the Bush administration that is being blamed around the world for the latest explosion, not China, which props up the North Korean regime. Somehow or other, it’s beginning to seem like another illustration of American impotence. It clearly isn’t possible at this point to get up and walk away from this or any other nonproliferation issue. But next time, if there is a next time, maybe we should focus on pushing nonproliferation in countries or regions where we’ve got some leverage—a chance to influence the argument at the very least.
Right… and, so what? North Korean proliferation is either a problem for the US or it isn’t. China is either going to help solve the problem or not. If China chooses not to do anything, then it remains a problem for the United States. International problems are one reason that we have various mechanisms for developing and executing foreign policy. Applebaum’s reasoning would put a nine year old to shame; since someone else COULD solve the problem, the United States has no responsibility and can share no blame for the failure. Applebaum’s final sentence is truly a gem. I concur completely that we should focus on pushing nonproliferation in countries and regions where we’ve got some leverage, but this is more or like saying that we should only pay attention to problems that are convenient for us to solve.
…I suppose that the larger question comes down to this; why would Slate seek to use Applebaum as a regular contributor rather than someone, anyone, who’s qualified to discuss international affairs? A quick glance at the blogroll on the left indicates eighty or so writers who would be better than Applebaum, including some moderates and conservatives. From a glance at Slate’s staff, it appears to me that the last blogger Slate hired was Mickey Kaus. Given how disastrously that’s worked out, I can perhaps understand why they’d be reluctant to try another, but nevertheless. Bizarrely, even the New Republic has taken better advantage of the blogosphere than Slate, in spite of the fact that Slate has certain built in advantages. Why is this? Simple incompetence on the part of Weisberg? A decision to hold to an old media model in a new media climate? A need to be taken seriously in Washington and New York journalistic circles?
…commenters have pointed out that Applebaum has sufficient credentials (although, as noted, this fails to explain why her works sucks), and that her contribution to Slate comes from its relationship with the Washington Post. Still, this fails to answer the question of Slate’s arm’s length relationship with the blogosphere.