Bush avoids North Korea

For months, the George W. Bush administration has aggressively threatened war, held back only by a thin sense of propriety. However, even as Congress granted war powers to the chief executive and the U.N. appeared to be falling in line, North Korea dropped a bomb on the world with its admission that it has nuclear weapons. Not only that, but North Korea has been working on an intercontinental ballistic missile, and so might already be able to strike anywhere on the globe. By contrast, there is no evidence that Iraq already has “the bomb,” and no real possibility that it could deliver one outside the Middle East.

Still, though, the Bush administration skips lightly over these inconsistencies and trundles ever more purposely to war with Iraq while at the same time advocating diplomacy in North Korea. What is wrong here? Certainly Iraq can’t really be about a fear of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction after all, if Bush is so willing to look the other way while another unpredictable dictator known to promote terrorism stocks his nuclear armory.

With North Korea, the Bush administration is happy to pursue a policy of peace. Maybe it is oil after all. While Iraq is brimming with black gold, North Korea boasts hardly a drum. Or maybe it is really about the upcoming elections. Republicans are historically much luckier politically in wartime. Bush and his administration have spent so long vilifying Saddam Hussein (not that anyone really believes Hussein is a good guy after all) that it would be a colossal political mistake to turn and charge the other direction at North Korea. It would take another two months at least to turn Kim Jong-il into the same sort of demon, and by then the elections will be over.

Oddly, there are no good reasons for the inconsistency in the Bush administration’s method for dealing with Iraq versus North Korea. Against the greater threat the president plans nothing more than chiding language, while against the smaller he prepares to unleash a military response.