Michael Hirsh of Newsweek, who got it exactly right on Petraeus long before the General's much-ballyhooed congressional testimony, hits the lesson of this North Korean nuclear deal right on the head.
Hirsh explains why we couldn't have done this deal a year ago:
The real difference is one of attitude: a willingness to give even an evil tin-pot dictator like Kim Jong Il something he can take away from the table. In his case it seems to be mostly respect that Kim is looking for. That he can never have, but in an effort to avoid war and the horrors of nuclear proliferation... it may just be worth it to pretend. To grit one's teeth, normalize relations and live with his odious regime a little longer. Yes, what Kim is doing may amount to "nuclear blackmail," as the Bush administration once called it. But it's not as if this negotiation is going to set a precedent for every other rogue nation; it took North Korea 50 years and hundreds of millions of dollars to build the popgun nuke it detonated last October.
The difference in attitude has everything to do with the absence of John Bolton, who is, not surprisingly, spitting on the deal as a commentator for Fox News. With his hawkish, don't-give-an-inch approach, Bolton essentially torpedoed any productive talks with North Korea, the very talks that have now created Bush's only significant foreign policy achievement.
Scratch that. There was a previous achievement: getting Libya to dismantle its WMD programs. Now, that had a lot to do with years of work by the international diplomatic community and little to do with the White House. But nevertheless, if you read Hirsh's article, you'll find that Bolton almost found a way to ruin that, too.
Hirsh goes on to explain that we need a willingness to go tit-for-tat with Iran.
Today there are back channels (like the one led by former U.N. ambassador Tom Pickering) and side channels (like the one being conducted by U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker). What we don't have is a senior U.S. envoy who can put all the issues on the table with Tehran at the same time.
Hopefully, this success with North Korea will show the remaining hawks in the administration that war needn't be the answer with Iran.