Flashback: As Governor, Bush Said, ‘Why Should I Care About North Korea?’

Today, President Bush announced that North Korea has turned over a statement describing its nuclear program, prompting Bush to lift sanctions and rescind its designation as a state sponsor of terror. The news is a step “toward reintegration into the world community and rapprochement with the United States,” the New York Times observed.

But the developments come after seven wasted years by the Bush administration. In his book, State of Denial, Bob Woodward reported that in a conversation between then-Gov. George W. Bush and former Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar, Bush wondered why North Korea even mattered:

George W. pulled Bandar aside.“Bandar, I guess you’re the best asshole who knows about the world. Explain to me one thing.”“Governor, what is it?”“Why should I care about North Korea?”Bandar said he didn’t really know. It was one of the few countries that he did not work on for King Fahd.“I get these briefings on all parts of the world,” Bush said, “and everybody is talking to me about North Korea.”

Through aggressive diplomacy, President Clinton reached the Agreed Framework in 1994, under which North Korea agreed to freeze nuclear production for the next eight years. In 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the administration will “pick up where President Clinton left off.” But Bush objected to returning to Clinton’s diplomatic approach. A quick recap of what followed:

January 2002: Bush labels North Korea a member of the “Axis of Evil.”

December 2003. Vice President Cheney: “We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.”

April 2005: North Korea appears to unload nuclear reactor with up to another 15 kg of weapons-grade plutonium.

October 2006: North Korea tests nuclear bomb.

The Bush White House accused Clinton of sending “flowers and chocolates” and instead took Cheney’s hard line. In fact, Bush once shouted to Woodward, “I loathe Kim Jong Il!” and mocked the dictator at a dinner with senators, calling him a “pygmy.” In the meantime, North Korea continued to acquire greater nuclear ability.


Today, the Bush administration still refuses to use similar diplomacy with Iran. As blogger Steve Clemons noted, “We ‘engaged’ North Korea and blew it with Iran.”