The exclusively diplomatic approach, by contrast, has suffered a complete and total failure in the case of North Korea. This was not a failure simply of the Obama administration (U.S. Special Envoy Stephen Bosworth last week noted that the Obama administration is "relatively relaxed" and that "there is not a sense of crisis") but also of the Bush and Clinton years. All of these administrations followed essentially the same policy. Remember former President Jimmy Carter (Clinton's informal envoy) proudly boasting of the "Framework Agreement" they had achieved? The U.S. agreed to provide North Korea with fuel oil and two light-water nuclear reactors in exchange for the DPRK's promise to suspend its nuclear weapons program. When asked, a couple of years on, about North Korean violations, Secretary of State Warren Christopher was reassuring: "The Framework Accord between the United States and North Korea has proved to be quite durable through a rather long period of time as we have gone through the steps called for by the Accord. The United States has been furnishing oil and KEDO (Korean Energy Development Organization) has been moving forward in its processes. When I met with Foreign Minister Gong recently we agreed it was very important to preserve the Framework Accord because through it we have frozen the North Korean nuclear development ..."
Clinton's next secretary of state was no less solicitous of agreements. Madeleine Albright spent the last days of the Clinton presidency posing with Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang.
The Bush administration, after some initial tough talk, caved to the State Department's diplomacy track. In its final months, the Bush administration removed North Korea from a list of terror-sponsoring states. No one has ridiculed this more pungently than former U.N. Envoy John Bolton:
"In the weeks before being delisted, North Korea expelled international inspectors, first from its Yongbyon plutonium-reprocessing facility and then from the entire complex. It moved to reactivate Yongbyon and to conduct a possible second nuclear-weapons test, and prepared for an extensive salvo of antiship and other missile capabilities. All of this the Bush administration dismissed as North Korea's typical negotiation style."
The fruits of this path of "diplomacy only" -- blindly pursued by three presidents -- are now clear. But those so eager to learn lessons from mistakes in Iraq will probably be deaf to this one.