Tyler Cowen on Marginal Revolution has provided a link to a 2004 article from Washington Monthly by Fred Kaplan that lays out in great detail how George W. Bush, strongly backed by Cheney and Rumsfeld and against the views of Colin Powell, undid the agreement that Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton made with the North Koreans in 1994 to shut down the North’s plutonium production program for nuclear weapons. I have blogged on tis here previously, but this article included more details than I had been aware of while confirming all I had previously said here previously about this unfortunate matter, which remains largely unknown to the vast majority of Americans. One detail is indeed how Bush’s obsession with invading Iraq (ironically supposedly to get rid of nonexistent WMDs there) contributed to his complete failure to stop North Korea from building these weapons.
Ironically even Trump looks almost good in comparison with Bush on the matter of destroying agreements made by predecessors that put a potential nuclear power that is hostile in a box regarding its program. In the case of Trump it is Obama’s agreement with Iran, which he regularly denounces and threatens to repeal and indeed nibbles at the edges of by adding new sanctions on Iran. But he has just for the third time recertified that Iran is keeping to the agreement, even as he threatened once again to repeal it if it does not get “fixed.” It would seem that the difference between the Bush and Trump situations is that while the main foreign policy advisers around Trump, Mattis, McMaster, and Tillerson, are clearly working to keep the agreement going, most of those around Bush, especially Cheney and Rumsfeld, were also keen on ending the agreement with North Korea, convinced that they could bring about the collapse of the North Korean regime, which, needless to say, they failed to achieve, even as they handed a nuclear North Korea to all of us now.
The article also provides details on the matter of how Bush treated South Korean President Kim Dae Jung in a shameful and disrespectful manner in the months shortly after Bush took office, paving the way to the later collapse of the agreement with North Korea, a matter I have previously posted about here. All of this is worth keeping in mind when we think that Bush was so much more reasonable than Trump. Trump has done a lot of blundering, but so far has avoided doing anything nearly as dangerous or destructive as either invading Iraq or acting to push North Korea into getting nuclear weapons.