The Macau Bank Deal: Hear No Axis, See No Axis

The apparent deal to release some or all of the US$25 million dollars in frozen North Korean funds at Macau's sleazy little Banco Delta Asia, represents a final, humiliating reversal of George W Bush’s take-no-prisoners foreign policy. And it illustrates again how Kim Jong Il can run rings around supposedly the mightiest nation on earth.

It’s a deal so small that it’s questionable how far it will resonate with the US’s remarkably docile conservative voters, who ought to be in front of the White House with pikes and flaming barrels of tar. That is because it illustrates how desperate the Bush administration is now to bargain for even tenuous Asian security.

Along with Iraq and Iran, the Bush administration famously branded North Korea a part of an “axis of evil” and from the start designed a policy that envisioned engineering the collapse of dictator Kim Jong Il’s government. But in the six years since he was elected president, Bush has had to face reality. Nasty as the North Koreans may be, nobody but the US wanted the North to collapse. This is not the Middle East, and neither China nor South Korea was having any of Bush’s bid to destabilize this region by ending Kim’s reign, which was inevitably going to cause more chaos than anything else.

The Banco Delta agreement, in which the US Treasury Department concluded an 18-month “investigation” that ultimately clears the way for Macau authorities to release the frozen funds, is a farce. Banco Delta Asia was branded by the US as a major conduit to the west for profits from the sale of illegal drugs by North Korea and peddling bogus US currency printed on North Korea’s sophisticated printing presses. The bank, for the record, maintains that it did nothing wrong. But never mind.

Although the larger six-party agreement signed to supposedly freeze North Korea’s nuclear program was partly conditioned on stopping North Korea from peddling counterfeit bills and trafficking in illegal drugs, this agreement isn’t going to do it. That is apparent from an earlier Asia Sentinel story which shows that it is still possible for greenhorn tourists to go to Dandong, China, the gateway to North Korea, and buy phoney US money on the street.

For all the bluster, the US strategy of dragooning other countries into the bogus “war on terror,” and the determination to promote “freedom and democracy” worldwide, is over, gone with the departure of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the apparent sidelining of Vice President Dick Cheney. The Banco Delta agreement is an indication that the US has accepted as the price of a suspect nuclear agreement the reality that North Korea is going to keep peddling counterfeit money.

Reality. Perhaps the most salient quote ever attributed to a senior Bush administration official was delivered to Ronald Suskind, who wrote the 2004 book “The Price of Loyalty.” “Guys like me,” Suskind said he was told by a Bush aide, “were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’” The aide told Suskind, “That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality.”

The Bush empire is now creating an entirely new and uncomfortable reality ‑ that a toothless agreement to freeze North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and the apparent agreement that the bogus funds that exist in Banco Delta Asia are, well, maybe not so bogus, exemplifies the promotion of “freedom and democracy” across the world.

Banco Delta Asia was designated by the US State Department in September 2005 a “primary money laundering concern” under Section 311 of the U.S. Patriot Act. What all that means now, we’re not quite sure.

From the start, after excoriating the Clinton administration’s 1994 agreement to try and work a deal with North Korea, Washington’s neoconservatives learned that they had no leverage over a country with nothing to lose but with a military force that could turn South Korea’s capital city of Seoul into a smoking ruin in hours. There was also the US relationship with China to consider.

So for six years, the Bush administration sat on its hands, hurling the occasional threat. So Kim, no fool, began some blackmail of his own. He announced North Korea was opting out of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and began to build the bombs the world had always suspected he was building in the first place.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the earth the Bush administration was committing the biggest strategic blunder since Adolph Hitler ordered the invasion of Russia during World War II by blitzkrieging Iraq without provocation, accompanied by a handful of reluctant partners it designated the “coalition of the willing.” Today, the United States is in a trap in Iraq that it can neither get out of nor stay in. So back to the man with the bomb in the mysterious orient who was giving him fits. Bush had to negotiate.

The agreement that the US ended up with may be the best of a bad bargain – North Korea agreed to shut down its Yongbyon reactor, freeze its production of plutonium and allow international inspectors to monitory and verify compliance in return for food and fuel from the US, China, North Korea and Russia. It doesn't have to dismantle its facilities. The agreement doesn’t require North Korea to denounce outright all of its nuclear activities and it gets to hold onto the smoking gun, what may be as many as four or five bombs or the wherewithal to make them in short order.

Predictably, the deal kicked off a storm of protest from the hardliners who once made up George Bush’s SWAT team of neoconservatives – including John R. Bolton, the superhawk who was unable to win nomination as UN Ambassador because almost everyone, including members of his own party, detested him.

Bush, the decider-in-chief, blinked into the headlights on February 13: “I am pleased with the agreements reached today at the Six Party Talks in Beijing. These talks represent the best opportunity to use diplomacy to address North Korea’s nuclear programs. They reflect the common commitment of the participants to a Korean Peninsula that is free of nuclear weapons.”

Six years of threats and toothless intimidation from the most militaristic US administration since Bush’s hero, William McKinley, invaded the Philippines, have come to this. The US cuts a deal with a crooked bank in order to make a deal with North Korea.

This is the new reality that this empire is creating for the world.