Paul Greenberg

"I seem to smell the stench of appeasement in the air." --Margaret Thatcher

It's not just Pyongyang's repeated promises that have proven worthless but Washington's. Each time an agreement is reached with North Korea's latest Kim -- preparatory to its being breached, of course -- our State Department assures the American people and our increasingly nervous allies in Asia that this time, honest, Boy Scout's honor and fingers crossed, we really, really mean it.

And then Washington caves.

Whereupon the North Koreans set off another nuclear explosion, sink another South Korean vessel, or attack another South Korean village, and/or test another missile. The same rules apply whether the American government is headed by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barack Obama at the time. Who says American foreign policy is inconsistent? In this case, it's been an utterly consistent, abject failure.

Appeasement usually is. What's oft forgotten is that it takes two to play this loser's game, and Washington is as much to blame as Pyongyang. No matter what the State Department's oh-so-sincere spokesmen are saying at the moment. Just a few months ago -- last October -- one of its flacks solemnly assured a U.S. senator that "any engagement with North Korea will not be used as a mechanism to funnel financial or other rewards to Pyongyang."

Of course that is precisely what has happened. Again. To quote John Bolton, who was dropped as our ambassador to the United Nations because he insisted on telling some unpleasant truths, "We are simply feeding young Kim's dictatorship."

Even before our generous bribe -- in the form of 240,000 tons of foodstuffs this time -- has arrived in North Korea, its new but somehow very familiar dictator has announced he won't be following through on his part of the deal. He was supposed to suspend his nuclear-weapons program, complete with missile tests, but of course he's decided not to. In record time. The deal hasn't even been consummated yet, and he's reneged on it. That was fast. As fast one of those errant neutrinos we were told not long ago had arrived at its destination before leaving its point of origin. Impressive.

Kim Jong Un not only looks like dear old dad, but follows his father's negotiating strategy: Promise 'em anything, just don't deliver. The late and unlamented Kim Jong Il used to take our food (and fuel and fertilizer, too) but never get around to keeping the promises he'd made in return.

This dance is so old, you'd think everybody would know the steps by now:

(1) Disaster strikes North Korea, natural or leader-made.

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.