The New York Times has an interesting opinion piece on the Bush Administration's apparent failures vis-à-vis North Korea.
Op-ed writer Nicholas D. Kristof points out that under the Clinton Administration, North Korea developed zero weapons, but under the Bush Administration, the number is around six, hence his title, "North Korea, 6, and Bush, 0)."
Before a Clinton naysayer can respond that the speculative Pyongyang-6 were likely started by the infamous Pyongyang-1 during Clinton's second term, Kristoff quickly cites Charles Prtichard, the ambassador and special envoy who was the point man for North Korea in the first Bush administration, as saying of this administration's decision-makers, "They blew it." (Kristoff also claims that Pyongyang had two atomic weapons by 1989, during the administration of Bush-41.)
How did they blow it? Kristoff says the Bush Administration could have adopted the policies that Colin Powell initially pushed for but that Bush's handlers pushed off in favor of what people call the "anything but Clinton" approach.
I remember back when Bush first came to office, before 9/11 and before Hainan Island, and admitted that his administration didn't have a North Korea policy, that they were "working on one" while they decide what to do. That our leader could leave us adrift in the East Sea (or Sea of Japan) for several months like that is almost criminally stupid.
But that's what happened, because "anything but Clinton" was essentially nothing. And that's why, years later, Bush finds hiimself with the same options as Clinton did.
The Rush Limbaugh types so derided Clinton for engaging North Korea and making a deal (and yes, this is something I've listened to repeatedly with my own ears on AFN Radio), there was no way Bush could go down that same road, even though a more pragmatic and less ideological Republican would have at least continued his predecessor's policies until something better presented itself (or could be engineered). Much like how Clinton continued to follow his predecessor on containing Iraq and protecting the Kurds.
Yes, there is something inherently off-putting about making a deal with a murderous dictatorial regime, but there were few other options before Clinton short of war, which has a tendency to kill one's allies. Getting things to stop, while simulaneously hoping for a collapse from within (or a change, thanks to engagement) was the best that could be managed then. And probably now.
But Bush instead sought to raise Pyongyang's own anxiety level (and thus their justification for getting nukes in the first place) by stepping up its own rhetoric against Pyongyang. Was there a strategic purpose in the terms "Axis of Evil" and "Outpost of Tyranny" that outweighed the danger of ratcheting up tensions? Your diplomats don't seem to think so, Mr. Bush.
Kristoff does see hopeful signs that Bush is slowly showing signs that he is willing to negotiate (although a test at Yongbyon could reverse that). At this rate, Kristoff suggests, Bush may be willing to negotiate seriously with the North Koreans by the time he leaves office.
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