There has, and undoubtedly will be a number of diaries, as well as "news" stories (and I will use the term "news" lightly here) about North Korea's recent nuclear test. Sadly, the focus will probably be on (1) the fact that this may have been a "dud" of a test (as opposed to the fact that it was still a test), (2) what the US and the UN can and will do, (3) how this was somehow Clinton's fault (don't think this won't be trotted out), and (4) what this means politically for Bush, the democrats and the republicans.
But amid all of this, we really shouldn't lose sight of the facts that DID happen (you know, that whole "reality based community" thing again...) and how Bush the Guv`ner went from wondering why he should even care about North Korea to Bush the Preznit making them part of the "Axis of Evil" to questionable deals with North Korea, stubbornness, and double standards with respect to the "War on Terrah" as it relates to his newest best friend, Pakistan's role in North Korea's nuclear program.
In the interest of keeping this to a readable length, I'll try to keep it to the highlights (or lowlights).
For starters, in Woodward's new book, State of Denial which coincided with his awakening from a six year slumber (maybe he had a nightmare that the Woodward of Watergate kicked his ass into shape), there is a very interesting exchange that Bush the lesser had with Prince Bandar while he was still Governor (emphasis mine):
George W. pulled Bandar aside.
"Bandar, I guess you're the best asshole who knows about the world. Explain to me one thing."
"Governor, what is it?"
"Why should I care about North Korea?"
Bandar said he didn't really know. It was one of the few countries that he did not work on for King Fahd.
"I get these briefings on all parts of the world," Bush said, "and everybody is talking to me about North Korea."
"I'll tell you what, Governor," Bandar said. "One reason should make you care about North Korea."
"All right, smart alek," Bush said, "tell me."
"The 38,000 American troops right on the border." ..."If nothing else counts, this counts. One shot across the border and you lose half these people immediately. You lose 15,000 Americans in a chemical or biological or even regular attack. The United State of America is at war instantly."
"Hmmm," Bush said. "I wish those assholes would put things just point-blank to me. I get half a book telling me about the history of North Korea."
"I wish those assholes would put things just point blank to me". Hmmmm, you mean like if it was in something "brief" that you get "daily" in your job as "president"? Something tells me that even that wouldn't get through to you. But even then, if North Korea was such a problem, then wouldn't it be easy to say to Bush the Simple "hey Georgie, North Korea is bad." Maybe that would be basic enough for him. But, no, nothing short of "half a book", and if there aren't big pictures in it, well, we know that won't matter either.
Of course, not much attention is paid to North Korea, even after the 9/11 attacks. That is, until, the 2002 State of the Union Address which lumped them into the "Axis of Evil" - not because of ties to terror organizations, not because of their link to 9/11, but according to a BBC summary:
There is no evidence linking North Korea to the 11 September attacks on the US, but President George Bush has warned Pyongyang that it could soon become a target in the war on terror. In his first State of the Union address, Mr Bush put North Korea among a small group of the world's most dangerous regimes. He accused it of arming itself with missiles and weapons of mass destruction which could be used to arm international terrorists.
Of course, Pakistan was anointed a "crucial ally" in the WarOnTerrahTM, despite the fact that it had many links to terrorist organizations, already had a nuclear weapons program, and was harboring "the King of Nuclear Weapons", AQ Khan (more on him later).
Now, Poppa Bush and Clinton both faced challenges in dealing with North Korea - as outlined here in this summary of declassified documents relating to North Korea. However, the documents and summary note that there was a very delicate balancing act that was done - to make sure that North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and US interests were taken into account:
The emphasis during the first Bush and Clinton administrations on pursuing a multilateral approach to the North Korean problem, both in terms of addressing the nuclear problem and the larger issue of a peace settlement for the peninsula. This delicate and complex balancing act created problems at home and abroad, such as:
1. The complaint voiced in one document that Washington was being whipsawed between the calls of allies such as South Korea and Japan for pursuing diplomatic solutions to the North Korean problem, and domestic pressures to take a hard line.
2. The struggle to design a forum for discussing a framework for working on a peace treaty that would give the two Koreas the lead in reaching a peace settlement, yet also protect the interests of the other major powers such as China and Russia.
3. The U.S. desire to preserve the ability to deal with North Korea directly on a bilateral basis to address issues such as missile sales or terrorism that would be free of "ROK manipulation," as one document put it.
Oh, and the takeaway here is that North Korea didn't have nukes during either of those administrations. Enter Bush the Stubborn who refused to have direct talks with North Korea, and we have instant crisis.
Not too long after the "Axis of Evil" speech, Bush struck a deal with North Korea that would give them $95 million to produce two "proliferation-proof" nuclear reactors, which is in line with a 1994 agreement between the countries. And, as pointed out by kossack Irfo, these were for light water reactors, not nuclear reactors.
However, as part of the BBC article, there is an interesting point which, to me, pretty much undercuts the whole "evil" part of how Bush views North Korea:
In releasing the funding, President George W Bush waived the Framework's requirement that North Korea allow inspectors to ensure it has not hidden away any weapons-grade plutonium from the original reactors.
President Bush argued that the decision was "vital to the national security interests of the United States".
Now, if they were such a threat - a threat that warranted them being singled out with Iraq and Iran a few short months earlier, then why the hell would you waive the requirement to allow inspectors? And even still, why would you justify it by saying that this is "vital to the national security interests of the United States"?
Please, answer me that.
Not surprisingly, the experts had a different view with respect to "taking North Korea's word for it":
The head of the Non-proliferation Policy Education Centre in Washington, a critic of the Agreed Framework, has warned that even when the new reactors are completed they may not be tamper-proof.
"These reactors are like all reactors, They have the potential to make weapons. So you might end up supplying the worst nuclear violator with the means to acquire the very weapons we're trying to prevent it acquiring," Henry Sokolski told the Far Eastern Economic Review.
Back to AQ Khan. Much has been written about him already, especially with respect to his work in the area of nuclear weapons programs. However (and I hate to cite Wikipedia), there is much about him, North Korea, Pakistan and nuclear secrets that Bush turned the other cheek to.
Dr. A.Q. Khan's open promotion of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capabilities became something of an embarrassment to Pakistan's government. The United States government became increasingly convinced that Pakistan was trading nuclear weapons technology to North Korea in exchange for ballistic missile technology.
The Bush administration continued to investigate Pakistani nuclear weapons proliferation, ratcheting up the pressure on the Pakistani government in 2001 and 2002 and focusing on Dr. A.Q. Khan's personal role. In 2002, the Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed "senior Pakistani Government officials" as conceding that Dr. A.Q. Khan's dismissal from KRL had been prompted by the U.S. government's suspicions of his involvement in nuclear weapons technology transfers with North Korea.
Virtually all of Khan's overseas travels, to Iran, Libya, North Korea, Niger, Mali, and the Middle East were on official Pakistan government aircraft, which he commandeered at will, given the status he enjoyed in Pakistan. Typically, these were Pakistan Air Force (PAF) aircraft, often VIP transport aircraft such as the Boeing 707 (of which the PAF has 3), and C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft. (Within Pakistan, Khan typically used the PAF's shorter-range CN-235 aircraft). The high-capacity C-130 Hercules aircraft made numerous round trips to Pyongyang in the 1990s, both with and without Khan, presumably to deliver centrifuges and other nuclear parts.
So, Pakistan was working directly with North Korea to help with their nuclear program. The US found out about this in 2001 and 2002. Bush threatened North Korea. Bush and Cheney talked about harboring terrorists, about supporting terrorism and rogue states. They certainly had more proof that Pakistan and North Korea were working together than they had proof of Iraq, Niger or anything else related to Saddam.
So what did they do about Pakistan and Khan?
In early February 2004, the Government of Pakistan reported that Khan had signed a confession indicating that he had provided Iran, Libya, and North Korea with designs and technology to aid in nuclear weapons programs, and claimed that the government had not been complicit in the proliferation activities. The Pakistani official who made the announcement said that Khan had admitted to transferring technology and information to Iran between 1989 and 1991, to North Korea and Libya between 1991 and 1997 (U.S. officials at the time maintained that transfers had continued with Libya until 2003), and additional technology to North Korea up until 2000. On February 4, 2004, Khan appeared on national television and confessed to running a proliferation ring; he was pardoned the next day by Musharraf, the Pakistani president, but held under house arrest.
Nothing. Well, that isn't totally true. They continued the illegal occupation of Iraq. They lost standing in the world, thereby letting North Korea dictate the situation. They made empty threats. They continued to apply double standards - in dealing with India's nuclear weapons program, with Pakistan's dealings with North Korea, Libya, Iran and other countries.
They refused to negotiate with North Korea, even though much of what North Korea wanted in return (and granted, we are dealing with a madman in Kim Jong Il) was steps towards normalized relations with the US. And even today, it was reported that North Korea wants to talk with the US.
And at this point, what other option is there?
I will close by saying that I don't think this is truly by design. I think that Bush had no clue what he was dealing with. I think that his true thoughts are "fuck you, you will listen to me or I won't deal with you".
This isn't a grand plan to have North Korea get a nuclear weapons program. This is a weak, stubborn, arrogant man playing a game of chicken.
And once again, he is losing, which means we are all losing.