The Clinton administration declared in 1994 that if North Korea reprocessed, it would be crossing a "red line," and it threatened military action if that line was crossed. The North Koreans responded to that pressure and began negotiations that led to the Agreed Framework. The Agreed Framework did not end North Korea's aspirations for nuclear weapons, but it did result in a major delay. For more than eight years, under the Agreed Framework, the spent fuel was kept in a storage pond under international supervision.
Then in 2002, the Bush administration discovered the existence of a covert program in uranium, evidently an attempt to evade the Agreed Framework. This program, while potentially serious, would have led to a bomb at a very slow rate, compared with the more mature plutonium program. Nevertheless, the administration unwisely stopped compliance with the Agreed Framework. In response the North Koreans sent the inspectors home and announced their intention to reprocess. The administration deplored the action but set no "red line." North Korea made the plutonium.
The administration also said early this summer that a North Korean test of long-range missiles was unacceptable. North Korea conducted a multiple-launch test of missiles on July 4. Most recently, the administration said a North Korean test of a nuclear bomb would be unacceptable. A week later North Korea conducted its first test.
This is pretty astonishing stuff. There are many points worth mining in this article: we could talk about how this is yet another place where Bush has failed to continue the real progress begun by Clinton, just like his failure to restrain the federal budget and to continue the decline in abortion rates nationwide. We could talk about how laughable on their face GOP attempts are to portray themselves as strong on national security, considering Bush's inability even to decide on a policy to pursue vis-a-vis North Korea. Unless, of course, they intentionally embarked on a "swagger toughly and carry a... ah, fk it. Whatever" approach to Kim Jong Il. We could even talk about how foolish and mendacious Condi Rice is, who had the audacity to lay blame for North Korean nukes at Clinton's door (c/o Josh Marshall).
Instead, however, I wanna talk about results. Results, as in, surely the Bush Administration knew that such a non-approach to Kim Jong Il would result in a bomb, and doing nothing would result in one faster than doing something, anything, right?
But look for yourselves: does it look like the Bush administration even tried to keep them away from the bomb? Why would the Administration do nothing, literally nothing, other than talk tough in front of the cameras?
The answer, I believe, lies within the question. The Administration was only interested in what it was doing "in front of the cameras," i.e., in maintaining the appearance of being tough on rogue nations, which is a much simpler thing to do. Just like it's not interested in balancing the budget, but rather only in maintaining the appearance of balancing the budget. And maintaining the appearance of fighting for a gay marriage ban. And maintaining the appearance of governing in general.
You see, when your campaign manager is in charge of White House policy, when the same campaign manager is allowed unprecedented influence in foreign policy as well, everything is about politics and nothing is about policy, that is, governing well. That's why Bush introduces gay marriage bans and then refuses to fight for them in congress. That's why he talks about "human/animal hybrids" in his State of the Union. That's why he continues a losing, but "tough"-looking, course in Iraq, having never even bothered to draw up a plan for keeping the peace there. That's why he'll cancel vacation immediately over euthanizing a dead white woman in Florida, but not for the destruction of a Democratic city full of black people in Louisiana.
After all, the destruction of New Orleans is proving to be the best thing that ever happened to the Louisiana GOP: all their opposition in the state disappeared overnight.
If you design an Administration solely to play politics, and not to govern, this is what you get: an Administration not only not governing but incapable of governing. An Administration so well trained only to consider the political/electoral implications of events that its priorities get turned on its head. Thinking in purely political terms, why try hard to keep nukes out of Kim Jong Il's hands when doing so could put you in politically precarious positions (pursuing war while in a weakened state with a war-weary populace or having to negotiate with an Axis of Evil country, thereby weakening your "tough" image) when you could just let China do all the work and hope they can at least delay the inevitable until you get out of office? Besides, you even have a plausible out via the Clinton defense, and Americans are notorious for rallying around Dear Leader when they're
threatened by other countries.
This is why the Bush Administration is so dangerous. This is why they're such a failure at governing. They never really even tried to.