Even before George W. Bush took office in January of 2001, his administration, with the exception of Colin Powell, decdided to take a hard-line approach towards its longtime adversary North Korea. This attitutde became glaringly apparent in the infancy of the Bush Presidency when a "half-dozen members of Clinton's national security team met with newly appointed Secretary of State, Colin Powell, at his home. Powell appeared to be "enthusiastic" about the potential progress with North Korea during the briefing; while Condoleezza Rice, the new National Advisor, was "clearly skeptical." It was quite evident that Rice was directly instructed by the White House to adopt an unyielding "no-negotiations" stance on North Korea, thus, preventing any possible diplomatic advances towards normalizing relations between the two states to any measurable degree.
The Bush administration clealry viewed the Clinton administration with disdain, especially in regards to its conduct with both North and South Korea. Bush obviously felt the Clintonian approach to dealing with both Koreas did not serve the best interests of the US or the rest of the world. In Bush's view, "to negotiate with an evil regime (North Korea) would be recognize that regime, legitimize it, and--if the negotiations led to a treaty or trade--prolong it." To Bush, Kim Jong-Il was the "personification of evil." Simp
ly put, Clinton operated from a diplomatic standpoint through negotiations while Bush aggressively sought a regime change through political and economical sanctions.
Bush's intense dislike and pervasive distrust of Kim Jong-Il heavily influenced the hard-line stance from which the policy took shape in the form of elements like "terminating the Agreed Framework; no negotiations with North Korea until it dismantled its nuclear program; assembling an international coalition to apply economic pressure on North Korea; and warning North Korea not to reprocess nuclear weapons-grade plutonium." The implementation of the key elements were specifically designed to punish and isolate North Korea with severe political and economic sanctions and unilateral concessions that would ultimately result, at least in theory, in the crumbling of North Korea's current regime under Kim Jong-Il.
The termination of the Agreed Framework effectively signaled an end to any serious negoatiations on conciliatory dialogue and erased any last vestige of the Clinton administration. The Agreed Framework, in essence, was a series of incremental steps designed to eventually denuclearize North Korea in correspondence with the US's promise to prvide 500,000 tons of heavy fuel for energy and by building light-water reactor (LWR) power plants to create a sustainable energy supply. These LWRs were a major source of contention between North Korea and the US for one primary reason: mutual distrust. The US feared, and rightfully so, based upon North Korea's notorious record for failing to commit to intrnational agreements, North Korea would use these LWRs to develop nuclear weapons. In turn, North Korea, specifically Kim Jong-Il, correctly believes that the Bush administration, by its own admission, wants a regime change.
While the US's reluctance to fully abide by the Agreed Framework (before it was nullified by Bush) was understandable and perhaps prudent, Bush could have extended an olive branch, so to speak, to North Korea by honoring its end of the agreement by building the LWRs with financial assistance from South Korea and Japan. Although such a high-risk course of action was not without inherently grave consequences, given Kim Jong-Il's unstable personality, it could have serve as a foundation of trust, however tenuous or short-lived, between the states.
In the State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002, President Bush designated North Korea as an member of an "axis of evil" along with Iran and Iraq. The reasoning behind this course of action was to gain support through rhetoric "aimed at reducing and/or eliminating basic elements of the North Korean military power, including weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), nuclear weapons and/or nuclear weapons-grade materials, missiles, conventional artillery, and rocket launchers positioned in The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) within range of the South Korean capital, Seoul. Bush's antagonistic comments in his speech only further exasprated an already strained relationship with Pyongyang. Under the auspices of North Korea's admission of uranium enrichment (a violation of the NPT and Agreed Framework) in October in 2002 to Asst. Secretary of State James Kelly, Bush terminated the Agreed Framework. The termination resulted in North Korea's immediate withdrawal as a participant of the NPT, the expulsion of International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) Inspectors, and the unconcealed resumption and escalation of Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear weapons. The Bush administration's economic sanctions of imposing export licenses on most products sold to the North and restricting US investment in North Korea amongst others has failed, in effect, to produce any definite gains in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula or bringing about a regime change. Bush's bull-in-a-China-shop style of dealing with North Korea has threatened not only the national security of the US but also that of its allies within and around the Korean Peninsula.
Bush's dual obsession of regime change and the denuclearization of North Korea does not stem entirely from his accurate perception of Kim Jong-Il's rule over an "Orwellian totalitarian system," but his anger and arrogance at not being treated with deference by a presumed weaker and inferior state. The firm and misguided belief in the US's hegemonic status on the part of the Bush administration emboldened the president and his stalwart supporters, such as Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to impose "Western-style democrac[ies]" with "economic globalization based on market principles" throughout the Near and Far East. The continued leadership of Kim Jong-Il and its development of a nuclear program have served as a bitter reminder to the US that isolation, through economic and political sanctions, can eventually lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.