For a president who claims to be decisive, George Bush has shown an appalling lack of leadership when it comes to North Korea. This week, after four years of vacillation, indecision and hesitancy from the White House, North Korea announced it has nuclear weapons. The United States has long suspected North Korea of having a secret nuclear program; some are dismissing this as a gambit by Kim Jong-Il to get the edge in North Korea’s dangerous quest to become an accepted nuclear power. Without a swift commitment from the Bush administration to finally lead, however, that gambit might pay off. Time and again, North Korea’s inflammatory behavior has gotten the country exactly what it wanted; as the Washington Post charges, "Every time a red line appears to have been drawn, North Korea has crossed it without penalty."
President Bush has refused to focus on the festering problem of North Korea. When Bush took office, the New York Times writes, "he immediately began distancing himself from the Clinton administration’s approach, which had stopped the most imminent North Korean nuclear weapons program in its tracks." North Korea went on "a diplomatic back burner as [the White House] followed its obsession with Iraq." As a result, North Korea fell further into "deeper isolation and paranoia." But when reports showed the country was stepping up its nuclear program, Undersecretary of State John Bolton said concern over whether "they had two plutonium-based weapons and now they have seven" was just "quibbling" (a view probably not shared by the nuclear black market).
When an increasingly aggressive North Korea did attract White House attention, the administration remained "startlingly passive." President Bush has been frozen, unable to make the difficult decision between diplomacy and following a hard line. Charles Pritchard, formerly Colin Powell’s top official dealing with North Korea, warned that "the administration has neither offered much of a carrot nor wielded a stick." While the White House dithered, North Korea used the time to build more bombs.