Here’s one interpretation of what’s going on in Korea.
* Without thinking about it much, Bush backed Kim Jong Il into a corner. He declared Korea part of the “axis of evil.” He claimed for the US the right to invade any country we think might be a threat to us: a right much less attractive to exercise if the potential invadee has nuclear weapons. He made it clear that no possible course of action would lead to a resumption of economic aid. He got so committed to a war with Iraq that Korea became invasion-proof for the next several months. So Kim saw that he had nothing to lose, and much to gain, by joining the nuclear club in a hurry.
* We had previously announced, under both Bush the Elder and Clinton, that North Korean acquisition of a nuclear weapon was something we would regard as a causus belli. Now we’ve had our bluff called, and we’re doing something called “tailored containment” instead, which isn’t going to help our cred with the Koreans or anyone else. [Krugman’s summary: “What was it Teddy Roosevelt said? Talk trash and carry a small stick?”] Meanwhile, we seem to have both the South Korean government and the South Korean public hostile to us.
* This is one more example of Bush’s faith-based policies: dealing with problems by praying that they won’t get too bad, or that if they do the spin machine can convince the public to blame it on Bill Clinton. In fact, as those despised “amateurs” around Clinton figured out, we’re playing a very weak hand vis-a-vis North Korea. The only political tactic the Mayberry Machiavellis never consider is levelling with the American people.
As I say, that’s one interpretation of what’s going on. Jim Henley at Unqualified Offerings, Sean-Paul (the Agonist), Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum (the CalPundit), Paul Krugman, and Brad DeLong all seem to share it, more or less.
I’m open to other interpretations, if anyone can supply them. But the eagerness of Bush’s cheering section to talk about absolutely anything but Korea isn’t encouraging.