President Bush appears to have changed his approach to making foreign policy with respect to North Korea, the most extreme of the three states that were his original "axis of evil." In most instances, foreign policymakers are confronted with a choice between shades of gray; rarely is it an easy choice between black and white. It was Mr. Bush's failure to recognize this that got him and the United States in so much trouble in Iraq and that is threatening to do so in Iran.
The lives of most people involve a series of trade-offs. If you can't have it all, what do you want most, and what are you willing to give up to get it? Since 9/11, Bush has insisted on having it all. With respect to North Korea, Bush resisted bilateral diplomacy and cooperated with the four other countries who had their own national interests at stake: South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia.
The plot was thickened by the presence of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate. This time, after Richardson reached South Korea on his way home, he said that North Koreans had told him that as soon as they got their $25 million from Banco Delta Asia they would stop work on their reactor and invite inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to return.
In this kind of diplomacy, one is well advised not to count promises in advance of delivery, but if all of this works out as it now seems it might, it could be a considerable boost to Richardson's presidential campaign.
Since none of it could have happened without at least the acquiescence, if not the approval, of Bush, the question arises of why the president did it.
[Excerpt of an opinion by Pat M. Holt, former chief of staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee]