NORTH KOREA PROGRESS REPORT….George Bush sent a message to North Korea last weekend saying that his patience was wearing thin:

Bush, after consultation with Vice President Cheney and other senior aides, sent the curt directive after China sought to include in the statement a reference to North Korea’s demand that the United States change its “hostile policy.”

….For months, Bush had said publicly he had no intention of attacking North Korea. Now, according to U.S. officials speaking on the condition of anonymity, Bush instructed the delegation to say the administration’s continued support of the six-party process rested on North Korea’s commitment to completely, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle its programs. In diplomatic terms, the message was not subtle: The administration’s goodwill could run out, and all options were still on the table.

….But after Chinese officials suggested the United States would be isolated because North Korea appeared ready to agree to the statement — and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell received Bush’s approval to scale back the U.S. goals — Pyongyang pulled its own surprise, officials said.

A foreign policy analyst I talked to today says that what happened is that Dick Cheney had another one of his chats with Bush and got him good and riled up. Off went a nastygram to the North Koreans.

Powell then stepped in and reminded everyone that “or else” doesn’t mean much unless you can answer the question “or else what?” Bush then backed down. Progress made: zero.

I continue to believe that Dick Cheney, who is not a stupid man, is convinced that simply acting crazy is good policy. He knows perfectly well we don’t have any military options with North Korea but believes we can scare them into thinking we do if we act like we’re nuts and might just push the button in a fit of pique.

This hasn’t been notably productive so far ? although, in fairness, it’s not clear if any other policy would have produced notable success either. Still, the wildly shifting Bush policy toward North Korea is becoming comical. At some point he really needs to decide whether he prefers the Cheney approach or the Powell approach and stick with it. Switching between the two depending on who’s the last person to have talked to him is a guaranteed loser.

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