Tuesday, June 29, 2004


So argues Fred Kaplan. Snippets:
Bush has stunningly mishandled this confrontation. He has allowed North Korea--the most rickety spoke on his "axis of evil," a dangerous regime by any measure--to reach the crest of becoming a nuclear power. He has dismissed numerous opportunities to nip this disaster in the bud. And now he comes up with an old formula that evades the recent shift in the balance.

In short, by his own careless arrogance, the president of the world's most powerful nation has allowed himself to be outmaneuvered by the very model of a modern tinhorn dictator.


This week, finally, Bush caved further to Powell, and authorized real negotiations. One can imagine a few reasons for this shift.

First, he might have realized that Kim Jong-il's regime can survive, no matter how hungry his people might be.

Second, the U.S. negotiating partners--China, South Korea, Japan, and Russi--have started to cut their own separate deals with North Korea. If Bush let this freelancing go on much longer, the United States would soon have lost nearly all its influence in the region.

Third, if he ever thought there might be a military option for settling the North Korean nuclear crisis, the bog of Iraq must serve as a powerful dissuader.

Fourth, Bush needs a diplomatic victory somewhere to bolster his chances for re-election. Peace and democracy in Iraq seem a less than likely prospect. Stopping North Korea from getting the bomb wouldn't be a bad second choice.
There is much to be recommended in this summary and analysis of where we are no (as they say, read the whole thing). For me, though, the crux of the matter is whether the following statement is true:
Had Bush made the offer back when he first had the chance, Kim Jong-il probably would have taken it.
If it is true, then it is clear that Bush badly mishandled the situation. But what if it isn't true? What if Kim Jong Il never intends on ending North Korea's nuclear program but isn't above wresting a few more concessions from the gullible foreigners along the way? Or what if Kim Jong Il doesn't really have a coherent policy but is merely desperately trying to keep afloat in the hope that something will happen to make things better for him and his beleaguered nation? The short answer is, "we don't know." Most careful and honest analysts and observers have to conclude that, at the end of the day, the most one could be certain about was that a sincere offer from the U.S. would "test the intentions" of North Korea. Not a bad thing in and of itself, but a far cry from "Kim Jong Il probably would have taken it."

All of this gets me back to what I am increasingly convinced is the real crux of the matter: the issue of North Korea's alleged HEU program. If the U.S. and early DPRK "admissions" are correct that North Korea had begun a clandestine HEU program years before Bush took office, years before "axis of evil," then it is probably a safe bet that the true intentions North Korea and its Dear Leader are suspect at best. On the other hand, if the U.S. intelligence is faulty or deliberately manipulated, then Bush really has messed things up.

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