As Kim Jong Il continues to elude efforts to constrain his nuclear program, a grudging regard for the North Korean leader's tactical skills is rising.
As a leader, Mr. Kim was once thought to be over his head. But 12 years after the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, the son is showing brilliance as a dictator. Some experts say that Kim, in his own way, may be shrewder than the father who built the nation.
"Kim was in many ways dealt a weaker hand than his father, but he has played it better," says Brian Myers, a North Korea specialist at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea.
Certainly, Kim has become a skillful player on the world stage. He retains firm hold of the most totalitarian state on earth. His nation has survived an epic famine.
"Why shouldn't Kim be seen as extraordinary?" asks Alexander Mansourov of the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. "He's poked his finger in the eye of the US hegemon. He's tested missiles and nukes. At home he's more popular than ever."
"I used to think Kim was irrational and unrealistic," says Lee Jong Heon, who has just published a structural analysis of the North at Chung-Ang University in Seoul. "But when you study his moves, he has kept a grip on the people, and he now heads one of eight nuclear nations. He's been highly rational from his standpoint."
[Excerpt of an article by Robert Marquand, The Christian Science Monitor]