The New York Times reported on Sunday that, according to the latest intelligence, North Korea may have "built a second, secret plant for producing weapons-grade plutonium."
"[T]here may now be at least two hidden facilities [in North Korea] with the capacity to produce material for nuclear weapons," the Times writes. An understandably gun-shy Bush Administration spokesman is quoted as saying the intelligence is "very worrisome, but still not conclusive." But it is apparently conclusive enough for former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, who last week criticized President Bush for "letting the problem fester." And Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, reportedly "expressed grave concerns" about the situation.
Could these be calls for action? According to the Times, "Mr. Bush has vowed that he 'will not tolerate' a nuclear North Korea." But the Times has its own grave concerns about keeping such a vow. "President Bush may not even have the option that President Bill Clinton briefly considered in 1994: using a military strike or sabotage to prevent North Korea from producing significant amounts of weapons-grade material." After all, "North Korea has a far more sophisticated nuclear program" than Iraq, and there are "an estimated 11,000 to 15,000 deep underground military-industrial sites" in North Korea, where a plutonium plant might be hidden.
Goodness. So many dangers, so many uncertainties. It's enough to make you start biting what's left of your nails. So what's the point?
It's not subtle: The president, by saying he would not tolerate the situation, has broken his word. At the same time, he has proven irresponsible by not taking unspecified decisive action. If he takes the action, he will, of course, be branded as a war-mongering cowboy who acted on inadequate intelligence. That article, we may presume, has already been written, leaving space only for the required incriminating "16 words."
If these people were serious, they might be dangerous. At the Times, I mean. North Korea, of course, is deadly serious, and should be dealt with by the grown-ups.