North Korea Clown Show

Speaking of proliferation, Jeffrey Lewis of ArmsControlWonk has a long post dealing with the Bush administration’s fractured and jumbled North Korea policy. As various news outlets have reported, the administration appears too wracked by disagreement and infighting to settle on a single course of action to stop North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons—although the oft-unmentioned elephant in the room here is the fact that it’s the president’s job to sort out these disagreements, and he, apparently, isn’t up to the task.

The other explanation, though, is that the president is personally against negotiating with Kim Jong Il. Yes, the administration is now demanding new talks. On the other hand, Kim has told numerous sources he would return to the table only if the United States gave assurances that it wouldn’t attack North Korea. For its part, the White House has gone out of its way to avoid declaring that it has “no hostile intent”—the three magic words Kim’s looking for—towards the regime. Now that’s all well and good, and Bush’s steadfast refusal to limit his options or appease dictators is an admirable character trait, etc., etc., but it’s not like there are a whole lot of other options here. Is the White House waiting for North Korea to collapse? Neither South Korea nor China would allow any such thing to happen. Is the president planning on attacking North Korea? Keep in mind that the Atlantic Monthly recently war-gamed this scenario and determined that in the best case, 100,000 people would be killed in the first few days.

But so long as the White House refuses to negotiate, that seems to be the working plan. As Lewis says, “I am beginning to understand how the Bush Administration is creating an impressive cadre of Republicans who think their policy is fucked.”