With the North Korean and South Korean leaders getting together, after an agreement for the North to give up its nuclear program by the end of the year -- a few details remain, but it seems as if all parties, including the U.S., are convinced it will hold -- it's difficult to see this as anything other than a success. I wonder if the Bush administration will stress it as such. I am sure John Bolton is disappointed that it got done without a war, and any number of neocon and conservative commentators will argue that the crafty North Koreans still can't be trusted and are sure to cheat. And it's worth keeping an eye on them, because besides being repressive it is a regime with not much of a record of honesty.
I suspect this agreement will hold, however, beacuse it seems to coincide with what most of the parties want. When I attended a conference three or four years ago in South Korea on the future of the peninsula, it was obvious to me that the South Koreans couldn't wait to get the process of reunification started; the main thing holding them back was the U.S.'s reluctance to give up the passions of the Cold War. They have studied the reunification of Germany assiduously, figuring to learn from what the West Germans did right and wrong. Most of the South Koreans I met were still strongly anti-communist, but saw the North not as a danger (at least not an imminent one) but as a catastrophe which they think they knew some ways to try to fix. But they couldn't start fixing until they established closer relations -- and even then most South Koreans were realistic enough to understand that there would be no changing the North overnight.
Meanwhile, North Korea, however its leaders may bluster, knows deep down that it's a failed experiment and has been trying almost pathetically hard to rejoin the rest of the world. The atomic flirtation was an attention-getting device, though a crude and risky one, as well as an understandable step in the wake of the U.S. having invaded the one member of Bush's bogus "axis of evil" that everyone who knew much of anything knew didn't have atomic weapons.
The key potentially embarrassing aspect to all this for the Bush administration, as I pointed out in a post almost a month ago, is that there's little reason not to apply similar tactics to Iran. Iran is a long way from acquiring nuclear weapons if it even has a serious intention of doing so. It has neighbors who would rather it didn't go nuclear and who have a certain amount of countervailing power -- nothing like the stranglehold China had on North Korea, but enough. Iran has made gestures suggesting a desire to be taken from the pariah-state status, but the U.S. has rejected every one. There's a basis for negotiation there. It could take years, as the North Korea situation did. But it's worth a try.
The problem is that the Bushies and neocons are reluctant to abandon the psychological comfort of having a pariah-state "new Hitler" in the world to justify their desire to start yet another war. Wouldn't it be nice if they would grow up and start thinking seriously -- if that's possible?