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Russert Watch: World Cup, Wimbledon and, oh yeah, North Korea

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Today's NBC priorities were clearly not with Tim Russert: "Meet The Press" was pushed up to the Godforsaken hour of 8 am to make way for Wimbledon (nice going, Roger Federer). Never mind the matter of that other sporting event going on today (nice going, Italy). The guests reflected this lower-ratings timeslot; no offense meant to Messrs (always Messrs, natch) under secretary of state, Ambassador Nicholas Burns, former assistant secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, negotiator for the 1994 nuclear agreement with North Korea, Robert Gallucci, and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, but Condi, Newt or Feingold they're not. Let's face it, a whole hour on North Korea is daunting, and also kind of terrifying and depressing; and, it's certainly not like there's nothing else going on - unfortunately, the news from Iraq is worse than ever and the appalling, horrific and still-unfolding case of the rape-murder of an Iraqi woman and her family. Will this be addressed next week, I wonder; it came up only glancingly on CNN's "Reliable Sources" as well, where Howie Kurtz notably presses the point that the media selectively prints bad news from Iraq. In this case for the administration, no news is good news; that is to say, not talking about it is pretty much the only positive they've got right now.

But today's show was about North Korea, so let's get to it. Essentially it was a boring show and here's why: everyone agreed. It's pretty unanimous that diplomacy is a priority and that it's the course to pursue right now etc. Good for not getting blown up, not good for an hour of dry TV at 8am. Both segments. Here are some of the key points - add your own two cents in comments:
  • Since Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech, says Russert, "every estimate is that North Korea has doubled its capacity to develop nuclear weapons." Ambassador Burns says hey, diplomacy takes time: "We've done a lot to develop missile defense and we've created and driven forward this diplomatic coalition designed to bring us to a victory in denying North Korea the nuclear weaponry that you talk about." Tim does a good job of calling him on this, and noting that Bush was quick to call out North Korea in 2002 and it's an about-face now to talk about long drawn-out processes. Upshot: Tough-talk is out; diplomacy is in.
  • Is the US looking for regime change? That would be nice. But not while they're launching missiles.
  • He mentions the "six-party framework" numerous times in an effort to defuse the US vs. North Korea impression. Did he mention that they're taking diplomacy very seriously? Tim says Newt Gingrich thinks that if they won't "dismantle the missile or we the United States should dismantle it." Burns says bosh, why on earth would they go on the defensive when there is all this lovely diplomacy to exhaust first? North Korea is so not Iraq.
  • Sanctions? They could thanks to an agreeable UN, says Burns. But better the pressure come from China.
  • Is Iraq making the US soft on other trouble spots: Afghanistan, Somalia, North Korea? Nope, says Burns cheerily. Did he mention the six-party talk framework? I'm pretty sure I know what this guy's number-one talking point is.
  • Former assistant secretary of defense, Ashton Carter has a different take: if North Korea "gets sassy" again (he didn't say "gets sassy" but it would be fun if, just once on MTP, someone would) and set up a launch, the U.S. should launch a pre-emptive military strike and take the missile out, saying "To do so would be a very limited military action--a single bomb, a single cruise missile. The North Koreans aren't going to start a war in response to that kind of action." Yes because they're soooo reasonable and predictable.
  • Russert to Richardson: "If the president now changes course, won't the headlines be Bush's--"Bush blinks"?" Says Richardson: "No. I believe the headlines would be "Bush deals realistically with North Korea. He reverses a policy that is not working." Reversing a policy that's not working. You don't say.
  • Richardson thinks he's "crazy like a fox ," rules by a cult of personality, not by actually doing anything for his people (in five viists he says he's "seen one tractor") but that he's mercurial, and calculating, and launching the missile on the Fourth of July was deliberate. Russert pushed this point earlier wtih Burns, who think the two were related.
  • "Meet The Press" minute: Gerald Ford is 93. Wow. Flashback to him talking about getting older as a spring chicken of 62.
Upshot of this program: Russert hammered a few of the points he likes to bring up ("Are we looking at regime change?") but that's a good thing, to be consistent and dogged across the board. This issue was obviously dealt with thoroughly - all-NK all the time, for the whole hour - but really narrowly (how should the administration proceed, as opposed to how did the administration get here). Russert touched on how Bush's original "cowboy diplomacy" may exacerbated the situation (Time agrees, says it's ending) but it's not the same as really digging in to the questions about how the U.S. ended up here, with an axis of evil featuring two countries developing a nuclear program and the other. Does it matter - did anyone watch it? Let us know in the comments, because if it's Sunday-at-a-new-time-up-against-competing-sporting-events, it's Russert Watch.

(Transcript here; netcast here; something that rhymes with "Meet The Press" here.)