When the news filtered out of the black hole of North Korea that Kim Jong-il likely suffered a stroke, no one in the Bush administration rushed out to buy a get-well-soon card. This is, after all, a man President Bush has described as a "tyrant," a dictator who starves his own people, and, according to some Senators, a "pygmy"--the biggest insult for a guy who keeps a lot of elevator shoes in the presidential closet in Pyongyang.
But whatever names he is called, there was a surprising ambivalence in official Washington about the news--more than a whiff of reluctance, in fact, to lose Mr. Kim at the helm just now. This was true especially among intelligence officials, who wake up every day worried about what happens when states implode, and whether there will be a free-for-all for their weapons.
Oh, for the simple days of President Bush's formulation of "with us or against us." To experts in his own administration, what's happening today in countries like North Korea poses a far higher statistical risk of letting loose nukes out the door than Iraq ever did.
The Pentagon has a stock answer to questions about it. It boils down to this: There is little reason to worry as long as the military remains in charge. Their reason: A strong military with a well-honed sensibility about survival.
[Excerpt of an article by David E. Sanger, NY Times]