Rolling Blunder

Fred Kaplan wrote an article I almost missed on how North Korea succeeded in getting nuclear weapons, and how the Bush administration let them.

But the existence of the weapons is as yet unproven – though plutonium is known to exist. Kaplan concludes by blaming Bush:

Last January, a (genuinely) private delegation–which included Jack Pritchard and Sig Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab–flew to North Korea for a tour of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor. It was the first time since the crisis began that any Westerner had been inside. Hecker came away convinced that the North Koreans had indeed reprocessed the fuel rods; he saw the plutonium. But he saw no sign that they had actually converted the stuff into weapons. In hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Hecker made clear: This doesn’t mean they don’t have any bombs–just that he was shown no evidence that they do.

Nobody knows precisely what North Korea has. This is what makes negotiations both difficult and necessary. Bush’s failure to make a deal, while the fuel rods were still locked up, constitutes one of the great diplomatic blunders of our time. It may not be too late to avert the coming disaster. The question is whether the president–whoever he might be–recognizes that a disaster is coming, decides to deal with it, and does so fairly soon. The time is already late; at some point, it will run out.