I wanted to go back to that excellent Washington Post piece on the increasing frequency with which the President declares world events "unacceptable," because it raises another issue, one which has been irking me since the North Korean nuclear test last weekend.
The issue, which Josh has raised in part, is this: Why do commentators continue to describe the President as a "hard-liner" on North Korea? That seems to me to be a disservice to the hardliners and to give the President far too much credit.
Just yesterday in the Wall Street Journal (no link), no less a Bush critic than Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Colin Powell's chief of staff at the State Department, asserted that Bush's hardline on North Korea has failed.
I have no doubt that there are genuine hardliners within the Administration who urged covert and overt military action against North Korea early in the President's first term, and certainly in response to the breakdown of the Agreed Framework. Every Republican Administration is going to have its share of Curtis LeMays.
But those true hardliners have not prevailed in the internal Administration struggle over whether the U.S. should lead with the carrot or with the stick. What has emerged as U.S. "policy" is inertia. No carrot. No stick. No nothing, unless cheap rhetoric about what is "unacceptable" counts for something.
There are quite reputable people in foreign policy circles, like former Defense Secretary William Perry, who have advocated much tougher measures against North Korea than Bush has adopted. Perry, for instance, proposed publicly earlier this year that the U.S. hit the DPRK's new ICBM with a U.S. cruise missile while it was still on the launch pad, before a test flight could be conducted.
The sad truth is that we have virtually no good options for putting the North Korean nuclear genie back in the bottle, and I am quite convinced that our military options at the moment range from bad to worse (and that the current Administration would be unable to competently execute any military option).
But in the same way that it is a mistake to conclude that the Clinton Administration offer of a carrot was a failure, it is a mistake to conclude that the stick has failed, too. Both may be needed in the future.
All that we can say with any certainty is that paralysis has failed to achieve our objective of a non-nuclear Korean peninsula. And paralysis, if I may say, is unacceptable.