Okay, maybe the North Koreans don't have a uranium enrichment program after all.
You have to be relatively deep into the minutiae of North Korea policy for this story. But it's a big one. The Bush administration is now saying they're really not even sure the North Koreans have a uranium enrichment program for the production of nuclear weapons.
A 'senior administration official' tells the Times, "The question now is whether we would be in the position of having to get the North Koreans to give up a sizable arsenal if this had been handled differently."
...The big issue with North Korea has always been their plutonium production. Back in 1994, they were on the brink of being able to produce bombs with the plutonium they were making. The US came close to war with the North Koreans over it. But the two countries settled on something called the 'Agreed Framework' in which the North Koreans' plutonium production operation was shuttered and placed under international inspection in exchange for fuel oil shipments and assistance building 'light water' nuclear reactors.
...The strong consensus judgment was that they had not yet made any nuclear weapons. And during that period they could not access the plutonium they had already produced. It was on the basis of this alleged uranium enrichment program -- which may well not even have existed -- that the US pulled out of that agreement. This allowed the North Koreans to get back into the plutonium business with a gusto. And they have since produced -- by most estimates -- at least a hand full of nuclear weapons, one of which, albeit a rather feeble one, they detonated last October.
Because of a weapons program that may not even have existed (and no one ever thought was far advanced) the White House the White House got the North Koreans to restart their plutonium program and then sat by while they produced a half dozen or a dozen real nuclear weapons -- not the Doug Feith/John Bolton kind, but the real thing.
It's a screw-up that staggers the mind.
That's one way of putting it. Here's Kevin Drum in the same vein:
Even when you think you understand just how incompetent they are, the Bush administration surprises you. It turns out they're even more incompetent than you could have imagined.
So in case it's not clear, the Bush administration pulled out of a deal with North Korea (which just to be fair was falling apart in slow motion anyway) based on a suspicion that they now say they can't confirm, allowing North Korea to go ahead and develop multiple nuclear weapons without fear of reprisal on our part for having done so. And now our "deal" with them doesn't even roll us back to the status quo of 2002, but just keeps us where we are, with the promise that the North Koreans will ditch the nukes at some as yet undetermined future point.
Sigh. It just gets so...tiring.
UPDATE: Fred Kaplan, one of my favorite national security writers, is also none too pleased:
It's too bad that the U.S. political system offers no way to take a vote of "no confidence," because that describes the state we're living in now. We have come to the point where nothing that the Bush administration says can—or should—be trusted. That is, the government deserves no confidence.
The revelation is stunning on two levels.
First, it suggests that the Bush administration could have struck a deal to halt the North Koreans' nuclear-weapons program five years ago—before they reprocessed 8,000 nuclear fuel rods into plutonium, before they tested a nuclear bomb for the first time, before they officially became a "nuclear-weapons state."
Second (and this is the reason for the "no-confidence" stamp), it shows that Bush and his people will say anything, no matter whether it's true, in order to shore up a political point. It means that U.S. intelligence has become completely corrupted.
As Kaplan goes on to say, we don't even know how dangerous the world we're living in truly is. The Bush administration won't be straight with us, or worse yet, they may not even know. Or care.