May 24, 2011 | New York Post

Feeding North Korea’s Madness

May 24, 2011 | New York Post

Feeding North Korea’s Madness

Here we go again. Amid warnings of an impending “food crisis” in North Korea, the Obama administration is working to send yet more big subsidies, in the form of free food, to the totalitarian regime of Kim Jong-il. Apparently, President Obama's lofty promises about America's making freedom a “top priority” in the Mideast don't extend to the people of East Asia.

Oh, our aid won't bepackagedas help for tyrant Kim. This week, the Obama administration is sending its special envoy for human rights in North Korea, Robert King, along with a team of US Agency for International Development “food experts,” to evaluate North Korea's need for food.

That sounds humanitarian. But North Korea's real problem isn't a food crisis — it is atotalitariancrisis. Behind the endless reports of extraordinary floods and crop failures is a brutal command-and-control system that guarantees that any natural disaster will be amplified to lethal dimensions, crops will fail and people will go hungry.

Just south of the demilitarized zone that divides the impoverished North from thriving South Korea, the vagaries of nature don't threaten to produce famine. The difference isn't a function of quantities of food aid but of totalitarian planning versus democracy and markets.

The problem with sending humanitarian teams to North Korea on the “neutral” mission of assessing food supplies is that these teams become de facto partners of the Pyongyang regime. They end up collaborating with a system so self-serving and restrictive that it doesn't permit North Korea's people the freedom necessary to feed themselves.

That same North Korean system has repeatedly diverted food aid from the intended beneficiaries to the military, refused to allow effective monitoring of international handouts and cheated on every deal it has ever made with the West. It has poured resources into missiles and a nuclear-weapon program while children die for lack of food and medical care. That's why the Obama administration cut off the handouts in 2009.

If our president wants US envoys to resume serving as consultants to Kim, the place to begin isn't an evaluation of food needs. Better to start by sizing up how much North Korea's regime is spending on Kim's lavish lifestyle and his swollen military, missiles and nuclear program.

If Kim were to dispense with these lethal luxuries, there'd be resources enough for North Korea to buy its own food on world markets — as a stopgap while making market reforms that would allow North Koreans to start earning enough to feed themselves.

Surely, the expert evaluators of the US aid bureaucracy, with a little help from the Pentagon and US intelligence services, could put together a handy report itemizing in dollar terms the benefits were Kim to make nutrition, instead of nukes, his top priority.

Of course, the regime wouldn't take kindly to such an evaluation. North Korea's government has never made food for the people its main goal. The official policy is known assongun, which means “military first.” Playing along with Kim Jong-il's Potemkin concern for hungry people amounts to playing patsy for yet another round of subsidies that help sustain the regime.

Millions of North Koreans face horrible deprivation, not only of food but also of heat, light and freedom. Before sending another dime's worth of food to North Korea, why shouldn't the Obama administration sum up the real problem, with budget estimates attached — and let Radio Free Asia and its cohorts broadcast that illuminating information into North Korea?

That could be a genuinely useful gift from the American people.

Claudia Rosett is a journalist in residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and blogs at Pajamas Media, which published a version of this article.

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