Rolling Blunder

ROLLING BLUNDER….Appropriately, since this is golden oldies week here, today’s news gives me a chance to link to “Rolling Blunder,” Fred Kaplan’s piece in our May 2004 issue about how the Bush administration reacted to the news that North Korea might be processing uranium for a nuclear weapon:

This new threat wasn’t imminent; processing uranium is a tedious task; Kim Jong-il was almost certainly years away from grinding enough of the stuff to make an atomic bomb.

But the North Koreans had another route to nuclear weapons — a stash of radioactive fuel rods, taken a decade earlier from its nuclear power plant in Yongbyon. These rods could be processed into plutonium — and, from that, into A-bombs — not in years but in months. Thanks to an agreement brokered by the Clinton administration, the rods were locked in a storage facility under the monitoring of international weapons-inspectors. Common sense dictated that — whatever it did about the centrifuges — the Bush administration should do everything possible to keep the fuel rods locked up.

Got that? The one thing we wanted to avoid was goading North Korea into unlocking their plutonium. But we did. Why? Because we suspected them of processing uranium. Except, um, it turns out maybe we weren’t so sure of that after all. Here’s the Washington Post today:

The Bush administration is backing away from its long-held assertions that North Korea has an active clandestine program to enrich uranium, leading some experts to believe that the original U.S. intelligence that started the crisis over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions may have been flawed.

….The administration’s stance today stands in sharp contrast to the certainty expressed by top officials in 2002, when the administration accused Pyongyang of running a secret uranium program — and demanded it be dismantled at once.

Even when you think you understand just how incompetent they are, the Bush administration surprises you. It turns out they’re even more incompetent than you could have imagined.

“Rolling Blunder” spells out the whole story. It’s yet another reason to subscribe to the print magazine, so why not go ahead and do it? Subscribe today. It’s only 30 bucks and it just takes a minute. You can subscribe for yourself here. Or order a gift subscription here.