Paul Greenberg

What'll they say at Foggy Bottom when Seoul or Tokyo is vaporized - that it was most unfortunate and we really need to talk about this? When it comes to North Korea, there doesn't seem anybody left in this administration who'll tell it with the bark off. Somebody like John Bolton.

Not long ago, when the State Department was making its accustomed excuses for Pyongyang, Mr. Bolton summed up the problem this accurate way:

"North Korea's aggressive mendacity puts it near the top of the list, perhaps tied with Iran for the lead, of countries that need the most transparent, most intrusive, most pervasive verification systems. For America to agree to anything less would be to make our national security, and that of close friends and allies like Japan, dependent on North Korea's word - never a safe bet. And yet, it is precisely this extensive verification system that the North cannot accept, because the transparency we must require would threaten the very rock of domestic oppression on which the North Korean regime rests. North Korea's negotiators understand this contradiction. So do ours. The only way around this problem is to conclude it doesn't exist, or is so minimal it can be Œfixed' in negotiations."

Sure enough, American diplomats responded to this latest broken promise by saying negotiations to disable North Korea's nuclear facilities were still on track. On track to where - a North Korean nuclear arsenal subsidized by American aid shipments? For the more North Korea changes, the more it stays the same, more's the pity.

It shouldn't be long - a few months? - before the State Department proclaims once again that progress is being made in these six-party negotiations. But the only thing really progressing is North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Only a John Bolton might be spoilsport enough to point out that we're being suckered again. Meanwhile, the usual respectable sources - like NPR, the New York Times and the rest of the gulls in the media mainstream - will again proclaim Peace in Our Time.

North Korea is also demanding that it be removed from the State Department's list of terrorist-supporting countries, a spot it continues to earn by its connections with outfits like Hezbollah in the Middle East. How long before this demand, too, is granted?

This is the nature of the world we live in: Those diplomats sufficiently far-sighted to warn of its dangers are likely to be dismissed for their trouble. No service to this country's security, or the world's, must go unpunished.

Only later, as the danger ripens, or some small but vicious nuclear power loosens its Bomb on one of its neighbors, will we wish we'd listened. Until then, John Bolton, like any other prophet, will go without honor in his own country.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.