President Bush has reiterated his commitment to diplomacy as the instrument to use in the days ahead. And the United States made strides in the critical two days after the policy of sanctions was announced. The Soviet Union and China were slow to come around, and China is still problematic, but some sort of blockade on naval traffic is on its way, and diplomacy is geared up for the challenge.
There is no way, however, in which Mr. Bush can undo the sentiment he expressed to Bob Woodward four years ago: "I loathe Kim Jong Il. I've got a visceral reaction to this guy, because he is starving his people. And I have seen intelligence of these prison camps -- they are huge -- that he uses to break up families and to torture people. It appalls me."
Such sentiments don't do much to enhance diplomacy. Inevitably they remind us, by contrast, of the oleaginous references to Stalin and Hitler and Mao Tse-tung by yesterday's diplomats on the make. But even if Mr. Bush reproduced his words to Woodward on a calling card to distribute among diplomats bound for Pyongyang, this would surely not affect the man who sees himself as the mental pillar and the eternal sun to the Korean people.
The proposed sanctions could hypothetically immobilize Kim. You can reduce the need for food by depriving incremental millions of it, but a million-man army needs fuel. Unfortunately, there isn't any way to seal the border to the north, sufficiently to block extra fuel from passing through the long frontier North Korea shares with China. China has a special consideration here. The pressure of masses of North Koreans who want food and stability creates a huge problem, so much so that the Chinese worry more about instability in the Korean peninsula than about nuclear bombs dispatched from Pyongyang.
The diplomatic ideal, where China is concerned, is to mount sufficient pressure to influence Kim's behavior, but not so much as to threaten his hegemony. The final formulation of Beijing's collaboration will be critical, and the challenge in Washington is to egg it on to ensure that Dear Leader will recognize that he has gone one step too far.