Today President Bush held a press conference on the heels of North Korea's apparent detonation of a nuclear device. A press conference is a rare event for this administration. It appeared to be a tortuous event for Mr. Bush. More than any other President in recent memory, his inability to frame and articulate the issues is embarrassingly obvious.
The President appeared even more unsettled at today's press conference - witness his comments on the sartorial tastes of the press - to the point of being unhinged. And for good reason. A press conference is the closest this President comes to an unscripted event, perhaps the nearest this President will ever come to holding a conversation with the American people.
And that conversation is unsettling. The President pulled out his usual mantra of not leaving Iraq before the "job is done." But once again the President failed to explain to the American people how and when the job will be "done." In reality, "staying the course" is code word for "lack of a plan for Iraq."
It has been three and one half years since the President boarded an aircraft carrier and declared "mission accomplished." Staying the course is no longer a viable option for accomplishing the mission. The President mentioned relying on his generals, but too many of his generals are saying that we have to change course in Iraq.
North Korea now glows brightly on the world's radar screen. Once again, the administration appears to be paralyzed on how to re-engage North Korea. Right now, it is uppermost that the U.S. reaffirms its commitment to South Korea by focusing greater attention on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea's crossing the nuclear divide is but another sign that the administration's policies have been, at best, ineffective. It has been distracted with the war in Iraq.
Direct talks with North Korea should not be construed as a sign of weakness. The North Korean nuclear test warrants a serious administration review of whether bilateral discussions - in tandem with the Six-Party Talks - could deescalate the current impasse. An indispensable element of diplomacy is that one must be willing to enter into a dialog with his or her enemies. In arguing for direct U.S. talks with North Korea, former Secretary of State James Baker recently noted that "...it's not appeasement to talk to your enemies."
In the wake of this troubling event, the U.S. must first and foremost reaffirm the strength of the U.S.-Korea alliance - a partnership that has brought over fifty years of peace to the Korea Peninsula. It must then move to devote more attention and resources to this increasingly unstable region of the world. Finally, it must reevaluate a policy that has relied almost exclusively on a Six-Party framework that has yielded few tangible results.