Campaign confusion on Korea

CAMPAIGN CONFUSION ON KOREA…. In December 2003, Dick Cheney said the White House would not engage North Korea. “We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it,” the VP explained.

And for quite a while, that was the totality of the Bush administration policy towards North Korea. Bush once shouted to Bob Woodward, “I loathe Kim Jong Il!” Soon after, the president mocked the N.K. dictator, calling him a “pygmy.”

The approach didn’t exactly pay dividends, and North Korea’s nuclear arsenal grew while Bush and Cheney saber-rattled. Eventually, Bush began negotiations, and while a forged deal was precarious, on Saturday, Bush removed North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism. In return, North Korea “agreed to resume disabling a plutonium plant and to allow some inspections to verify that it had halted its nuclear program as promised months earlier.”

John McCain, who liked the president’s original policy when it wasn’t working, criticized the Bush administration’s diplomatic progress.

“I have previously said that I would not support the easing of sanctions North Korea unless the United States is able to fully verify the nuclear declaration Pyongyang submitted on June 26…. I expect the administration to explain exactly how this new verification agreement advances American interests and those of our allies before I will be able to support any decision to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.”

Soon after, Sarah Palin, who’s never shown any interest in the issue, expressed her support for the Bush administration.

[Palin] said North Korea has to live up to their side of the agreement. “Condoleezza Rice, of course, having worked on this strategy for quite some time, I have faith in her that they’re making this wise decision and North Korea, of course, better live up to its end of the bargain there, in speaking with the other countries whom they’ve been working with, in promising the verification.”

This is, of course, the second time in two weeks that Palin and McCain have been caught on opposite sides of a major foreign policy issue. Originally, Palin disagreed with McCain’s position on a policy of pursuing high-value terrorist targets that flee into Pakistan. At the time, McCain said Palin’s position didn’t count because she was talking to a voter. (Seriously, that was the argument.)

Presumably, this new area of disagreement won’t count either. I’m not sure why, but I’m sure the campaign will think of something.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.