NORTH KOREA UPDATE….Is North Korea close to building a nuclear bomb? The White House says no:

Senior officials said the North Koreans may have been bluffing, in an attempt to extract concessions from the United States when they made the claim last week in talks with U.S. diplomats.

Tests for a telltale gas that is produced when plutonium gets reprocessed so far have been inconclusive. Still, the intelligence community monitors the situation closely, administration officials said.

I hardly need to say that it’s difficult to know what to make of this. Given the administration’s obvious willingness to publicly spin intelligence information, should we believe this or not? Are the North Koreans really bluffing, or is the administration downplaying the North Korean threat because that’s the convenient thing to do?

In either case, while Bush fiddles, former defense secretary William Perry, who has stayed quiet until now, thinks Pyongyang is burning:

Only last winter Perry publicly argued that the North Korea problem was controllable. Now, he said, he has grown to doubt that. “It was manageable six months ago if we did the right things,” he said. “But we haven’t done the right things.”

….In a two-hour interview in his office at Stanford University, Perry said that after conversations with several senior administration officials from different areas of the government, he is persuaded that the Korea policy is in disarray. Showing some emotion, the usually reserved Perry said at one point, “I’m damned if I can figure out what the policy is.”

Nor, having had extensive contacts with Asian leaders, does Perry believe that the multilateral diplomatic approach is working. “I see no evidence of that,” he said. “The diplomatic track, as nearly as I can discern, is inconsequential.”

From his discussions, Perry has concluded the president simply won’t enter into genuine talks with Pyongyang’s Stalinist government. “My theory is the reason we don’t have a policy on this, and we aren’t negotiating, is the president himself,” Perry said. “I think he has come to the conclusion that Kim Jong Il is evil and loathsome and it is immoral to negotiate with him.”

Unfortunately, this sounds plausible. The unwillingness of the administration to do anything ? even talk ? with North Korea really does seem to be based more on personal pique than on a sober assessment of what’s best for the United States.

Why has Bush gotten a pass on this from the conservative establishment? Hell, even Clinton did something, while Bush has literally done almost nothing for nine months now, seemingly happy to let the situation fester away until eventually we will be backed into a corner with no options left.

Is that what he wants?