The Western news media – and especially The Economist Magazine of London – have been almost incautiously optimistic about recent diplomatic developments coming out of North Korea. But the media in South Korea has been rather cautious about Pyongyang’s latest pitch to suspend parts of its nuclear program, to allow international inspectors onto suspected sites, and to halt long-range missile tests.

Perhaps the sole exception to Western media near-euphoria is the Wall Street Journal. Particularly strikingly pessimistic was the signed op-ed essay by former Bush administration foreign policy official John Bolton. Now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, the oft-irascible personality denounced the positive U.S. reaction to the North Korean move as yet another example of America cupidity and vapidity in dealing with the tougher hombres on the world stage, whether Iran or North Korea.

He wrote: “Unfortunately, the … deal is worse than just another failed effort to chitchat North Korea out of its nuclear weapons. It provides a political and economic lifeline to Kim Jon Eun’s uncertain new regime, and it schools him on how to outwit America. Iran’s mullahs will take careful note of the Obama administration’s desperation to announce a deal, any deal, that can be described as ‘progress’ on the nuclear-proliferation front.”

Bolton is not popular with American liberals, of course, but in all fairness his skepticism about North Korea is not exactly irrational.

Since 1994, after all, endlessly back and forth across the Korean Peninsula, negotiations of some sort over the nuclear issue have been on-going or going off on tangents — or (most often) going nowhere. Not surprisingly, then, the headlines in the South Korean media were arguably less euphoric – perhaps even by half — than some in the Western media. No doubt living in the shadow of the miserable Democratic People’s Republic of Korea might dampen anyone’s enthusiasm for almost anything.

The new North Korean government of Kim Jong Un – successor to his father, the recently late Kim Jong Il – negotiated an impressive amount of nutritional foodstuffs from the West in return. There’s a bit of melancholy in this.  One is almost tempted to say the heck with North Korea and let them starve. But of course totalitarian elites always manage their full share of caviar and salmon when the rest of their countrymen have to survive on a diet of central government incompetence and indifference.  No sense adding to the misery if we can afford to help – as long as it is the real people across the board who get our food aid, not the already privileged.

Besides, we do care about peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and – most of all — the security of South Korea, our ally. So all steps that can be taken to bring North Korea into normality should be taken.  But it is true that we have been down this negotiating road before. That, understandably, is the sense you get from monitoring the local South Korea media.

As Bolton put it, “With such predicates, why did the Obama administration proceed? Most likely, it followed ideology and habit. The diplomacy here is entirely faith-based, as in: ‘There’s nothing to lose, so why not try negotiation? Maybe this time it will work’.

Then again, maybe it won’t – just like last time. Bolton, love him or hate him, may have a point.

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The Wall Street Journal




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